Food Wars centres on Yukihira Sōma, a middle school student who is determined to surpass his father’s culinary skills. One day, his father decides to close down their family restaurant and hone his skills in Europe. Before leaving he enrolls Sōma in an elite culinary school that is extremely difficult to enter with a graduation rate of only 10 percent. Will Sōma be able to improve his skills, or will the kitchen prove to be too hot?
Based on the manga by Yūto Tsukuda and Shun Saeki, Food Wars is a shonen fighting food combat comedy (yeah, it's all that). Yukihira Sōma is a great short order cook. Working alongside his father Joichiro at the family restaurant, he tackles everything from crabby customers to rapacious estate agents with equal aplomb. That is, until his father realising that his son is good but not as good as him, decides to pack him off to the prestigious Totsuki Tea House Culinary Academy. Don't be fooled by its upper class sounding name. This place is the food equivalent of Fort Bragg. Students fight each other in special fights called Shokugeki, testing their skills as cooks and submitting their creations to a panel of judges. Two people enter, one person leave, you get the picture? So if it was anyone else, they would be terrified to join the school let alone fight. But Sōma is tough, having fought against his own father in cookoffs at home and for their customers to judge. He takes everything the school's got and scoffs at it.
He's also an idiot.
If you didn't like him before, I guarantee you'll love Sōma once he opens his mouth. He just accepts challenges and duels because, hey what else would he doing with his time? He has fun in the challenge and thinks nothing of dragging himself into his new friends plights. The problem is that he frequently challenges people who are so far up the list of students and teachers in the school, that if he loses, he's out on his ear. While his promise to his father to make something of himself here in the school does factor into his never say die attitude, Joichiro instills in him the courage to chart his own course. But his new dorm mates in the Polar Star dormitory accept him, I think, simply because his prodigious talent and unwavering loyalty to people he's only just met makes them trust him even when all seems doomed. Outside of the dorm, he has very little by the way of friends. This might have something to do with the fact he basically told the entire student body on enrolment day that he was there to beat them all and take the top spot. Needless to say that didn't pass without several of the student body swearing bloody and murderous revenge. He, of course, doesn't even notice until someone points it out to him. Yeah, he IS an idiot.
Along the way we're introduced to his classmates like Megumi Tadokoro, a freshman like Sōma but one who doesn't do well in academic pressures. When put to the pin of her collar, she thrives in the challenges but in class, she is a total flake. Which is a shame since she has an intuitive sense of cooking. She's just not yet good at expressing herself in that manner. Sōma helps bring her out of her shell and finds her to be as capable as he is. Satoshi Isshiki is a third year (I think) but a complete extrovert who can lose his clothes and wear only a Fundoshi and an apron when called for. His friends never know when he will do this but they're used to it. Isshiki is, however, more than what he seems. He's a member of the Elite Ten, a group of the best students in the school. They pretty much run the school, aside from upper, UPPER management. More on them in a bit. Along side to the rest of Polar Star (spunky Yuki, reserved Ryoko, pathologically quiet Shun and put upon Marui), they at times goggle at Sōma's stupidity or marvel at his inbuilt talents as he rises to the task in front of him. Even when he slips, Sōma takes it in his stride.
The Shokugeki are really good and feature a dizzyingly diverse of weirdos, hard cases and imperious divas who just want everyone to listen to them. From his first day, Sōma has been thrown into the best of fights. Against the busty, meat crazy Ikumi Mito, Sōma delves into the simple pleasures of donburi (type of Japanese rice bowl dish served with fish/veg/meat) and soundly defeats her more complicated meat dish which was less tasty. He stupidly (again that word) challenges Kojirō Shinomiya, a former alumni of the school, to reinstate Megumi after he unceremoniously expels her for failing a task. When other alumni intervene to make Shinomiya take the challenge (students can't challenge teachers or tutors), it's Megumi who has to lead the Shokugeki with Sōma as her sous chef. They come through, thanks to Megumi's skills and Sōma's encouragement. The fight against Erina Nakiri is however, the stuff of legend. Erina is the admissions officer of the freshmen, one of the Elite Ten and the granddaughter of the current president of the school. She possesses the God Tongue, with her ability to discern tastes evident from at least age four. So, Sōma sounds outgunned here. Not so; in fact, his Gohan dish was so good, she nearly caved in and liked it. But her pride and his cockiness made her reject his dish and failed his enrolment exam. However, unbeknownst to her, Erina's grandfather sampled his dish and accepted him on the spot. So now, they're in an unfriendly (all on her side) rivalry with Erina determined to get rid of Sōma. The battles themselves reminded me of Iron Wok Jan and its ability to go into minute detail as to what food is being cooked at the moment and how. The characters explain endlessly as they go about their task. If at any moment, there was not a fight to the finish all this exposition would be boring. Also, everyone practically orgasms when they taste food that's good. I'm not making that up, everyone cries out in ecstasy as the food hits their tastebuds. The reactions are so over the top, they in turn become jokes themselves. The show is funny in places but never over the top, more in keeping with the whole combative nature of the fights and the school.
The show delights in the fact that everyone takes their place in the college seriously and TALKS ABOUT TASKS VERY GRAVELY while Sōma simply laughs and gets on with it. More than one opponent has tried to intimidate Sōma only to find out that his self-deprecating attitude has already taken on board why he failed or nearly slipped up in a task. They honestly don't know that to do when that happens. What they don't know is that Sōma takes all of it very seriously. He just doesn't show it. I like how he solves his problem not by relying on years of culinary techniques but on Joichiro's teaching and his own gut instinct. Always outnumbered but never outgunned, the young Yukihira's eager for a fight and doesn't care if he's defeated.
I'm liking Food Wars so far and I hope it keeps up this level of energy and enthusiasm. There's so much good in the series that I have high hopes for this one. A great, if dopey, lead, oodles of bad guys who shout things and have awesome backlighting and a cast of characters that each have their own stories. It's streaming right now on Crunchyroll so you should give it a look.