Friday, December 4, 2015

Japanese Food Anime

Five years ago, I was introduced to the wonderful Japanese food manga, Oishinbo, which I described in a my post of June 6, 2010. I have recently come across two Japanese food anime, which, though pretty silly on many levels, are really fun to watch, and educational about Japanese food and the Japanese character.

Shokugeki no Sōma (Food Wars) is a series of 24 anime, each about 24 minutes in length, but you can get the down to about 20 minutes if you skip the credits at the beginning and end (be careful, though, since there is material after the final credits). Shokugeki means food war, and each episode involves at least one of these.

Sōma and his arch rival, the God Tongue
The story follows the fortunes of Yukihira Sōma, a high school student who cooks with his father at what appears to be an ordinary diner, but isn't because his father is in fact a brilliant chef. When his father leaves Japan to travel the world and cook in various countries, he sends Sōma an invitation to compete for entrance into Japan's most elite cooking school, Tōtsuki Teahouse Culinary Academy, which has a graduation rate of only 10%. Of course he gets in, but he is resented by many of the elite snobs whose parents are important chefs or people in the food world. Notwithstanding that, he has his friends, too, most notably Tadokoro Megumi, a talented girl chef who gets her confidence and inspiration from Sōma. One of the reasons for Sōma's success is that he has actual experience cooking for customers, rather than abstract culinary knowledge: this is an important message that is repeated frequently. And as a mere transfer student without a fancy pedigree, he becomes the embodiment of  Japan's fierce work ethic

The challenges sound simple enough (for example, make an egg dish or make a curry dish), but the creations the competitors come up with are dazzling, and the commentary from the judges about the combinations of flavors and ingredients are pretty amazing, too. The level of care and intense thinking and experimentation are actually in evidence in today's Japanese cooking, which reaches incredible heights, as my recent posts indicate.

[Warning: this series, like many Japanese manga, plays to a number of juvenile male fantasies, and features girls in school uniforms (see above), lots of boobs and food orgasms. Silly and harmless, but possibly offensive to some.]

I have only just started the second series, Yakitate!! Ja-pan (literally Freshly Baked - Ja pan, with pan meaning bread in Japanese), also about a young boy, but this one is a baker. Kazuma Azuma, who starts baking bread at age six, is said to have hot "solar hands," which his first teacher, who trained in France, says is a rare gift given its name by thFrench.

In the first episode, the six-year old Azuma tries to convince his grandfather, a rice farmer and lover, to eat bread, but the old man says he will do so only if it goes with natto (pungent fermented soybeans) and miso soup. Of course his first bread doesn't do this, but his baking sensei (teacher) comes up with a bread made with soy milk, which complements the soybeans at the base of both natto and miso soup. Grandfather loves the bread, and Azuma's calling as a bread baker is established. He is on a quest, like his teacher, to create great Ja pan, "a Japanese bread made by and for the Japanese people, which can be presented to the world proudly."

Yakitate: Kazuma Azuma with friends and rivals
Ten years later, like our friend Sōma, Azuma enters Pantasia, the most prestigious baking academy in Japan, and his trials begin. I can't report yet, since I have only watched one of the 69 episodes, although it was very interesting and accurate. I shall report back when (if) I finish the series.

Happy watching!

Bobby Jay


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