I remember seeing this series out back in August, but I didn’t really look much into it.
Recently however I heard some good words from my more manga inclined friends and with a bit of extra cash and a coupon I jumped in and bought the first two volumes. Then I was sent the third volume and so here we are. We’re looking at three whole volumes, so I should be able to get a good sense of how much the series improves/changes over time. What does Food Wars have to offer us? Is it good?
Food Wars! Shokugeki No Soma Vol. 1-3 (Viz Media)
Written By: Yuto Tsukuda
Drawn By: Shun Saeki
Translated By: Adrienne Beck
Soma Yukihira is the son of an extremely talented chef and owner of a small family restaurant. He wants to someday surpass his old man and he could easily be on his way. He has an incredible talent for making food. Incredible to the point that his restaurant patrons literally have a foodgasms (seriously). However, he also has a bad habit of making extremely awful tasting foods when he tries experimenting. But that shouldn’t really matter for him, as long as he keeps training and practicing at his family’s restaurant, all will be well…
…then his dad decides to shut the whole place down for a few years so he can cook abroad for various people. Where will Soma go now? He ends up having to enroll in the Totsuki Saryo Culinary Institute, the most upscale and prestigious culinary school in all of Japan with a graduation rate of barely 10%. Here, he’ll have to learn to become a master chef and hopefully be able to not only graduate, but surpass his father. Of course, there’ll be struggles from the get-go that’ll really test him. Facing off with Erina Nakiri, the girl with the Divine Tongue in the opening exams; finding a dorm room and dealing with the odd personalities and so much more. His time in and even before starting at this school will certainly be interesting.
Also, there will be lots of food. Lots of yummy… drool-inducing… food…
There’s a lot to cover over three volumes, so let’s break it down storywise. The first volume is your basic series introduction: the cast of characters, the themes and ideas we’ll be seeing, the general tone and mood to expect, the premise for the series, and of course the style of “action” we’ll be seeing. The first volume does a solid job overall at getting the audience into the story and paints a rather interesting and sort of unique take on your typical shonen manga (the action we’ll be seeing is more of a cooking challenges and cook-offs for this one). The only downside with the first volume is that the story doesn’t get going all that quickly and takes a bit of time establishing and building things up. You do get to see what the series will be about, but we barely get any look into school and primary setting.
In the next two volumes however the series really takes off. The second volume is still primarily in the setup field but does give a bigger taste of what to expect when the cook-offs and challenges are introduced, which are nice changes of pace compared to the usual battle/action mangas I’ve read where the opponents are trying to make a better dish than the other. The third volume is when the manga moves into its first big arc, where the characters enter Cooking Camp and face their first true challenge and test of skills. Again, the manga really continues to grow from here, adding in more characters, concepts, and some rather surprising twists to the mix that make for a pretty enjoyable read. I can’t say much, but if you are still reading the manga this far in and are still not completely sure, this volume should seal the deal.
Now, with a title like Food Wars, you’re probably expecting a huge focus on food, cuisine, cooking, and all of that jazz. You’d be right and this is one of two things in the writing that truly make the series shine really bright. The creative team on this series knows their food and cooking extremely well (I hear they consult some chefs and food experts for this series; I do like when a creative team consults the experts to make their work more authentic). Despite how flashy the series makes the cooking look and the goofy nature of the series overall, the cooking feels very real and dare I say, inspiring. Food Wars gives the impression that you can make this food and make it just as delish as the creative team shows it. Speaking of which, the comic does a great job at describing and highlighting every little detail of the food and the ingredients/preparation that go into the cooking process. You really come away with an understanding of how to cook food, the amount of work that goes into it, and why one dish may be better than another. Also, the description and narration does an excellent job of making the food sound delectable (probably the best examples are in the first volume). The only weak part of this all is that book can get incredibly text and exposition heavy in areas with all of the explanation going on.
I may be a picky eater, but this looks/sounds downright yummy!
Back to the characters: Our protagonist is Soma Yukihira and he’s a pretty decent guy to follow. As I mentioned, he’s a prodigy/skilled chef in some sense, having learned cooking from his extremely talented father and having worked in a kitchen since he was very little. He rarely has trouble cooking most of his dishes, constantly knowing what to do and how to fix problems he encounters along the way. In a way, he comes across a bit too perfect with his skills and he doesn’t have a lot of character development throughout these volumes, but he’s a likeable, good-hearted individual.
The “real” female lead (I’ll explain what I mean by that soon enough) is Megumi Tadokoro, one of Soma’s classmates. She is a very weak-willed and fragile type of girl, easily scared and frequently worried. Not that she doesn’t have any right to worry — as she’s constantly getting low grades that may get her thrown out of school, after she made a promise to her entire community that she’ll go to the school to become a great chef — and has to deal with the very strong and forward personalities of her peers. With her nature, she does end up being one of the funniest characters, especially how she reacts to certain situations and also the one who seems to be developing more quickly. You don’t see a lot of change with her in these three volumes, but you do start to notice her being a bit more confident and sure of herself in comparison to where she first starts off. I do look forward to seeing where she goes and how she develops as the series progresses.
The other female lead is Erina Nakiri and she seemed like she was being built up to be the female lead in the early chapters. However, as these volumes went on, she sort of got less focus (I’ve heard she gets even less as time goes on) and Megumi started becoming the real lead. That’s rather surprising honestly, but it’s not too much a loss. Erina is easily one of the meanest and asshole-ish characters of the entire series so far. She is the granddaughter of the school’s dean, has an extremely big ego and supercilious opinion of herself (though she has the cooking skills to really backup her ego), looks down upon most people, has large amounts of power in the culinary world, and also has what is known as “The Divine Tongue”: basically, she has the strongest sense of taste the world has ever seen and experience vivid images in her mind of what the food tastes like to her. It leads to some amusing bits, particularly one where you can see how she envisions what one soup tasted as though she was meditating underneath a waterfall and suddenly a jukebox fell on top of her head. Though that’s probably the only amusing and nice thing about her, since the rest of the time she can be incredibly grating with her personality. Frankly, I think she makes a decent villain you see sometimes rather than a regular main character.
Let’s be honest here, who wouldn’t want to taste that soup when you describe like that?
There are a bunch of other characters that have been introduced too but they don’t figure much on the plot except for one: Takumi Aldini. He seems to be Soma’s rival and he’s a pretty good one at that, giving Soma a run for his money in terms of skill. Plus his backstory and his interactions with Soma really make him an enjoyable character to watch going forward.
The rest of the characters are just supporting and mini-villains that Soma encounters, with most not getting much of a background. To credit of the series though, these ancillary characters are rather memorable or amusing in their own ways with their own quirks; Satoshi Isshiki for instance, a more senior student of the school who is constantly getting half naked for the flimsiest of reasons; and the girl who hosts the cook-offs who’s constantly getting jealous of the female contestants that are drawing away the attention of the male crowd from her.
Now, let’s talk about the second thing that makes this series really shine: The tone. Despite how serious the manga can be at points and how informative and downright instructive the food/cooking sequences are, Food Wars is simultaneously one of the most absurd and wacky series I’ve read. Every character is amusing in their own right, even the more serious and normal ones. The way the cooking is taken so seriously, the cooking battles taking place in a stadium, the fact that school seems to almost run by the students in some ways, and the wild reactions the characters display are amazing. Plus, the food-gasms the characters have only contribute to the outrageous nature of the series and invoke some of the weirdest images I’ve seen. They often involve a lot of fanservice (half-naked bodies, skimpy to form fitting attire, that sort of thing), but they are mixed with such out there concepts and visuals that it just ends up downright funny. Probably the best example is where someone is envisioning herself in a very tight dress, on stage at opera, being serenaded by a man with duck mask after she ate some great tasting duck. Goofy, funny, and thoroughly entertaining.
Yes, the series can be this out there.
The artwork by Shun Saeki contributes a great deal to the experience. The characters are incredibly expressive and easily distinguishable from one another; the layouts are very well put together and flow well from page to page and the imagery, particularly the look of the food itself and trippy scenes like the foodgasm visions are amazing. Speaking of which, the food itself just incredible and delicious looking throughout. Everything looks incredibly tasty and so full of detail that it almost looks like a photo in areas. It’s amazing what Saeki can do.
Despite how amazing the artwork is there’s also tons and tons of fanservice in Food Wars. This is classified as an ecchi title, which means “lewd”, “sexy”, or “naughty”. There’s a lot of tight clothing, big boobs that defy gravity, lots of cleavage shots, partially nude characters and of course, the aforementioned foodgasm scenes. To its credit, the comic is an equal opportunist, so there’s a lot of guy abs and muscles on display here as well. However, I can say that if fanservice is a deal breaker for you, then you might want to reconsider giving this a try.
The final thing to note with the series is all of the bonus material. Ther are two one-shots that author wrote that he originally made, one that acted as a predecessor to this series and another about a romantic high school drama. Neither are too bad and are enjoyable to read. Also included are actual recipes for a lot of the food and dishes that you see throughout the series. The chances are you are probably not going to be able to make the food exactly like they do in the series, but never you know. It’s all nice bonus stuff overall.
Why yes, that girl on the left is indeed a student. Guess the school has a loose dress code or something.
Is it Good?
Food Wars! Shokugeki No Soma Vol. 1-3 really gets this series off to a great, exciting start. Of all the Shonen action titles to debut this year that I have read, this was probably the best and most memorable. Food Wars has a unique take on your typical Shonen style series with its interesting and informative cooking theme, a memorable cast of characters, and just downright beautiful artwork. There are some minor problems here and there that kind of limit the audience with its overuse of fanservice and the downright absurdity of almost everything — however, there is still plenty to like.
Food Wars! Shokugeki No Soma is available from Viz Media with the fourth volume coming out in February. Click the link at the top of the page to buy it from Amazon. The series is currently available in digital format and as each new chapter goes up in Japan, a new chapter becomes available to read here. There is a light novel of the series being released in Japan as well. Also coming soon for the series in an anime adaption set to start airing sometime in 2015, so stay tuned for that.