Within the first few minutes of the Food Wars!: Shokugeki no Soma anime, viewers are made well aware of the extent of its fanservice. If the flavor of peanut butter squid being visually likened to being violated by a large squid wasn’t enough, as the episode progresses characters basically have reactions that are downright orgasmic. It’s the kind of reaction that can really turn people away, but I also am aware of how the seeming need to fully animate a manga can lead to a rather different (and more gratuitous) experience, even when faithfulness to the source material is considered important. This is what I believe happened with another series, Mysterious Girlfriend X, and so when I got the chance to read the manga for Food Wars, I went in curious about two things: the depiction of competition in the Yakitate!! Japan “food battle” sense, and how the fanservice compares to the anime.
Food Wars! portrays both the act of master chefs locked in fierce cooking combat and the sexually charged tasting reactions with equal care and attention to detail. The manga is certainly not a cleaner alternative to the anime, but there are a couple of points I noticed about it. First, the manga’s imagery is a noticeably different experience due to the lack of need to fully animate all of the more gratuitous scenes. Second, Food Wars! actually takes a kind of multi-level approach to its fanservice.
I think it’s fair to judge a series by the most extreme examples of fanservice found in it, and so this isn’t really a defense of Food Wars! as sticking it to the prudes or anything. However, when it comes to anime and manga, they tend to maintain to a fairly consistent level of the kind of fanservice they want to use. Love Hina and Chobits go for mildly risque bath scenes, Aim for the Top! goes for the subdued-by-today’s-standards jiggle and “creative” camera angles, and Godannar!! and Ikkitousen are all about in-your-face shots and revealing clothing (or lack thereof). Food Wars!, in contrast to all of those, encompasses virtually the entire spectrum.
At the far end, you have the scenes described above: images that, in and out of context, look like something you’d find in a naughty magazine. However, there are also plenty of food reaction moments that are more about showing off the girls’ (and in some cases even guys’) bodies in the buff, without that added layer of sexual innuendo. There are images of girls spilling out of their outfits, but there are also relatively more conservative examples. So, while you have a character like Mito Ikumi (pictured at the beginning of this post), who wears bikinis and is based around a rather blatant “meat” theme, you also have characters like Tadakoro Megumi and Mizuhara Fuyumi, who are less voluptuous but are still involved in their own fanservice scenes relative to their designs. In those instances, the manga will decide to show for one panel the way that Megumi’s pants hug against her hips, or that Fuyumi has subtle but noticeable curves.
In terms of how men are portrayed (their clothes burst off as they salivate over a five-star meal just as much as the girls do), but I’d actually like an opinion from any readers interested in men as to whether Food Wars! hits any of their buttons in the right way. I get the feeling Takumi Aldini is popular, but I haven’t looked into it extensively.
Given all this talk of gratuitous imagery, I find it all the more interesting that the more I read Food Wars!, the less I think of it as a fanservice series, even though it can be so elaborate and perverted in its character depictions. It certainly is still that sort of manga and anime, but the cooking really takes center stage, and in certain ways the ever-present fanservice is actually subordinate to the food. There’s just something about the intensity and the amount of attention that goes into presenting the culinary masterpieces of the manga’s characters that shines the spotlight on their cooking above all else.
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