Food Wars: Shokugeki no Soma (2015 IMDb)

Viewing

Seen in 2016.

Categorization

Shounen tournament comedy and cooking show.

Subject

A kid raised in a diner by a single parent is sent to Japan's premier school of cooking, where only 10% of students graduate. The institution's crushing elitism is counterbalanced only by the objectivity of its frequent high-stakes competitions.

Commentary

Comradely violence, the ur-motif of shounen, is often proxied by sports and other games where a clear winner can be determined. In Food Wars, the proxy is cooking, an extremely popular subject of Japanese entertainment. The central invention that enables this merger of two big genres by keeping up the appearances of a genuine competition is the visualization of taste, somewhat awkwardly ported from the comic's full-page spreads.

Emotions in the tasting scenes run so high that only one character ever seems able to lie about them. That lie is eroticized as a shameful weak point of one of the elite girls. Tasting good food, in general, is eroticized throughout the show, positioning the cooking competition as a proxy for sex as well as the traditional violence: The tasters cannot hide their opinions because approval takes the form of extreme arousal, illustrated with nudity and shown as akin to orgasm. That is a stroke of commercial brilliance, probably done better here than ever before in animation.

So it's food porn and actual porn in an established format for children. Because it's about children, the studio is obliged to pretend through captions that celebrating teenagers are getting drunk on fruit juice, not alcohol. The crassness of the idea, which was obviously shaped for some manga editor with a clear view of her market, is effectively softened by comedy and by the uncommon portrayal of the protagonist as a sore loser who does indeed lose some competitions. Unfortunately, women are disproportionately objectified by the visualized taste tests, particularly in the last competition, which becomes a drag.

The “special school” trope is done quite well here, without any attempt at realism. In particular, regular classes are rarely shown, and we see nothing that could really be called pedagogy or instruction. There is absolutely no sign of education in subjects other than cooking, despite this being a high school. Even chemistry is strangely absent as a taught subject.

A shokugeki (食戟, approximately “meal fight”) is a formal cooking duel, a conceit and neologism of the show. I suppose the word comes from kengeki (剣戟, sword fight), shigeki (刺戟, excitement/thrill etc., using the character for halberds and other weapons metaphorically) and partial homonyms like chokugeki (直撃, direct hit), used repeatedly about the fragrance of curry in the last episodes.

Japanese production animation series

Sequel:

Food Wars: The Second Plate (2015 IMDb)

Viewing

Seen in 2016.

Categorization

More of the same. It is effectively a second one-cour season, but as is common in anime, it ran under an expanded title.

Commentary

Pretty solidly crafted, but tamer. There is little dramatic or epic development, and unexpectedly few flunk out. The first stagiaire episode lacks even the pretense of competition, beyond presenting a difficult school assignment.

Japanese production animation series