“Mogusa-san Fights Against Appetite” Concludes on a Body-Positive Note

Whether she’s a high school student discovering love or a college student striking it out on her own, the gluttonous Mogusa Minori is among my all-time favorite manga characters. Earlier this year, the story of a girl whose fondness for food transcends human limits had concluded in the fifth and final volume of Mogusa-san Fights Against Appetite. I’m not going to retread a lot of ground because my previous review still holds up, but I do want to elaborate upon the final message of the series and its overall positivity.

The main premise of Mogusa-san Fights Against Appetite is that Mogusa, whose appetite is virtually endless, is trying to transition into a more normal eating schedule. Where once she could be found snacking throughout the entire day, now she wants to limit herself to “only” three meals—albeit, every individual meal is itself more like three meals to the average person. Part of the comedy of this series is that, inevitably, Mogusa succumbs to her hunger pangs and has a rapturous encounter with whatever food’s in front of her. In the final volume of Mogusa-san Fights Against Appetite, however, this begins to increasingly weigh on her mind.

Seeing everyone, including her boyfriend Koguchi Torao, working hard to achieve their dreams and win their personal battles makes Mogusa very self-conscious about the fact that her own challenge—eating somewhat like a “normal” person—seems so frivolous compared to others’. But a trip back home and some advice from her mom helps Mogusa to see differently. She has matured, and in fact her gluttony has been of great benefit to her. She’s made great friends, met a wonderful boy who’s grown into a splendid man, and given her a wealth of experiences. Mogusa ultimately decides to embrace her food lust and aim to become a gourmet writer, sharing her passion for cuisines great and small with the world.

This conclusion resonates with me greatly, and not merely because I love to eat everything as well. When it comes to food shaming and body shaming, we live in a culture where outward physical appearance and behavior are often prioritized over one’s psychological well-being. The guilt Mogusa feels over eating is not uncommon, even if it’s exaggerated in her instance. Every so often, I see someone mention that a guy or a girl are disgustingly fat and that they need to get in shape, not taking into account the inner emotions of the person they’re speaking about. Some people are better off exercising and experiencing dramatic weight gain/loss because it can lead them to greater personal satisfaction and overall happiness. For others, however, the constant pressure to match a certain beauty standard means that being more physically fit can lead to mental turmoil. There’s no universal solution, even if at least some exercise is undoubtedly beneficial in e end.

This lesson isn’t limited to food. For as long as I’ve been a part of online communities, I’ve seen people twist themselves trying to hide what they deemed to be shameful hobbies or activities. They get so desperate in their desire to not be judged by their peers that it eats them up inside (Mogusa-san pun not intended), and I’ve tried to live my own life in defiance of that. Even if there might be problems that arise from one’s own interests, it shouldn’t be repressed to the point that it crushes people from within.

While Mogusa has an impossibly petite body given how much she eats, and she’s perpetually “anime-girl cute,” even she has to fight an image in her mind that she fails to live up to. In her case, it’s the yamato nadeshiko-style ideal Japanese woman archetype. She constantly imagines Koguchi, who’s living in the old Japanese capital of Kyoto, breaking up with Mogusa because she’s not traditionally beautiful enough. This also ties into how one of Mogusa’s greatest shames is the thunderous roar of her belly when she’s hungry. In Japan, many women find a growling stomach to be embarrassing, and Mogusa’s is capable of waking up sleeping animals. To see her overcome all that and be in a happier place fills me with joy.

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Down-Home Food Therapy: Atari no Kitchen

I enjoy food manga in all its forms. I was even quoted on the back of the English release of Sweetness & Lightning Volume 1! But within the Afternoon manga family is another food series I’m enjoying. Called Atari no Kitchen!, it follows a college-aged woman who starts working at a small, family-owned restaurant and helps to inspire dishes that are just right for each customer.

Atari no Kitchen! is very similar to manga such as Bartender and La Sommelière, where the food experts act almost like doctors prescribing particular spirits for each individual’s problems. Where I enjoy Atari no Kitchen! more is in its focus on food instead of alcohol. I have nothing against spirits, but their differences are much more subtle and alien to me, making their assumed effects much less relatable on a personal level. To put it succinctly, I’ve consumed far more food than alcohol in my life, and it makes this series easier to understand.

Because the setting for Atari no Kitchen! is a small restaurant (think of where Soma from Food Wars!: Shokugeki no Soma comes from), the dishes are not fancy foie gras or blowfish, but foods meant for working-class families to enjoy. For example, one chapter involves trying to find a better menu for the son of the restaurant owner, who’s set to participate in a sports event. Usually, he eats katsu, as a classic pun on the Japanese word for “win,” katsu (勝つ), but Kiyomi reads that katsu is pretty heavy and oily, and so doesn’t digest as efficiently as one might want for physical activity. So, she sets out to make a more balanced menu that still carries the flavor and spirit of pork cutlets. I think this is easy to understand and envision, even if someone’s never eaten a katsu in their life.

Kiyomi herself is also adorable, and I would be lying if I said she didn’t charm the socks off of me. The son, Kiyomasa, is also clearly smitten with her. It’s not exactly a romance series, but the fact that their names are so similar (they even start with the same kanji!) tells me that their feelings will grow as the series continues.

If you can read Japanese, you can find it on sale wherever Japanese books are sold. If not, it is a Kodansha title, so there’s always a chance it’ll get translated someday. Let’s hope!

They Grow Up So Breakfast: Mogusa-san Fights Against Appetite, Volumes 1 and 2

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Mogusa Minori, the namesake character of the manga Mogusa-san, is my spirit animal. Her bottomless appetite, sheer love for food, and the ecstasy one her face when she does eat speaks to me on a level beyond personal. The series finished in 2016 at ten volumes, but while the conclusion of Mogusa-san would be a sad affair under normal circumstances, it was immediately announced that there would be a sequel of some kind. The result is a new series titled Mogusa-san Fights Against Appetite (Mogusa-san Shokuyoku to Tatakau), and though it is clearly of the Mogusa-san lineage, it’s also a remarkably different manga in many ways.

Mogusa-san Fights Against Appetite takes place two years after the events of Mogusa-san. Mogusa is now 18, has graduated high school, and is in a long distance relationship with Koguchi Torao, the boy who befriended her in the first series. Koguchi has moved to Kyoto to learn about becoming a professional chef, while Mogusa is headed to college in Tokyo. As a full-fledged adult, Mogusa has declared that she will no longer succumb to her cravings and will eat “only” three meals a day, partly to show that she’s matured and partly for the fact that food costs money. Unfortunately for Mogusa, Tokyo is a land of culinary temptation, and tasty devils beguile her at every turn.

The most significant change from the original Mogusa-san to the sequel is that the former is told from the perspective of Koguchi, while the newer series is from Mogusa’s. Rather than viewing Mogusa as this adorable yet eerily superhuman being, we’re seeing the world from Mogusa’s eyes, and understanding her hunger pangs in a more direct way. Because the series is about Mogusa-san trying her best to not use her many refined techniques for sneaking massive bites (instead of trying not to get caught), Mogusa-san Fights Against Appetite feels somewhat closer to a traditional food manga.

This subdued approach goes hand in hand with the fact that Mogusa is older. In a certain sense, it’s like the jump from shounen to seinen manga. As a 16-year-old, Mogusa is defined more by innocence and over-the-top antics, but as an 18-year-old she has a somewhat greater air of maturity. In other words, when teenage Mogusa ate, it was like watching a Dragon Ball Z fight. When adult Mogusa eats, it’s like watching Spike take on some thugs in Cowboy Bebop. In this respect, I do miss the style of the first series to some extent, but I can appreciate the new world of possibilities this direction opens up.

Another element I miss from the previous series is the cast of characters, many of whom were either instantly endearing or grew to become as such. However, this doesn’t mean that the side characters in Mogusa-san Fights Against Appetite are inferior, just that I long to see her old classmates. In Tokyo, Mogusa manages to meet a wide variety of interesting individuals, with a couple of characters in particular standing out:

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The first is a woman named Mito Shinobu, a beautiful fellow student at Mogusa’s college who’s actually a former delinquent trying to become more feminine. Mogusa and Mito bond over their mutual desire to become more mature, but Mito is unaware of the fact that Mogusa can eat her under the table five times over and instead views Mogusa as an example of girlishness to aspire to. She’s not a foil for Mogusa in the same manner as Tabe (the professional eater from the first series who sees Mogusa as her eternal rival) or Chigumi (the picky eater whose narrow range of taste lies opposite Mogusa’s ability to eat anything), but Mito’s interactions with her are consistently entertaining.

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The second notable character is a guy named Kamishita, the president of the Gourmet Club on campus. While I previously believed that Mogusa was the character that resembled me most in the world of anime and manga, Kamishita is even closer. Not only does he enjoy food, he’s constantly experimenting with unusual combinations, like nattou on dessert pizza (!). His willingness to try bizarre food mashups, but more importantly his appreciation for them, sends friends and lovers running for the hills—an experience I know all too well.

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One aspect of this sequel that is worth focusing on is the idea that Mogusa is eating less. After all, this is potentially disconcerting given the number of girls out there who starve themselves trying to get in shape or because they’re dissatisfied with their body images. Mogusa never really appears as if she gains or loses weight, so in that respect she’s a fairly unrealistic character given how much she typically ate in high school, but it’s worth pointing out that, even though she’s trying to control her diet, she’s not exactly munching on celery sticks. Mogusa is able to eat three to ten times as much as the average person, and even as she sticks to three meals instead of six or more, all of her portions are massive. She eats hamburg steaks so big that one could feed a family of four, and when she brings onigiri to school for lunch she takes five massive ones with her.

Mogusa-san Fights Against Appetite might very well be my favorite manga currently running. Like its predecessor, this manga speaks to the inner recesses of my soul in ways few others can. You might call it… today’s recommendation.

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Mogusa-san: The Joy of Superhuman Eating 

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I love to eat. Just thinking about all the varieties of cuisine out there in the world, with dishes for the rich and the poor, gives me pure joy. That’s why one of my favorite manga over the past few years has been a food-themed series called Mogusa-san. The simple story of a cute and gluttonous girl who has mastered the art of stealth eating, I’ve already written two posts praising the series up and down. I recently picked up the most recent volumes and was surprising to learn that Mogusa-san as I originally knew it had come to an end. Volume 10 actually marks the conclusion to Mogusa-san, but it turns out that there’s already a sequel (more on that later). In any case, this gives the perfect opportunity to write an overall review of the manga.

Mogusa-san follows Mogusa Minori, a seemingly normal girl with a seemingly normal appetite. However, one day her classmate Koguchi Torao notices something odd: while Mogusa appears to be writing in class, she’s in fact snacking on a pretzel stick. The reason no one notices is that her pantomime is so convincing that most people assume she’s just using a normal pen. It turns out that Mogusa’s appetite is near-insatiable, and that she sustains herself by eating constantly, hiding her food in plain sight. After Koguchi reveals that he’s aware of her secret, the two of them become “food buddies,” visiting snack shops and other food establishments to bask both in the quantity and quality of various foods.

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Generally speaking, there are two different types of food manga. There are the series that bask in portraying the simple joy of eating and drinking, such as Sweetness and Lightning. These works portray characters with wide-eyed expressions as food brings them true joy, resulting in “food responses” that are intense but not especially over-the-top. Then there are the manga that make eating and drinking the most powerfully dramatic and sensual experiences possible. These are the Yakitate!! Japan-type series, where tasting and creating foods becomes a religious experience fueled by impossibly superhuman abilities. One thing I love about Mogusa-san is that it possesses elements of both worlds.

When Mogusa has to engage in covertly satisfying her never-ending munchies, the series emphasizes the physical limits that Mogusa pushes in pursuit of eating. Whether it’s eating a stick of dango in 1/60 of a second, hiding candy inside the corners of her jaws in case of emergencies, she always has a trick (or a pastry) up her sleeve. However, when she’s allowed to just eat without feeling any sense of shame, especially when she’s with Koguchi, the look on her face as she bites into a succulent piece of meat or slurp some delicious ramen carries the same joy as a tamer degree of food manga. While Mogusa’s expressions are near-orgasmic at times, they’re not “actually orgasmic” as one would find in Food Wars!

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While the concept might seem like it overstays its welcome, and a part of me expected that might be the case, Mogusa-san actually provides both enough narrative development and a sufficiently robust supporting cast that the series never gets tiresome. Koguchi and Mogusa bond over the course of the ten volumes in a beautiful way. Characters like Taira Chigumi (Mogusa’s opposite in that she has developed ways to hide the fact that she has the palate of a 10-year-old) and Tabe-chan (a professional competitive eater who considers Mogusa her life-long rival) add a surprising amount of variety to the theme of eating. Because these characters grow as well, Mogusa-san shows itself to be remarkably heartfelt while still remaining true to its core themes. Although there’s clearly a decent amount of experimentation in order to keep the concept in motion, the entire manga ends in an extremely satisfying way that leaves little room for disappointment.

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So where does that leave the sequel? For whatever reason, it was decided that Mogusa-san would take on a new form, and it has now been replaced by a new series called Mogusa-san wa Shokuyoku to Tatakau (“Mogusa-san Fights With Her Appetite”). Taking place after a short timeskip, Mogusa is now a college student in Tokyo, and because she no longer has her family to support her regularly, she’s trying her best to refrain from eating all the time. The result is that Mogusa-san desperately tries to stick to “only” three meals a day that, while enormous in quantity for the average human being, are clearly signs of Mogusa trying to practice willpower and diligence when viewed in the context of the previous series.

One of the two most notable changes in this new setting is that Koguchi is no longer the perspective character, and readers are instead more privy to Mogusa’s own inner thoughts. The other big change is that there appears to be less of the shounen-esque “wacky stealth eating,” giving the sequel a somewhat mellower feel. A part of me definitely misses the old style, but I am quite curious about how college life is going to treat Mogusa.

You’ll know in just one chapter if you’re going to like Mogusa-san. For me, I think it took about four pages. It’s just a food manga that has never let me down, and I’m more than happy to keep reading it with the awareness that Mogusa Minori is a kindred spirit.

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How the Gorgeous Food Manga Mogusa-san Does Side Characters

I recently picked up Volumes 2 through 5 of one of my favorite manga in recent years, Mogusa-san. Featuring a girl who eats anything and everything and has developed seemingly superhuman skills in order to get as much food in herself as possible without anyone noticing, it’s basically a series made just for me. One question that arises from reading Mogusa-san is, how do you keep this premise going? What kinds of characters do you introduce as complements or foils to Mogusa herself? The answer is, a closet picky eater who has some of the qualities of a tsundere without necessarily falling squarely into that archetype.

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Taira Chigumi is the president of Mogusa’s class, and a seemingly strait-laced, no-nonsense individual. However, she harbors a deep, dark secret: she has the palate of a 10 year old. That means hamburg steaks and gummy candies are in, tomatoes and fish are out. Of course, she has an image to uphold, so she’s learned to basically keep gross foods in her mouth without swallowing them, and then force them down with a helping of coffee milk.

It makes sense in a way: opposite a girl who eats anything is a girl who eats almost nothing, and the added twist of giving her the taste buds of a child makes her rather endearing. When Koguchi (the male POV character) discovers her secret, she responds by violently attacking him. On the surface, this appears to be the stereotypical tsundere reaction, but it’s a little too active and conscious for that to be the case. Tsundere characters are usually based around having an almost involuntary reaction to embarrassment and having their true selves revealed (as parodied in the manga Mozuya-san Gyakujousuru, about a girl with tsundere as a form of clinical disease). Also, rather than having her priorities be love or the denial thereof, Chigumi simply wants to be friends with Mogusa because she sees how Mogusa just seems to love food more than anything else, and maybe, just maybe, if she spends enough time with her, that this quality will rub off on Chigumi as well.

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Chigumi isn’t the only character who adds to the world of Mogusa-san, as it also features a little sister who eats character-shaped foods as if she were a Titan from Attack on Titan, and even an eating rival. Suffice it to say, I recommend this series 110/10. No, that’s not a typo.

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Eat to Live, Live to Eat: Mogusa-san

When it comes to characters in fiction, it’s fairly common for me to find characters that resonate with me. Much rarer, however, is to find a character that is more of a kindred spirit, someone who fundamentally connects with who I am. This is the experience I have when reading the manga Mogusa-san, the romantic story of a girl who loves to eat all the time.

One of my passions in life is food. When I travel, I mainly think in terms of things I can possibly eat. That is not to say that I am a “foodie,” as the term usually implies someone who is in constant pursuit of the next superbly executed dish. Rather, whereas a typical foodie would not touch Chef Boyardee after having freshly made authentic Italian pasta, I can eat both. I can switch freely between Époisses and Kraft American Singles and not feel that my culinary experience has been ruined. Nor do I consider myself someone with no sense of taste whatsoever, or someone who can’t appreciate finer qualities in food. Trying new dishes, revisiting old ones, complex flavors, simple tastes, approaching different cultures through their cuisine, I simply love the experiences that come with eating. So, when the titular heroine of Mogusa-san (whose name is based on mogumogu, the onomatopoeia for munching) shows a similar fondness for eating, I feel this sense of deep understanding with the character. Heck, I even made her my Twitter banner.

Food manga is a fairly ubiquitous genre, and is usually based around the intense experience of eating something so delicious that it can only be described in metaphor. Yakitate!! Japan, The Drops of God, Oishinbou, Gokudou Meshi, all of these series are about the pleasures of specific dishes and how they were made with love and care. Mogusa-san is a different experience, as it’s more about the feelings derived from the act of eating itself. It’s not just that Mogusa is always hungry or has a large appetite (common features in manga characters) which makes this manga a joy to read, but that the sheer bliss on her face—the wide-eyed sense of wonder, the small but genuine smile, the soft blush that fills the panels—is delightfully overpowering. It more or less describing how I feel whenever I eat, and on a certain level, I find this to be something missing from most food manga.

Mogusa-san feels no need for hyperbole, at least when it comes to describing taste. Instead, its sense of exaggeration lies is in how Mogusa manages to accomplish the task of eating nearly 24/7. While Mogusa is embarrassed about her love of food (because every girl around her is more about dieting), it certainly doesn’t stop her because Mogusa has mastered the art of stealth eating. She keeps packages of eel jerky in her wallet. She disguises an extra helping of rice as a French dictionary. In the image below, Mogusa is supposedly eating only one “Takenoko” chocolate snack, but is actually eating multiple ones, switching between them constantly with the skill of a wild west gunslinger to create the illusion that she’s only been eating one the whole time. In this way, the techniques used by other food manga to describe the taste of dishes transfers over to Mogusa’s consumption tactics.

I’ve been told that I make food look delicious when I eat, and this is also what I get from looking at Mogusa. As much as I love to eat, I also am fond of watching other people enjoy food as well and i n this respect, I also end up connecting to the boy who befriends Mogusa, Koguchi Torao. It’s rather satisfying to me to see someone’s face light up when they eat something that truly blows their mind. In fact, part of the experience of traveling for me is seeing others’ faces light up as they taste something new and exciting, or something familiar and comforting. The art does a good job of showing not only Mogusa’s sense of happiness while eating, but also the fact that Koguchi appears to fall in love with her every time she decides to chow down on something, which, again, is all the time.

Mogusa-san began on the web-only Shueisha platform Tonari no Young Jump, but has since begun serialization in the real Weekly Young Jump magazine due to its popularity. While the first volume has already been published, you can still read a few chapters online in Japanese, and while the language barrier is an issue I think this manga is one where that matters a little less. It’s a manga that I feel profoundly drawn to, and if you love eating the same way I do (or maybe just really like Sasha from Attack on Titan), there’s a good chance you’ll feel the same way.