Food plays a bigger role in anime than just making people fat
I am going to start out by stating the obvious: food is important. It’s big enough to have its own culture, with different regions having particular specialties. People can dedicate their whole life to a job where they mix different kinds of ingredients together and give it to other people to eat, like some sort of enigmatic alchemy. You can make money from simply eating food and then talking about it. Then there’s the captain obvious realization: humans need food to live. That’s everyone’s ultimate goal when all is said and done with, I would assume. So, I think I’ve done a pretty job convincing you that food is important.
Oh, you were already convinced that food is important? Well…how about food in anime? Now that’s a different roll of the die. I was at a panel about food in anime when I went to Anime North and they quickly brushed over a bunch of interesting points, but didn’t go quite deep enough to leave me satisfied. That led to the birth of this post. The gestalt of everything we talked about essentially boils down to the fact that food can play a big role in anime. It’s not just something you eat, but it can be used to define a character, to advance the plot, or even as the story itself.
FOOD AS THE MAIN COURSE
Starting off very simply in the schematics of food playing important roles in anime are anime that just simply revolve around food. No analysis needed, they’re blatantly about eating, baking, cooking or what have you. There’s a surprising amount! Toriko, probably one of the most popular manga right now, is about a guy travelling the world to make the ultimate menu. The whole concept of the manga is watching a burly man beat the shit out of endangered animals (ingredients) and devour them. Most of the enjoyment is in seeing the whacky food-animal hybrid creatures such as Castella lions or koalas with cocoa on their backs, and the ridiculous battles to murder said hapless ingredients. On the less muscular end of the spectrum are shows like Yumeiro Patissiere which is about making dainty little cakes. There’s also Yakitate!! Japan is about making the ideal bread to represent Japan. Ja-pan. Get it? Pan means bread….Haha…Yeah, it’s all about bread. The most recent example I can give you is the upcoming Ben-to which is about lunch specials who try to kill you, or something insane like that.
There’s anime about everything, so food shouldn’t be that surprising. I realize this is probably no big revelation just yet, but I’m getting there! When anime use food in creative ways to show something other than a character taking in calories is where things get really interesting. Food can be meaningful – even powerful. From now on, I’m here to draw these more obscure connections between the link that food has with characters and storylines. I guess you could say it’s the bread and butter of my argument. Oh, I just know you love my puns.
YOU ARE WHAT YOU EAT
It’s surprising how something as simple and inanimate as food can describe and even define a character. Male characters with a sweet tooth are usually more childish and even feminine. Characters who like expensive food are usually stuck-up and rich. More specifically, there’s Luffy and his love of meat. It’s not just any meat, but a big chunk of meat with a giant bone protruding from both sides. It looks like something a caveman would be gnawing on, and that’s quite an apt description for Luffy. He’s a very simple man with not a lot going on in that rubber head of his. He acts on his instincts in a very primitive nature. While his like of meat doesn’t necessarily define his character, it quite strongly reinforces it.
As much as I hate Fruits Baskets with all of my being, it has another good example of a food metaphor that is used on more than one occasion. Kyo is described as an onigiri with an umeboshi (the part that gives the riceball flavour) on the back. To him, he can’t see the umeboshi and thinks he’s just a dumb little blob of rice granules. But in reality, he actually has a lot of talents and shouldn’t look down on himself. tl;dr don’t have low self-esteem, because everyone has delicious/good aspects, they just can’t always see them.
The amount that characters eat can also tend to tell you which characters go into which category. Lina Inverse from Slayers, Goku from Saiyuki, and Toriko are just a few of the many big eaters in anime. It’s a trend. While not a golden rule, you will find these characters are loud and rambunctious more often than not. Why? Because a voracious appetite nicely complements a wild character. It’s a nice added touch that actually becomes part of the character’s personality.
Characters can often be judged based on their ability to cook or not. Most guys can’t cook, and are never seen making even macaroni and cheese. We’ll leave potential sexist claims for another day, but most typical guys don’t cook. Naturally, this leads to making it so that the ones who can are seen in a sort of “special” light. But there’s not much cooking says definitively about a guy in the way appetite does, since even Rin from Ao No Exorcist cooks and he’s about as domestic as a sabre-toothed tiger. It’s all about the girls!
Once again, it’s all or nothing. They either cook so badly that people enter the afterlife, or cook so brilliantly that they make everyone cry tears of joy. Making lunches for characters is a very prominent feature in anime, and more often than not it’s a surefire way to tell who likes who. Girls spend a lot of their time cooking for guys in anime, and God help them if they’re not good at it.
COMFORT FOODS (aka FOOD PR0N)
Sometimes food has nothing to do with a character, it is just used to give a sort of “moe” boost to characters. An appeal that says little to nothing about the character, and yet it is an almost iconic trait used to recognized the character in question. Where would Death Note’s Ryuuk be without his apples? It’s such a simple little addition, and yet the whole apple imagery is constantly used over and over. Moving along, Shinobu from Bakemonogatari likes donuts. Her like for sugar says nothing about her, and yet she’s almost always seen drawn with one. It’s just part of her character now. Kotetsu admitted to liking mayonnaise once while doing the voiceover for the next episode preview, and is now seen in all manner of fanart with mayonnaise in it. You don’t want to know half of the creative uses I’ve seen for mayonnaise thanks to it. Characters eating food has become a sort of fetish (lulz food porn). It’s a hook that gets people attached.
Case and point: pocky scenes. I don’t mean it just being eaten as a snack, because you could say that about potato chips in American movies. It doesn’t really mean anything. But very often you will see scenes where characters both bite opposite sides of the pocky and slowly get closer for a kiss. I’ve seen it in Nyan Koi!, MM!, and even Gravitation. It’s everywhere. Food. is. everywhere.
SERVE ME YOUR THOUGHTS
Hopefully this has been a nice little tower of text highlighting how food is used in anime to make a statement and not just make you drool. Maybe now you’ll give each appearance of Doctor Pepper more credit for being clever. Now that I’ve got you thinking about food, you might as well share your food-related thoughts here. Discussion time! Discuss with me and your fellow commenters about food. Bring up any food-related anime you know. Impress people by thinking of how food develops a character I haven’t mentioned. Mention a character with quirky eating habits. Everything is fair game.
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