Imagine Master Chef as an anime where tasting incredible food is an orgasm inducing experience. Then put in a cocky male lead and the usual tropes for the other students and staff members, an absentee father, and lots of intense trash talk between students. There we have it, Food Wars.
With season 2 of this now airing, I figured I might as well review season 1. And those of you who follow my Twitter feed will know that I took the opportunity during my last break to watch season 1 again with a friend of mine (the friend will watch anime but isn’t an anime fan – I sold her on this from the food competition angle).
I’m going to keep this relatively short because Food Wars neither particularly amazes me or annoys. I actually never expected to finish watching it the first time and until a few weeks ago had no intention of a rewatch. Still, it was pleasantly surprising in that it was a very enjoyable watch the first time through and I had a lot of fun the second time around (though a lot of that was from laughing at my friend’s reactions to the anime rather than the show itself – this is why you should always watch anime with someone).
A basic plus/minus overview of Food Wars.
While Soma (our protagonist) is cocky, hotheaded, and frequently gets himself into unnecessary complications due to his lack of ability to emphasise with others (let’s face it if it isn’t food, Soma is clueless) he is actually surprisingly pleasant. He isn’t the shouting protagonist or the crying one. When he fails in a cook off (which does happen even though we usually forget that it does because it wasn’t an official cook off) he faces genuine frustrations but doesn’t fall into the trap of bottomless and depression inducing despair. The fact that he also uses all of his experiences as a chance to learn and he helps build up the confidence of those around him (provided they fall into the magic category of protagonist’s friend or dorm-mate) makes him quite a fun character to watch mess around in a kitchen for a season.
Too many of the other characters are anything more than a one dimensional idea of a character. This is the nervous one, this is the elitist one, this is the angry one, this is the clumsy one, etc. While some of the support cast (particularly Megumi) do start to flesh out within the series, most of the others don’t escape being hit with one colour brush stroke and staying put for the duration. That’s because there are a lot of characters. Soma’s home town friends and the other shop owners, the excessively large student body at the school, the staff members, the former students of the school, and on and on it goes. When large chunks of episodes are devoted to cooking there isn’t a huge amount of time to give these characters much depth.
The humour works more often than it fails. Soma’s ongoing attempts to create the worst recipe as well as his tallying his wins and losses against his father, the over the top commentary during the food battles themselves, the outfits some of the students wear in the kitchens, Soma’s reactions when hearing the actual names for cooking techniques, and most of the other student’s reactions to Soma’s more ordinary food; all of these elements work to keep a smile on your face if they don’t make you laugh out loud. Some people would also probably classify the food orgasms as humour and visually, they probably are supposed to be funny but mostly they just seem a little excessive.
Other than Soma wanting to be number 1, there really doesn’t feel like there’s much at stake here. So if he fails a challenge he’ll be expelled? And? There are other cooking schools. That’s what bothered me the whole time watching this. These kids are killing themselves to avoid expulsion (because a school can certainly continue to operate by excluding the majority of its student body – not) and while they keep reminding us how exclusive this school is and how prestigious, the kids already know how to cook and they can do it well. There is nothing stopping any of them just leaving and getting an apprenticeship and becoming chefs. So, stakes not so high. While the characters keep viewing this prospect as a fate worse than death, for the audience it really doesn’t feel like much is at stake and there’s really no drive beyond pride for most of the characters.
Food shots. Lots of them. Lots of different foods beautifully presented. Don’t ever watch this show while hungry. Though, I do dislike the occasional chibi versions of the characters that appear. While it is probably there for the humour value, it kind of ruins the aesthetics of the show.
And that’s more or less the sum total of my thoughts on this series. The fact that I watched it at all when I hate reality cooking shows and cooking contests still surprises me. The fact that I must honestly admit I had a great time while watching (even if it isn’t going to make my list of favourite anime any time soon) also surprises me. Reading the plot synopsis I wouldn’t really believe this to be my kind of anime. But its charming, amusing, at times exciting and occasionally dramatic and for the most part it’s pretty. Unless the characters losing their clothes after eating is going to bother you, check it out.
One warning though – watching people cook does not qualify you to cook. Avoid attempting duplications of Food Wars recipes no matter how good they look. Hey, I warned you.