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The fact that anime and manga about food is a “thing” is one of the commonly referenced points to show how diverse Japanese animation can be. Rather than fighting with weapons or fists, characters will often try to outmatch each other in the kitchen, and the results are as diverse as Mr. Ajikko, Yakitate!! Japan, The Drops of God, Fighting Foodons, and indeed the current Food Wars!: Shokugeki no Soma.
However, I have to wonder if America is that far off from getting something similar, based on the direction that the Food Network has taken over at least the past five or six years. Where once the main feature of the cooking-oriented Cable channel was the variety of personable chefs making food from around the world look amazing, now the most common feature on Food Network has been competition through cuisine. Chopped. Food Network Star. Iron Chef America. Cake Wars. 24 Hour Restaurant Battle. Guy’s Grocery Games. Food Feuds. Food Fight. Throwdown with Bobby Flay. The list goes on.
While one obvious difference between food anime (which doesn’t have to be about competition but frequently is), and these Food Network shows is that one is inherently fictional while the other thrives off of the idea that they’re real people engaged in real rivalries with each other, they share a similar air of dramatic narrative. Both find ways to make something as visually appealing but not as lively as, say, sports or fighting, have more intensity. Close-ups on fine knife work. Flames roaring as someone stir fries using a wok. Unfortunate accidents and injuries. All of this works together to make food preparation a fierce, perhaps even macho world in a bid to get more guys to watch Food Network in the first place.
In that respect, another point that some food anime and Food Network shows have in common is the use of sex appeal. While it’s much more noticeable for a series like Food Wars!, where the girls are drawn to be curvaceous, and eating good food is a downright orgasmic experience, I think it’s no secret that a lot of the Food Network’s female stars are dressed in ways that enhance their bodies. This isn’t a criticism of the use of sex appeal, and especially for TV it’s par for the course. Food and sex are also not unfamiliar companions, and I could see two arguments coming out of this: first, that sex appeal can add to the excitement of food, or second, that the sort of “excitement” it brings emphasizes anything but the food. Food Wars! strikes a “balance” by pushing both to the extreme.
That’s not to leave out the other common type of food anime (and especially manga), however. One of the other common trends with food-themed works in Japanese visual media is an emphasis on travel, discovery, and healing. These series are built upon finding the next interesting food, or having a particular dish or beverage be exactly what someone needs to fix an emotional problem in their life.
Perhaps what might bridge the gap and possibly even get an animated food series on something like Food Network would be to add drama through presentation, to take something like a documentary and try to give it greater expressiveness through the art of animation.
Or they could just make a series where Fieri is a Super Saiyan.