Food Wars: Guilty Pleasure or Feminist Fan Service?

As a longtime fan of cooking shows, I was drawn to the concept of Food Wars. There are many challenges (within and without the cooking world) and strong calls to know your worth, in strengths and failings, all wrapped up in a dazzling package. To watch this show is to expect a lot of delicious dishes designed to make you drool…and a lot of skin. As someone initially reluctant to the anime scene due to the propensity for female characters to play visual prop, this exposure initially put me off. But here’s the thing: the more I watched the more this “guilty pleasure” show proved itself to be more than run-of-the-mill fan service and even had me questioning whether it might be feminist.

Starting from two minutes into the first episode, the audience is presented with a key aspect of the show—foodgasms made literal on screen. I was intrigued by the fact that these scenes affected people without regard to gender or age or position of authority. They appeared an even playing field, a great equalizer, of near nakedness. It was the first time I had personally seen emphasis on body exposure that was not solely female-focused. However, the show still suffers from other issues of the genre, most prominently the lack of body diversity across the board. There are many empowered female characters in the series, but they are still consistently objectified in a way the male characters aren’t. Because of course, in this world where everything is absolutely extravagant, both the soufflés and the breasts jiggle and shine on screen unrealistically and on repeat. 

There is a lot to enjoy in Food Wars. Yukihira Soma serves as a hero figure and follows the familiar arc of a main character striving to be the very best, to level up, to push past all existing limits. It has the feel of an extreme sport complete with superhuman skills (which do become a bit ridiculous in the final season) and amazing food. You will not only see exquisitely drawn dishes but learn a lot about the ingredients, cooking methods, and cultures that inspired them. You see Soma face off against great odds and refuse to give up; he is perseverance personified. There is emphasis placed on thinking outside of the box and the benefits of collaboration within true community. Among the formidable females, one of my favorite developments is that of Nakiri Erina standing up to her controlling father. I really appreciated this arc and the details included on the effects an insidious relationship can have on a person, how difficult it can be to completely extract yourself from the damage.

In evaluating the show, I could compare all the elements (actions, character, theme, etc.) to a complete dish of food. We could consider the sexual overtones a garnish (if a very large one). I would like to say you don’t have to like everything on the plate to fully enjoy your food, but there are differing opinions on everything—even garnish. Some people can pluck it off and continue to enjoy the rest of the dish, while others feel a badly paired offering destroys the entire experience. There are so many fantastic facets to Food Wars, but some scenes might leave a sour taste in your mouth. While I saw promise in the depiction of foodgasms, there is still work to be done in the equitable treatment of both genders.

Melissa Nunez is a Latin writer and homeschooling mother of three from the Rio Grande Valley. Her work has appeared in the winnowVariant Lit, and others. She is a contributor at Yellow Arrow and a staff writer for Alebrijes Review.

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