Cooking Anime article published in Animerica Extra Vol. 2, No. 7, June 1999
This article was written by and is copyrighted to Patricia Duffield and may not be reproduced in part or whole without permission.
What!? An article about cooking? What a dull topic, you say? Not at all! In Japan, cooking shows run the gambit from how-to series to dramas to contests with more exciting coverage than many sports receive. And three of the most famous cooking shows just happen to be animated!
Food is a daily part of out lives, but how often do we appreciate it as the glorious art form that it is? Every culture has its own unique cuisine with a history as rich as that of any other kind of art. Food has been celebrated in films from around the world. A Chef in Love from France, 301/302 from Korea, Eat Drink Man Woman from Taiwan, Like Water for Chocolate from Mexico and Babette's Feast from Denmark are just a few examples of such films. In the 90's alone, there have been over a dozen U.S. films which include food as a major theme. In Japan, however, food as entertainment has achieved new heights.
Okay, so the U.S. now has a whole cable channel devoted to nothing but food. Every other week, there seems to be a new galloping gourmet with a show to teach us how to do everything from reaming a lemon to roasting a whole pig. But they're all serving up the same dish: teaching the audience. In Japan, cooking has taken on dimensions in entertainment which far surpass the cooking shows and occasional films of other countries. Besides countless contests and TV dramas involving food and chefs, there have also been three very popular anime series. These shows add a flavor of drama and excitement into the world of cooking.
Mr. Ajikko is the first cooking sseries to be animated. It portrays the culinary creative process with a melodramatic flair that rivals the hit competitive cooking series Ryori no Tetsujin (The Iron Chefs). When a new creation is revealed in Mr. Ajikko, the music and direction make the event almost magical. As characters taste a surprising new dish, their eyes light up and their faces fill with ecstatic wonder. In the series, young Yoichi struggles to invent new and better recipes as he matches his talent against a diverse array of culinary wizards. Like Sakuragi Hanamichi (SLAM DUNK) and many other athletic heroes, Yoichi must apply a great deal of practice, skill and hard work to achieve his goals.
In Oishinbo, the focus is not so much on the hero's cooking ability but his highly honed taste buds and resolute search for gastronomic truth. Yamaoka has an almost Sherlock Holmes quality to his culinary deductions, hunting for the secrets which make a certain chef's food so spectacular. A reoccurring theme in the series is that the most successful cooks are not always the best. Yamaoka seems to take pleasure in highlighting the superior flavors found in modest shops as opposed to those of more pretentious establishments.
The most recent series, Cooking Papa, tends to be less dramatic than the other two. Instead of trying to dazzle you with exotic ingredients and specialized techniques, this series focuses on the way food affects everyday life. What to do when Kazumi and his wife, Nijiko, have stayed up too late working and taking care of their newborn, then sleep past the alarm? No worries. Using everyday foods, Papa has a healthy meal for his son in just 5 minutes! On special occasions, like New Years, the food becomes more elaborate, but the focus remains on how much pleasure the family and their friends receive from cooking and enjoying the food they share.
Despite their different methodologies, these three series share a unique aspiration. All of them seek to tantalize the taste buds of their audience and inspire them to cook and appreciate good food. Aside from these three long running series, there's plenty more anime evidence of the importance of food in Japan. Consider how often cooking enters into the plot of Ranma ½ and how much Goku (Dragonball, Dragonball Z) loves a good meal and the many characters who enjoy cooking, like Akira-kun from CLAMP School Detectives. Doesn't a heroines' culinary skill (or lack thereof) work its way into nearly every series? There are scads of anime characters who eat compulsively and many great scenes which involve food. Every Miyazaki film has at least one significant eating moment woven into the story. These examples demonstrate the pervasive influence food has on Japanese entertainment. They remind us of the universality of sharing a meal with friends and family and encourage us to think about the roll of food in our everyday lives. So, next time you're debating on what to eat, why not skip the fast food and try something new? You never know what gastronomic delight you might discover in that old cookbook or the little shop down the road.
Oishinbo is about reporter Shiro Yamaoka who writes for the cultural section of the Tozai newspaper. In the beginning, he is challenged to create "The Ultimate Menu." This usually apathetic reporter takes the challenge quite seriously and, with the help of co-worker Yuko Kurita, begins setting up a culinary competition. Later stories usually involve situations that bring to light some subtle difference in technique or ingredients which differentiate a good chef from an exceptional one. Yamaoka is often blunt and seemingly arrogant, but his irreverence for established culinary greats is based on his remarkably refined palate. In the end, he always makes his point, usually regardless of whose toes he has to step on. With the addition of an estranged father-son relationship and the occasional political themes which work their way into the story, this is definitely not a manga for kids.
Oishinbo is easily the most successful of the three animated cooking shows. The series is written by the journalist Tetsu Kariya and drawn by artist Akira Hanasaki. The manga, which has had sales of approximately 1.2 million copies per volume, is currently 69 volumes in length and is published by Big Comics. The animated series ran for 136 episodes, from 10/88 to 3/92, plus there were a few specials and a movie. The show's ratings, like the manga sales, were remarkably high, usually placing in the top 10 animated series in Japan. Oishinbo's stellar popularity inspired numerous restaurants and even a video game which was released by Famicom in 1989.
Mr. Ajikko is a story about Yoichi Ajiyoshi, a Junior High school boy who cooks at his family's small restaurant, run by his mother since his father's death. He is discovered by the gastronomic god of the story, Kenjiro Murata, Japanese food expert and owner of the massive culinary corporation "Ajio." "Ajio-sama," as Mr. Murata is often called, encourages Yoichi and challenges him to prove himself in the highly dramatic world of fine cuisine. Yoichi is a spunky, determined, extremely talented young man who faces his tasks with creativity, enthusiasm and a dogged persistence. The stories are always exciting and fun and demonstrate that cooking is as challenging as any other art or sport. Mr. Ajikko is a 19-volume manga series which was created by Daisuke Terasawa and published by Shonen Magazine Comics. The TV series ran for 99 episodes from October 1987 to September 1989.
Cooking Papa, as its name suggests, is a story about a father who likes to cook. Kazumi Araiwa is a salary man who is very involved with his wife and two kids. Although Cooking Papa portrays food with the same enthusiasm, beautiful presentation and loving detail as Mr. Ajikko and Oishinbo, it is seldom as melodramatic or highbrow as the other two series. Instead, the stories usually involve everyday life and focus on cuisine which is often simple, convenient and attainable by the average reader. Almost every chapter ends with a recipe from the story so that the readers can enjoy cooking it themselves. The manga was created by Tochi Ueyama and is currently at 56 volumes, published by Morning Comic. The ratings for the TV series were never as high as its predecessors, yet it outlasted them both with a total of 151 episodes, airing from April 1992 to MY 1995.
Here are a few more long running cooking manga, ones which never made it to animation:
The Chef, written by Mai Kenna and drawn by Tadashi Kato, has run for over 40 volumes. The main character is comparable, not only in looks but in attitude and enigma, to Osamu Tezuka's famous surgeon, Black Jack.
Shota no Sushi (Shota's Sushi) combined with Shota no Sushi Zenkokuhen (Shota's Sushi National Convention Collection) is another successful Daisuke Terasawa cooking story about a spirited young chef. Together, the series have currently run for 38 volumes in Shonen Magazine Comics.
Considered the first cooking manga, Cook Ajihei by Jo Bick (?) ran for a modest 12 volumes.
I have no solid reference for Cook Ajihei, so feel free to drop the by Jo Bick' or the whole line. I have confirmation of at least 41 volumes of The Chef, there may be more. It also might be the inspiration for the live action TV series of the same name (96 ish). As of 4/21, the 56th volume of Cooking Papa will be available. I'm sure there are other characters like Sakuragi, but I don't know which ones U.S. fans might know. So feel free to change that or any of my examples if you have others which you think will be more recognizable.