FOOD WARS: How Sexism Undermines Strong Themes


The second season of the popular anime FOOD WARS, a.k.a SHOKUGEKI NO SOMA, aired on July 2nd of this year. For those who don’t know, the show follows Soma Yukihira, a skilled amateur chef headed for Totsuki Culinary Academy on his father’s wishes. He is the main character in this series, trying to make it to the top of the academy, but not without changing his environment by making new friends along the way. The culinary high school is famous for its 1% graduation rate, which is (apparently) a testament to the quality of its graduates. Those who fail to meet expectations are expelled, usually on the spot. That’s not the only reason the school has such a cutthroat environment. Students can challenge other classmates or staff to a “Shokugeki,” or formal cooking battle, to settle an issue, each betting something of equal value. Students can even bet their expulsion!

Before I get into this article, I’ll make one thing clear: I love FOOD WARS. That is why I’ve been disappointed with the most recent episodes. All throughout the first season, the show skirted the line between being sexist or not. Overall, it seems like there is an equal amount of boys and girls on the losing and winning sides, and no one loses because of their gender. The first season emphasizes some great themes and character development, which makes the series incredibly worthwhile. Unfortunately, those themes lose their strength when the pattern boils down to “the girls lose.” However, before going over the growing problems with the series, take a look at what makes the show great in the first place.


“Ecchi” Elements

FOOD WARS is considered an “ecchi” anime. “Ecchi” is a Japanese slang word for playfully sexual elements, usually in an anime. This takes form in lots of “fan service” i.e. partially nude characters. While anime is generally imbued with an unnecessary amount of female sexualization, FOOD WARS almost parodied the idea. Episodes usually feature a number of dishes that are so good they “blow the clothes off” of the people eating. Nobody was exempted from this phenomenon, much to my delight. Attractive girls, attractive boys, old women, and old men, all equally get their clothes blown off in this anime. Yup.

Although the foodgasms seem to pander towards the male gaze, the over-the-top animations calm down as the series moves on. There’s less time for moaning over food and more time for technical explanations of the dishes, which is more interesting in my opinion. So you could say that, since the sexual elements of this anime make fun of the whole “ecchi” genre, the abundance of partially nude characters generally doesn’t pander to sexism.

Soma vs. Authority

The first season is ripe with sweet, delicious justice. Soma typically comes up against jaded adults, or people in power, and shows them up with his cooking skills and creativity. The first episode sets up this theme from the very beginning. An urban life planner and her assistants come and threaten to shut down Soma’s family diner unless he creates a dish that satisfies her. On judgement day, Soma finds that all the ingredients in his kitchen have been conveniently sabotaged. Even so, he fulfills their demand for the “juiciest meat dish” he can make: the “Just Kidding!” Roast Pork. His dish is made of mashed potatoes wrapped in thick-cut bacon, drizzled in red wine sauce. The planner and her assistants are floored by his delicious dish, and promise to never come back.

Saving Don RS

This theme continues during Soma’s time at school. Episodes 6 and 7 feature Soma’s first shokugeki against one of Erina Nakiri’s devoted followers, Ikumi Mito. Erina has an incredible amount of power within the school, and uses that to cut off the Don RS research society’s funding so she can use their resources for her own projects. The president of the society, Kanichi Konishi, had no choice but to contest the fate of his society on a shokugeki to save his club. Soma steps in to battle against Ikumi in Kanichi’s stead to save the club.

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The challenge is to create a mouthwatering donburi, or rice bowl dish. Shockingly, Soma decides to fight Ikumi on her own turf: meat. Ikumi is an expert in preparing and cooking beef, and uses her connections to get her Grade A5 meat for this contest. Soma, on the other hand, buys discount steak at the local market. He wins with his Chaliapin Steak Dish, whose highlight was not just the meat, but also the refreshing plum rice underneath. Ikumi relied solely on the A5 meat being better than whatever was on Soma’s dish, which was her downfall. Again, he shows up those who are arrogant about their position, and abuse their power. By playing on their field, and doing it better, he reinforces the theme that those who pander to or abuse their authority won’t succeed.

Karaage Wars

Soon, Soma returns to his hometown for a visit during a school break. He finds that the shopping complex near the train station has stolen all the local shopping district’s customers! The main reason that the complex is so popular is because of the famous store Mozuya. Mozuya sells karaage, small pieces of deep-fried chicken, and takes advantage of the commuters passing through the station, as well as the nearby neighborhood. Whether it significantly benefits her or not, the CEO of Mozuya, Kinu Nakamozu, delights in the potential foreclosure of the entire district.

In order to save the district, Soma calls on his childhood friend, Kurase, and new ally, Ikumi, to come up with a karaage dish that will bring customers back. They quickly realize they can’t compete on the same level of Mozuya in terms of chicken, much like Soma realized he couldn’t compete with Ikumi solely on the meat alone. Instead, they follow Kurase’s suggestion and capitalize on the fact that they’re a shopping district. The trio comes up with the Sumire Karaage Roll: a portable roll of fresh karaage, wrapped in lettuce and a rice flour tortilla. The kicker? All the cooking supplies, packaging, and ingredients are prepared in the same district! The main goal of this project was to revive the shopping district before it was bled out by the fancy mall nearby.

The Theme

In summary, Soma consistently overcomes obstacles that the jaded authority lays out in order to profit. What makes me slightly uncomfortable is that every single person he “defeats” so happens to be a woman. However, in terms of sexism, Soma never belittles any of his competitors or companions for being women. During the “karaage wars”, he relies on Ikumi, respecting her expertise, and is inspired by Kurase, who gives him his idea for his final strategy. Soma sees value in all of his experiences, and all of people’s efforts. His penchant for supporting and relying on others is what made me stick with this anime. He supports those who others might not appreciate, and he uses all his skills to bring that out, just like he does with his friends.

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Soma & Megumi

One of the best friendships in this show is between Soma and Megumi Tadokoro. The two consistently build each other up throughout the first season. Megumi is a very timid girl who, despite her skills, is easily shaken in high-stress situations. When Soma comes along, he slowly draws out her skill by helping her figure out ways to calm down, and by being an example of overcoming obstacles. During a high-risk training camp, Kojiro Shinomiya, instructor, alumni, and French cuisine expert, expels Megumi for using vinegar to restore the cauliflower’s color in a dish she had to make. Of course, Soma steps in and challenges Shinomiya to a shokugeki, to reverse Megumi’s expulsion.

Soma (very mad) on the left, Megumi (touched, sad, and scared) on the right

The match is overseen by Gin Dojima, another famous chef and alumni. He puts a swift end to the classic “hero saves the damsel” trope. He says that for this match to be valid Megumi must act as head chef. Soma realizes that he was banking on his own skills to bail out Megumi, when this battle was about her, not him. Understanding this, Soma gives all his skill to supporting Megumi’s vision and helping her relax, no protest or questions asked. In the end, they just barely scrape by with a victory.

Megumi’s success highlights one of the greatest themes of this series. Those who are severely cutthroat, like Shinomiya, will hit a dead end unless they change their ways, and those who have ample support can succeed just as greatly as those who are supremely gifted. Though it’s cheesy and possibly cliche, who isn’t a huge sucker for the “friendship wins” trope?

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Totsuki Autumn Elections

Initially, FOOD WARS almost appears like a feminist series. Women are not exempt from being villains, but their femininity, or lack thereof, is not an important part of their antagonism. Girls are able to thrive in a cutthroat environment, no matter their personality or appearance. The protagonist respects everyone for their skill, and supports his friends where they need it, with no ulterior motives. Fortunately, Soma’s disposition never changes, but with the advent of the Totsuki Autumn Elections arc, everything else does.

Qualified students participate in a series of cooking contests for seats on the Elite Ten, a.k.a Totsuki Student Council. In this arc, especially in season 2, girls start to lose, almost unnecessarily. Even if the gender bias is unintentional, it still undermines the wonderful themes established in the first season.

Megumi Tadokoro vs. Miyoko Hojo

The turning point comes when Megumi comes head-to-head with a classmate named Miyoko Hojo. Miyoko grew up in an extremely sexist environment. All the men in her life refused to acknowledge her skills because of her gender. So, in order to combat that, she cultivated her technique so that her talent was undeniable. When she meets Megumi, she expresses her respect for her, having heard about her Shokugeki against Shinomiya. Once Megumi explains that she had a lot of help from Soma, Miyoko loses interest in her, disappointed. In her opinion, girls who get helped along by men are weak, since men had tried to crush her all her life.

The two girls meet again in the preliminary event. The qualifying students get split up into the A or B blocks. While the two don’t face off one on one, they ended up in the same block, competing for the top 4 spots. Five judges grade the students’ dishes out of 20 points for a total of 100 points. Miyoko quickly places second with 87 points on her Pineapple Curry Fried Rice. Eventually she gets bumped down to fourth place, and Megumi slips right past her with 88 points on her Monkfish Dobu-Jiru Curry, kicking her out of the finals.

Why is this significant? We hear more of Megumi’s backstory during this arc. Megumi’s mother owns an inn back in their home town called the Shokeien Ryokan. Their staff would perform the physically demanding Monkfish demonstration, but couldn’t any more. In order to help her family’s business, Megumi begged the fishermen to teach her how to butcher the fish. With the support of all the fishermen in the harbor town, Megumi perfected the technique. She used those same skills to win her place in the finals, with all the fishermen present and cheering.

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To put it simply: the man-hater lost, the girl beloved by men won. True, Miyoko playes the antagonist in Megumi’s story arc; it could be that Miyoko was supposed to be another example of a cutthroat competitor losing because of their arrogance, but if that was the case, there was no need for the strong emphasis on Miyoko’s struggles with sexism contrasted with Megumi’s luck with supportive men.

Soma Yukihira vs. Alice Nakiri

Next comes Soma’s battle with Alice Nakiri. Alice is Erina’s cousin, and also the granddaughter of the school’s director. She specializes in molecular gastronomy, which is a more scientific approach to the study of food. The series clearly established her cutting-edge techniques and creativity back during the training camp arc, when she created her Three Forms of Egg dish. The dish featured a fake poached egg, actually made of seafood jelly, and salmon roe in gelatin, a fake hard-boiled egg, made of white asparagus mousse and egg yolk custard, and a milkshake in an empty egg shell!

She also scored a 95 during the preliminaries, compared to Soma’s 93. She clearly established her skill and creativity, so when she loses to Soma for lack of creativity, what gives? In the finals, pairs face off with each other in blocks to move their way up. The judges asked the contestants to create a dish within the “bento”, or Japanese lunch box theme. Alice created a Temari Sushi Bento, and Soma created an Evolved Nori Bento. The judges ruled that Alice’s dish was not creative enough. Her grandfather noted that she would have done the same exact thing if the theme were sushi. Soma, on the other hand, tailored his dish to the theme, using stainless steel bento boxes to fit the changing landscape of bento lunches.

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The question is: how was Alice careless enough to overlook the plainness of her bento? The first answer might be that she underestimated Soma. Maybe she felt that no matter what she made, it would definitely be better than his dish. Personally, I don’t buy it. When I saw their matchup, I knew Soma would win, because, plot armor. Why couldn’t he have been paired against someone more evenly matched? Some fans say that at this point, Alice was the only character Soma could reasonably lose to, which created exciting tension. However, at this point in the story, Soma’s goal to be number one has clearly been established, and there are no signs or reasons he would lose out now. Plus, the following loss reinforces the biased pattern against girls.

Megumi Tadokoro vs. Ryo Kurokiba

In the preliminaries, Megumi barely scraped her way into fourth place with a score of 88. Admittedly, a lot of her successes are extremely close calls, and her match with Ryo is no different. Ryo Kurokiba is Alice Nakiri’s friend and personal assistant. During the preliminaries, he scored a 93 in his block, rivaling Soma’s score. In terms of raw numbers, it shouldn’t be a surprise that Megumi loses to him, however, her loss puts one of the show’s themes in question: mutual support wins over cutthroat arrogance.

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Ryo is an extremely vicious cutthroat chef, whose cooking reflects his desire to “subjugate” others into admitting his skill, a lot like Miyoko Hojo.  If Megumi beat Miyoko, why couldn’t she beat Ryo? Ryo even belittles her belief in her friends support during their match, and she strongly defends it, but still loses. Even though Megumi comes out of the match feeling fine, since nothing was at stake here, other than a position on the Elite Ten, and is welcomed by respectful applause for her showmanship, a success would have spoken greater volumes to the theme her arc supported. 

Akira Hayama vs. Hisako Arato

Lastly, we have the third loss in a row. Hisako Arato, who scored a 92 in the preliminaries, loses to Akira Hayama, who scored a 94. Hisako is Erina’s treasured companion and secretary who specializes in medicinal cuisine. For this match, she prepares a Soft-Shelled Turtle Hamburger. She butchers a live turtle for this recipe! The highlight of her dish is that it not only its taste, or medicinal worth, but also its physical sensation when eaten. The burger is sandwiched between two plump, soft steamed buns that appeal to the sensitive soft palate inside the mouth. Akira Hayama, a specialist in Indian cuisine, and everything to do with spices, beats her because he, instead, appeals to the judge’s sense of smell, and used the right pickles.

While the other scenarios had more room to possibly excuse the casual sexism, this one seems to be the most obvious instance of a girl losing just to lose. Hisako flawlessly imbues medicinal dishes into modern cuisine that, at least in the anime, physically restore the people who eat her dishes. While it’s understandable that Akira’s dish may have appealed more to a connoisseur’s desires, the judges at this school seem to value creativity and innovation. What are Hisako’s dishes but that?


The girls’ increasing losses cast doubt on the ambiguously biased scenarios from before. Did the adult women lose to Soma because they were jaded and arrogant, or because they were women? Did Miyoko lose to Megumi because she was cutthroat or because she was a man-hater? Case-by-case, it is entirely possible to excuse or base each of the women’s losses on something other than their gender, but that begs the question: why are all the women written in a way that they can lose?

In all likelihood, the authors don’t have a political agenda against women. Whatever the excuse, either lazy writing or internalized misogyny, I won’t love the series any less. There are still many chapters that have yet to be animated, and while those chapters don’t exactly reverse the fact that the series’ good themes have been slightly undermined, they still lay out an incredibly enjoyable story. In the end, this isn’t a campaign against watching FOOD WARS. This thought process is, as a girl, quite simply an inescapable aspect of consuming any media.

Comments 6

  1. How is it fan service when I’m a fan and I feel disgusted every time a woman has to try food and moan extremely with her clothes off, hentai style? although it is true that men get their clothes off and their cheeks red too, it is clear that their pleasure is only displayed as a humorous touch rather than show them genuinely enjoying the food. I will consider it a fan service tactic when dudes moan as hard as their female colleagues, because no, it is not only women who moan at the feeling of pleasure, guys do it too and us women truly love that. the fact that many of you guys (if not all of you) consider this as “fan service” only shows that anime is made for men only, without taking in consideration the female fans, wich leads me to think that yes, this is sexist, using female pleasure for entertainment and decoration instead of showing true joy of food.

  2. I liked a lot of your insights. I enjoyed this series too, but it’s bigotry can’t be ignored. There are way too many examples throughout the show for it to be a coincidence. I found this a really sexist anime, and all three girls losing consecutively to guys in the Fall Selection was the prime example.

    In fact, after Megumi loses, the principal even says to himself in the bathroom, “Sorry, Megumi, but this is the age of kings (men).”

    ^ A blatant admittance that the only reason he picked Ryo over her was because she was a girl.

    The only reasonable explanation as to why this show was so sexist is maybe because the culinary industry is horribly sexist towards women, and perhaps the creators were trying to capture that. But I highly doubt it.

    Unfortunately, blatant and disgusting sexism runs rampant in anime. It completely ruins otherwise great shows, at least for me.

    Anyhow, nice editorial. Thanks for writing it.

    1. If you noticed, too, in Food Wars, there were countless examples of “mansplaning.” Times where male chefs are lecturing, talking down to, or telling female chefs things they already know.

      And even when male characters say “supportive” things to females in the show, it often sounds condescending – like they are talking to a little kid instead of an equal.

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