Diners, Saiyans, and Drives

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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.

ssj-guyfieri

Miyamoto Ariana, “Japanese-ness,” and Black Cosplay

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Miyamoto Ariana is the 2015 Miss Universe Japan, and the first to ever be half-black. In an ethnically homogenous society, she has become a figure of both hope and controversy, defying and reshaping how people see the concept of being “Japanese.” One common question to her from reporters has been what she considers about herself to be most Japanese, and her response has been, “But I am always Japanese.”

Setting aside in this instance the legitimate criticism of beauty pageants and the like, I want to focus less on the issue of judging people, especially by women, primarily on how they look, and more about how people perceive the way others “should” look. In particular, I want to focus on another less well-known controversy within fandom from a few years back, which is the idea that black girls shouldn’t cosplay white or “white-looking” (i.e. anime) characters.

This has justifiably received a great deal of blow-back from fans and cosplayers of all ethnicities, with people arguing that cosplay is something that transcends race. After all, it’s not necessarily about replicating the character perfectly in reality. The cosplayer is just as important if not more than the costume itself. However, while not wrong in any way, such an argument still comes from the idea that one is defying the presence of race through cosplay. With Miyamoto Ariana’s victory though, something even more fundamental to this idea of “cosplaying the wrong skin color” enters the equation.

Essentially, when it comes to anime characters especially, black cosplayers are working from the perspective that Japanese-ness doesn’t matter, and they’re basically right. What Miyamoto does is attack this at an even more base level: what does “Japanese-ness” even mean? You can look black, be Japanese, and neither is a compromise of the other, even if the surrounding culture (or subculture) tries to make it seem that way.

Of course, when it comes to both beauty queens and cosplayers, on some level image is important, but efforts by both black cosplayers and Miyamoto Ariana show how the very assumptions that go into how we see things, how we see the relationship between reality and fiction and at what point one appears to be the other, can be challenged and potentially transformed on a societal level. At least, that’s where I hope things will go.