Soma is passionate about food. The son of a respected restaurant owner, Soma will do whatever it takes to surpass his father and make a name for himself. He never backs down from a cooking challenge, and his unique ingredient combinations and ability to think outside the box always leave him victorious in his endeavors. One of his dishes, a combination of grilled squid legs and peanut butter, is so sinfully delicious that when his friend eats it, it makes her feel as though she is being molested by giant tentacles—as depicted in a full-page spread at the beginning of the manga. In fact, Soma’s food in general seems to have this strange effect on women.
The combination of women and tentacles has been a visible motif in Japanese art for hundreds of years and thus, it sometimes appears in contemporary manga. While the girls in the story clearly enjoy themselves after eating Soma’s food, these images are intended for shock value and humor, rather than being meant to be read in a sexual way—similar to the old “Yes, yes, yes!” Herbal Essences shampoo commercial campaign in the United States.
In the first chapter of Food Wars!, Soma’s cooking prowess is challenged by a beautiful land shark who wants to buy his father’s restaurant. She tests Soma’s promise to cook whatever a customer requests when she asks him to make a dish after her men ransack his kitchen. As expected, Soma is able to fulfill her request, cooking scraps of overlooked food in just the right way—and the resulting dish satisfies her in more ways than one. This scene highlights Soma’s immense cooking talent and the value of working in a restaurant, meeting the demands of a variety of people in a fast-paced environment.
Unfortunately for Soma, right after he wins the challenge, his father announces that he is leaving Japan to take a job as a cook in a fancy American restaurant. He will be enrolling Soma in a top cooking school from which less than 10% of the students graduate. Soma must now prove that the son of a local restaurant owner can surpass all of the rich students. In addition to standing out in his class, Soma must also impress the domineering granddaughter of the school’s dean, who has exceptional taste buds and a snotty attitude.
Food Wars! is a humorous cooking manga that targets older teen readers, especially young men, with plenty of laugh-out-loud moments. Shun Saeki’s art expertly illustrates the relationship between food and sexual innuendo, and the food will make readers’ mouths water. Soma has a personality that is typical for a Shonen Jump manga, but readers will still enjoy cheering him on as he out-cooks his peers. Depending on your patrons and library, Food Wars! could be shelved with the teen or the adult collection; Viz gives it a rating of T+ with a recommendation for older teens and adults.
Food Wars!: Shokugeki no Soma, vol. 1
by Yuto Tsukudo
Art by Shun Saeki
Publisher Age Rating: T+ (16+)