Shokugeki no Soma
Series Name: Shokugeki no Soma (Soma's Cooking) - 食戟のソーマ
Year of Serialization: 2012
Author(s): Tsukuda Yuuto
Artist(s): Saeki Shun
Genre(s): Comedy, Ecchi, School Life, Shounen, Slice Of Life, Romance
Current Status: Ongoing
Moment of Reviewing: 54th chapter
Other Formats: /
The first time the main protagonist, Yukihira Souma, wielded a kitchen knife, he was only 3 years old. Ever since he was a kid he helped his father in their small-scaled family restaurant and it has been his lifelong dream to one day work in their shop as a full-fletched chef and, more precise, to finally beat his father in a cooking contest, surpass him and make him acknowledge his cooking skills. At the start of the series the balance is slightly tipping in favor of his father with 489 wins against 0 losses. Now that Souma finally has finished middle school, he reckons his time has come to achieve this goal...and then his father decides to close the shop for 3 years because he is going to temporary work in hotels and restaurants all over the world on the request of a friend. In the meantime however Souma is supposed to go to a cooking school on advice of his father. At first Souma didn't believe that this ordinary cooking school could make him measure his abilities, like his father claimed, I mean hadn't he been working in the kitchen his entire life? This soon changed though when he came to the realization that this cooking school is the most prestigious culinary facility in Japan where 99% of the hundreds of students in the first year are nothing more than whetstones to polish the 1% gems that remain at the end of the 3rd year. To make things even more interesting all of these students come from the most important high-class families, restaurants and companies in the culinary world and were already student here in middle school. Transfer students like Souma are extremely rare, in fact he is the only one and because of that he was allowed to say something at the openings ceremony. That Souma, someone from a regular run-of-the-mill-thirteen-in-a-dozen shop, proclaims without any shame nor hesitation to 1000 1st year high-class students that he will use them as stepping stones, makes him in one go the most infamous person on campus. What follows is a struggle to survive in the culinary jungle called Tootsuki Academy.
The irony is strong in this one. These days cooking is a booming business. Cooking books sell like mad and I lost count of how many cooking programs are airing and have been aired the past few years on television and this is not something just limited to my country and honestly said it annoys me. On top of that my personal cooking skills are practically non-existent and my eating habits are far from refined. So it makes absolutely no sense I've gotten hooked to a series that's centered completely around cooking and still that's the case.
So how is this possible? Well for starters I already mentioned in an earlier review I have a strong affinity for a high school based format, especially when it's mixed with fantasy or supernatural elements (like Beelzebub, Rosario Vampire, Mx0 etc.). The latter one does not apply to Shokugeki no Soma though as it's a slice of life series, nonetheless you can call it far from normal as the way how this academy deals with their students and the resources and facilities it has at its disposal, are quite unrealistic. I mean a single student could own six huge buildings for personal cooking, even having the right to demolish it and build something else on it and they can just utilize a 5-star hotel for cooking exams.
Putting that aside this series has two strong points that made it worthwhile for me to keep reading it. First and probably the most important one is that the artwork is extremely detailed and beautiful. This is not really surprising as because everything is centered around cooking, there are a lot of panels that focus solely on the appearance of food. If it doesn't look realistic, then his concept of a cooking-manga would simply not work and regularly you really get hungry from just seeing these panels. A manga is still a 'visual' medium. Even if the plot of a series isn't particularly special, if it's visually pleasing, it can still become a success. It's not just limited to the food, the characters too are exquisitely drawn most of the time, especially the girls look incredibly cute and at important moments the artist can truly bring the emotions of a character to life via his eyes. This counts double for when a color page is added. The usage of colors, shade and details definitely surpasses the level of an average manga. I added a color panel at the bottom from a few chapters ago.
Its most unique quality however is that regularly some kind of allegorical visual representation is made of how people feel when they ate something. This is similar how in the manga Air Gear people have 'shadows' and when that shadow changes, it means the character is changing (for example a character was always associated with a shark, which always got drawn on the background, another character with a fighting jet etc.). Whether food tastes good or bad, that's in Shokugeki no Soma then visually shown and often it leads to panels that are both amazing and hilarious. Example a girl ate an apple-risotto and it was then shown as her walking hand in hand with a prince...that had an apple as a head. Another time a character found a dish so bad it felt like bathing with a gorilla, which then was actually drawn and these drawings can be quite suggestive, hence this also an ecchi manga (though not in the nature of FT or HSDK). In the previous chapter a character was so good at making meat dishes, they called her the meat-general and then you see a female judge who ate the food riding the barrel of a tank >.>
On the other side you can't really call this the most unexpected and unpredictable manga around the block. Even though you can't really foresee what's going to happen exactly during those three years, it's already pretty certain how the series eventually will end almost from the start. Somewhere at the end of the first chapter Souma's dad is thinking that you can only be at your best and enjoy cooking the most when you do it for a person you love and then on the next panel a hot new girl named Erina is introduced and not very soon after she comes to hate practically everything about Souma. You don't need to be a genius to know how that's going to end up. Because of this, to a certain degree, this manga could also be considered harem-like as so far 2 girls showed romantic interest in Souma, 3 if you count Erina in the future, but I decided not to add that tag as it's not really that prominent.
Lastly while much attention is given to the main characters, regular characters really feel like that they are just there to full up the space. Often normal background characters are used to explain how a certain dish is made or something, how special or ordinary something is, but in many cases it really feels forced, that the author wants to create a certain atmosphere, but makes it too obvious. Nonetheless overall seen it's a really enjoyable manga that can give you some good laughs and for people who love cooking, it's definitely a must read as it provides a lot of information about culinary traditions from all over the world.