Part 9 of my final impressions countdown.
5. Shokugeki no Soma/Food Wars
Considering the amount of fun I’ve had watching Soma these last six months, it feels odd to recall I actually dropped the show after first episode, frustrated by the rote dialogue, tacky fanservice and J.C. Staff’s lazy directing technique of literally copy/pasting panels from the manga. However, I couldn’t help but be impressed the premise of a shounen tournament series that trades punches for plates, and being too daunted by 69 episodes of Yakitate!! Japan, figured I’d give it a second shot.
Not that my initial misgivings were unfounded. Soma truly is a straight up transfer of the source material, both in strengths and weaknesses, and like many shounen series out there takes a while to build up enough momentum for the positives to outweigh the failings. It eventually gets there though, maybe around the sixth/seventh episode mark. The rote, explanatory dialogue quickly moves from trying to explain the premise and cast motivations, to detailing the actual dishes they make, a far more natural and entertaining use of the formula.
The culinary tournaments and presentation of the meals is where the show truly shines, with the imagery used to depict menus both incredibly detailed and informative. It’s immediately apparent that the manga employs a separate collaborator solely to discover the best regionalised delicacies for inclusion in the story, with the unique variety of world dishes never losing its wow factor. The imagery conjured to describe the plates is also consistently hysterical, using some of the most ridiculous and inspired metaphors this side of Aquarion EVOL (with about the same amount of orgasms). One character tries a delicious breaded fish dip and visualises themself as a mermaid being whisked away by anthropomorphised bishie version of the snack, while another encounters a crustacean-based curry in a French brandy sauce & sees Napoleon riding to war on the back of a giant lobster, before flying into orbit on a red, pincered rocket ship. Scenes like this are par for the course throughout the entire series. And just like EVOL, there’s a whole lot of moaning in space.
With that said, the show doesn’t get off scott-free in certain regards. The exaggerated sexualisation towards women (and one guy for purely comedic effort) remains constant. Thankfully, the depictions of tentacle rape and the like quickly disappear after the first couple of episodes, but the majority of the female cast have a way too much focus put on their bowling ball cup sizes or provocatively framed shots, no more so than unfortunate stars and stripes bikini-wearing bad 90’s stereotype, Mito, who pretty much exists for fanservice and tsundere jokes. To the show’s credit, this rarely feels particularly creepy or malicious, avoiding the fetishes, scandalisation and regressive attitudes of ecchi anime. Being a straight up shounen series, the service definitely feels catered to teenage boys lacking in subtlety towards sexual matters. Horny and juvenile, sure, but rarely gross.
The cast being quirky, but surface level tools for the cooking, rather than in-depth characters actually helps towards not taking thing too seriously. In general Soma’s aim is to be light, goofy & upbeat. It’s not about deep commentary. What you’re given is a constantly entertaining balance between culinary and shounen sensibilities.
Honestly my biggest personal frustration is the knowledge I’ll never have the skills to be even imitate most of the meals on display. Congratulations Soma, you’ve succeeded in giving me phantom hunger pangs for dishes I’ve never even tried.