When I reviewed Today’s Menu for Emiya Family, I was impressed not just by the charm of the story, but how well the anime depicted the act of cooking – how well it showed its work. It was a manga about family meals. This wasn’t just represented by the choices of food prepared in the work, but on how the series depicted eating. However, Food Wars Volume 1, which I’m reviewing today, kicked off a sort of boom of cooking anime and manga that lead to series like Emiya Family, and Food Wars could not be more different.
Not Iron Chef – Honest Guv!
Food Wars is, first and foremost, a battle manga. It’s a cooking battle manga, and one which boasts a culinary consultant, presumably to make sure the dishes are actually possible with the ingredients listed. However, the driving narrative of the story is the idea of culinary battles.
The premise of this first volume is that Soma is a high school student in Japan, whose dad runs a family restaurant. Soma’s father is an extremely skilled chef, and Soma is no slouch in his own right but wants to surpass his father. After Soma’s father decides to go on a global cooking tour, he closes the restaurant and enrolls his son in his Alma Mater, Totsuki Saryo Culinary Institute. This school is so difficult that only 10% of its students graduate – so if Soma can get through the school, he stands a chance of surpassing his father.
One of the featured parts of the school is the Shokugeki – the “Food Wars” of the manga’s translated title. These are basically Iron Chef-esque cooking battles, where two cooks must prepare a dish with a theme ingredient, and a judge tries both dishes and determines the winner. Being as taste is up to, well, taste, one would think that there would be a chance for corruption.
This brings us to the elephant in the room. Soma’s cooking is so good that it’s orgasmic. Literally. I’m not talking a Kakegurui-style fully dressed ahegao here either. I’m talking a full page or multi-page panel of the character who ate the food, nude and having an orgasm, with effects covering the genitals. I think the only reason we don’t see bodily fluids is that this ran in Shonen Jump. Thus, there is no doubt that Soma is the winner because he’s the one who made the person orgasm.
That’s kind of my problem with the manga. It’s not that I’m prudish – I’ve read eromanga, and one of my favorite unlicensed manga is Toshiue no Hito, a manga that’s effectively smut. I’m also okay with a work that gets into the sensuality of food and dining – good food as hedonism.
It’s that the manga actually kind of half-asses both the cooking side and the hedonism side. If you’re doing a fanservice manga, like To-Love-Ru (to use another Shonen Jump example), then it works better to just lean into it. If you’re doing a cooking manga, even if it’s a battle one, then focus on the food and the craft of making it.
Neither Sexy nor Yummy
Because this first volume of Food Wars tries to split the difference between the two, both suffer. There’s no build-up to the moments when the manga decides to get lewd, aside from the concept that the preparation of whatever dish Soma is making will lead to a money shot of somebody having an orgasm. It’s just all of a sudden you turn the page and a somebody’s having a mostly naked orgasm (or, if Soma’s cooking squid, getting molested by tentacles).
On the other hand, part of the thing in battle manga, particularly when it comes to real-world tasks, is the art of showing one’s work, and as a consequence learning something new about the thing. For example, if I read a battle manga about cleaning, I’d suspect there’d be some unique trick in the manga on how to clean cat puke out of your carpet. In Food Wars Vol. 1 at least, we see the final result, but we don’t see much time on the preparation. Now, it’s entirely possible that the anime fixes this, but I’m not reviewing that.
On top of that – having read the first volume of the Emiya Family manga since I finished watching the show – that manga also shows its work by, indeed, providing recipes for every dish shown in that chapter. Food Wars Vol. 1 on the other hand, has one recipe for three dishes. Consequently, I can’t speak for how much of this is legit, and how much the writer has made up out of thin air.
Freezing for Later
I may read the rest of this manga, but for the moment, I’m putting it on hold for now, as I’ve got much more to read at this time – both ongoing and otherwise. The concept is still interesting, and I hope it improves with time. However, the execution in this first volume didn’t quite hook me.