story by Yuto Tsukuda; art by Shun Saeki
published by Viz; $9.99 US
Food Wars! is due out in print at the beginning of next month, but it’s been available digitally (along with book 2) for months now. If you enjoy cooking competition manga like Iron Wok Jan or Yakitate!! Japan, this is another strong entry in that category.
Soma Yukihira is a scrappy teen cook. He’s been raised in the family restaurant, and he’s quite talented, but unpolished. He winds up attending a prominent culinary high school for the best of the best. There he meets Erina, a high achiever with a “divine tongue… the most refined palate known to man.” Of course she also has a large chest.
The flavors of the food are evoked through exaggerated images. The first has made this series somewhat infamous, as Soma’s attempt at a squid dish tastes so wrong that the girl trying it feels as though she’s being molested by tentacles, a spectacle given a two-page fan-service spread of her flashing underwear. As seen here, like those other books I mentioned, this series is written for guys.
The dish shown on the cover is a fake pork roast, constructed out of potatoes and bacon to defeat an unscrupulous land developer who’s trying to destroy the family restaurant. The sequence where he describes its construction is impressive, followed by several images of the female executive experiencing “the rich juices… explod[ing] inside [her] mouth” and begging to be allowed to eat more. Thankfully, that sort of thing calms down once Soma goes to school, although we do see Erina almost topless, surrounded by angels, when she finally agrees to taste his food.
Once we get past those images, the love of food does shine through in the series. Erina represents fancy gourmet cooking and all the snooty elites that participate in that world. Soma is the champion of “common, dirt-cheap dishes” that when done well are filled with flavor and possibly even more satisfying. He’s labeled a “common plebeian” (redundancy!) by the book itself, and his skills will require the stuck-up high-class chefs to acknowledge his value.
His challenge is to make Erina acknowledge how good regular cooking can be. His lifetime of practical experience working in a restaurant, where the food has to get done and it has to please the customer, is his major asset, although his “screw everyone but me” attitude will needs its rough edges smoothed out.
The recipe for Soma’s rice dish is also included in the volume, as is the one-chapter stand-alone “pilot” story for this series. There’s also a short bonus about Soma’s girl neighbor (the tentacle victim).
Although the art is aimed firmly at the young male, if you can overlook the fan service, Food Wars! does a great job of capturing the emotion of competition and the struggle to improve and win. (And even the images can be laughably enjoyable in a “really? they went there?” kind of way.) There’s a strong respect for food and flavor that comes through the pages, and that’s the part of the series I enjoy.
Future volumes are planned to come out in print on an every-other-month release schedule. (The publisher provided a review copy.)