When I wrote my Best Comics of 2014 list, I included three manga series to the list. They’re were Gangsta., Umineko: When They Cry, and this one, Food Wars, which was actually something I only discovered at the end of the year.
I’m glad I did, as Food Wars is pure joy to read: it’s a great spin on your typical Shonen manga, with great writing, great characters and lovely looking artwork. Sure, it was shameless with some of its fanservice (AKA gratuitous titillation), but well-done nonetheless. The first volume of 2015 has arrived; can the series continue to impress? Is it good?
Food Wars! Shokugeki No Soma Vol. 4 (Viz Media)
Written By: Yuto Tsukuda
Drawn By: Shun Saeki
Translated By: Adrienne Beck
Megumi has been expelled; all thanks to being unfairly trapped in a challenge that Kojiro Shinomiya, a previous graduate of the Totsuki Institute and acting teacher for the cooking camp, had stacked against many of the students. However, Soma isn’t going to let that stand and challenges Kojiro to a shougeki, a cooking challenge — if Soma and Megumi beat him, she is no longer expelled. However, if they lose, both of them will be expelled. This is a tough challenge, as the tandem are facing a professional and critically acclaimed chef. Do the two students stand even a chance of winning?
Let’s get straight to it: Food Wars! Vol. 4 is another great addition to the series. It’s still incredibly fun, exciting, informative, hilarious, and just plain shameless at all the right moments. Well… it’s not nearly as shameless as the past few volumes, but that element is still there and is still really absurd and great. The volume continues from where the story left off last time and it’s just an entirely enjoyable ride from start to finish, even pulling out some pretty big surprises that you might not have expected from the series. Food Wars Vol. 4 really makes you excited and engaged in everything happening, especially if you have been really into the cooking battles and face-offs so far.
Most of this volume deals with the shougeki challenge between Shinomiya and Megumi/Soma and the aftermath (at least two thirds of the book in total). This part of the book is fantastic, especially the build-up,the tension and excitement, and how the characters react/previous stories play into it. You really do feel the pressure and understand how nervous Megumi would be, especially since she has been just barely been scraping by with all of the challenges and obstacles thrown her way. It’s easy to get caught up in the emotion and start hoping for she and Soma to succeed, especially with how hard they work and how utterly amazing Shinomiya is as a challenge (he’s a douche, but he has the skills to back it up). Then, when you see how the challenge ends, you really feel the devastation the characters experience and you are equally sad for them. It’s a great twist and how they actually stay in school after that is equally surprising.
The final third of the book has the characters focus on one final big challenge at their cooking camp: they must serve the ultimate breakfast for hotel guests as if they were professional chefs with their own restaurant. It’s a good follow-up to the intense story before and the solid writing does an effective job of portraying how Soma is feeling after her challenge from the preceding storyline. The final third also brings in two new characters (who are just hilarious like the rest) and ends the book off with another good twist like the last volume. Ultimately, the story in this volume was great and wonderfully written, never slowing down the plot once and always providing an engaging time.
While the story was great, I would say the character work was even better; this volume provided a lot of poignant character moments, development, and characterization throughout for the main, supporting, and even the big villain in all of this. Let’s start with Soma, who really grew in this volume. Before, he was always a charater who was so sure of himself, someone who was able to take on anything that was thrown at him, and always very confident. However, after he actually lost the challenge, his confidence was shaken. Sure, his cooking skills remain strong, but he started doubting himself and second guessing his work. How he’ll be able to overcome this trouble really makes me curious, especially given the ending of the book.
I’ll pretend I know what you are talking about and just cheer.
Megumi had probably the most growth; she is really becoming one of the best developed characters in the series. Up until this point she was still rather weak-willed and unsure of herself. Her cooking skills were strong, but not as great as others and in a school where the teachers are extremely overcritical, it really drove down her self-esteem. Plus, most of the victories she has had thus far could be contributed mostly to Soma’s help. Being expelled felt like the final nail in the coffin for her and even when Soma gets her into the shokugeki, she had a glaring lack of self-confidence. Ironically, through this challenge, she regains her confidence and drive, delivering a delightful dish that really impresses the judges. Even though she doesn’t win, the amount of praise she gets for it, the reassurance from the school’s graduates, and the fact that she was the lead chef in this challenge really lifted her spirits and gave her more drive and confidence in her ability. Hell, we get to see her new growth in action rather quickly, since the next challenge she is able to pass rather easily! Megumi has really grown and developed into an enjoyable character, easily one of my favorite female leads in manga.
Then we come to Kojiro Shinomiya, Megumi and Soma’s opponent. The last volume did a great job of setting up how much of a smug jerk he was when it came to cooking, treating the other students so harshly that you couldn’t help but root against the guy and watch him get his comeuppance. However, after the battle, the writer does a surprising job in actually humanizing him and really letting you get into his head. You come to understand what he used to be like and what turned him into the jerk he is now, even understanding why he eventually concedes and lets the two students stay. It’s a very strong chapter where we see this and while I’m sure not everyone will turn around on him, the readers can at least get where he is coming from. Perhaps we’ll see some future development with the character down the line as well.
And from that moment on, a rivalry within a rivalry was formed!
The dialogue and narration are very good and there are some great lines delivered throughout the book. The only time it feels weak is when the book gets a bit too expositional in describing and explaining the cooking going on; that’s a minor nitpick, however, since the book still makes everything sound interesting and combines it with some good imagery. The humor is still as strong as ever, really delivering some hilarious lines and amusing visual gags, like the “foodgasms” the judges gets when they try Shinomiya’s dish (which I dare not spoil).
The artwork is also excellent and only serves to bolster the writing. The characters are easily very distinguishable with their varied body types, faces, and hairstyles. They have good range of emotions and reactions that really help sell the emotional and funny scenes throughout the book. The layouts are good and easy to follow, the attention to detail with the small stuff is nice, and the food and actual cooking looks amazing (so realistic at points!). For those of you concerned about the fanservice and craziness of the past few volumes, it is a bit turned down this time (though it is still there and blatant, like how the cover page for one chapter is one of the characters nude in a hotspring).
However, what I appreciate the most from the artwork is that it is able to do to the small, sometimes subtle, things rather well. For instance, the first time you see Alice in the book, her uniform is buttoned up all the way. The next time she appears, her uniform is unbuttoned a bit so she can show off her cleavage. The reason for the change isn’t because the artist forgot that minor detail, but because it actually plays into how Alice is acting during the scenes. Her first scene has her trying to be intimidating and serious, while in the next she is trying to play up being sensual and distracting, sneaking a peek at what Soma is currently working on. It’s not big or anything, but I do appreciate the little details like that immensely.
Oh crap! She’s giving the most adorable evil look ever. Shield your eyes!
Is it Good?
Food Wars! Shokugeki No Soma Vol. 4 is easily the best volume of the series to date, really delivering an enjoyable experience from start to finish. It had a solid story, great cast of characters with equally good development, fantastic writing, and beautiful looking artwork. I’m loving this series more and more as time goes on and I eagerly await diving into the next volume when it comes out. This is one of the better Shonen titles I’ve read in a long time and you owe it to yourself to give it a look.
Food Wars! Shokugeki No Soma is available from Viz Media with the fourth volume coming out in February. 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.