Now that’s what I call food porn.
OP: “Kibou no Uta” (希望の唄;Song of Hope) by ULTRATOWER
The premiere of Shokugeki no Souma was pretty good, but not as entertaining as the reactions of viewers who didn’t know what they were getting. Yes, this is a WSJ adaptation – but it’s not a mass-produced model. Manga artist Saeki Shun’s roots are as an H-doujin writer (under an assumed name, of course) and that shows through in almost every frame of Shokugeki. There’s no denying that this series is operating on multiple levels, but fundamentally I think it’s the ecchi and the bent humor that drives the train.
In terms of adaptation, I think this first episode did everything one could reasonably expect. I would describe director Yonetani Yoshitomo’s (he’s also a writer and, interestingly, singer) track record as mixed, but his work on the underrated Dororon Enma-kun Meerameera shows he gets this kind of soft-H comedy style. I don’t personally feel Shokugeki no Souma is anything great as a manga – just an interesting and entertaining oddity – but Yonetani-sensei definitely manages to capture whatever it is that the manga has for charm and translate it to anime. And it’s a well-produced premiere – I like the character designs, there’s a sense of flair and style, and Kato Tatsuya’s soundtrack is a perfect fit for the material.
Love, hate or indifferent, I think it’d be hard to argue that Shokugeki doesn’t have a relentless energy and a fearless sense of the absurd. It’s the story of a 15 year-old cooking whiz named Yukihira Souma (Matsuoka Yoshitsugu) whose Dad Jouichirou (anime’s go-to Dad Koyama Rikiya) runs the dive restaurant father & son both cook for. A shady developer named Minegasaki Yaeko (Chiba Izumi) wants to bulldoze the place for a high-rise development, and eventually pops decides to close on his own terms in order to force his son to leave the nest. That means attending the Engetsu Teahouse Cooking Academy, the most cutthroat cooking school in Japan (with a graduation rate of less than 10%).
When you see the premise laid out in brief like that, it seems wafer-thin and rather silly – and in this case, looks aren’t deceiving. This is a “premise” in the truest sense of the word, an excuse for the weird and ecchi goings-on that define the series. A girl tastes squid with peanut butter and gets tentacle-raped? Check. Yaeko eats a “pork roast” of potatoes and mushrooms under slow-roasted bacon and needs a change of underwear? Check. Lots of naked children in the (hilarious) ED sequence? Check. To the extent that this series works, it works as a literal feast for the senses – and there’s something to the notion that food is one of life’s most sensual pleasures. And in truth, that should work even better in anime than manga form if the production is competent – and this one certainly seems to be.
As the story moves to Engetsu, lots of new new characters are introduced, and with it the dreaded waifu element that unfortunately seems to drive a lot of the fandom for the series. And I could have done without Matsuoka being the lead in both new J.C. Staff series premiering today – DanMachi is an unfortunate reminder of where he’s made his fortune, and that he really has almost no range as an actor. But some of the Engetsu characters are a lot of fun, and for me at least the frantic soft-core eroticism and humor never stops being entertaining. It’s not a work of genius and there are aspects of it that try the patience, but Shokugeki no Souma is pretty good for what it is – and it has the virtue of being pretty close to unique. All in all, based on the premiere I expect this to be a pretty entertaining series.
ED: “Spice” (スパイス) by Tokyo Karan Koron