Ever since I started watching Shokugeki no Souma: Ni no Sara (Food Wars! The Second Plate), I’ve had a growing desire to write about this fun culinary anime. Some of the show’s young chefs are so focused on being the best, they forget the essentials of cooking—like caring about the people who will eat their food. The way they get their priorities mixed up just begs to be blogged about… but Shokugeki no Souma is an ecchi anime. Now, the fan service lightens as the show goes on, and unlike many ecchi shows, this one has a pretty good plot. Kaze even gave the first season a 7/10 in our Spring 2015 anime reviews. Still, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to write a whole post about it here at BtT. After all, there are plenty of less offensive anime out there to write about.
Then we got a request from @YT_Joughton on Twitter to talk about Food Wars! and “the ‘only the strong survive’ part of the anime. And how we as Christians view this.”
Guess I’m not the only one who thinks this show is BtT-post-worthy. So here we go. Let’s look at how the “only the strong survive” idea plays out in Shokugeki no Souma, its part in two characters’ twisted perspectives on cooking, and they ways it’s prevalent—sometimes sneakily so—in real life.
First Season Summary: A Different Kind of Strength
Shokugeki no Souma centers on Yukihira Souma, a chef’s son who’s been serving customers in his family restaurant for years. He enters Totsuki, a competitive culinary school with a 10% graduation rate.
That’s right. Only 10% of these high schoolers will get all the way through graduation. And that percentage doesn’t even count all the transfer students who are disqualified in the transfer exam. They can’t be merely “fairly strong” chefs: they must be among the strongest in their class if they want to survive the first few weeks of school, let alone the next three years.
Most of these students define “strong” cooking as the kind of gourmet cooking to be found in the finest restaurants, using the finest ingredients. Souma brings a different definition of strength: he’s focused on pleasing the customers using whatever ingredients he has available. His experience in a family restaurant gives him ties to the common people. Yes, he wants to impress people with his cooking, but he wants to do it at an affordable price, serving the needs and wants of his customers, whatever their age or social class. He never loses this perspective, even during exams or the food competitions (called “Shokugeki”) that the school is famous for.
Tadokoro Megumi is another key student who puts her diners’ needs first. Even in competition, she considers how the teachers or judges’ appetites may be affected by testing so many dishes, and she tailors her food to their needs. Megumi is the type who would lose confidence in herself, surrounded by so many culinary experts, but she draws strength from the culinary techniques and values she learned in her hometown, and with Souma’s encouragement, she learns to recognize her own strength. She will survive this competitive school, and she’ll do it on her own terms.
I’d like to point out that it’s really difficult to keep perspective in a situation like this. These kids may know going in that, when it comes down to it, cooking is about serving people. But it’s easy to forget that at Totsuki, surrounded by critics, theories, and culinary experts. For too many students, cooking is no longer about pleasing themselves and others with their art—it becomes about winning. They begin to believe that surviving Totsuki’s competitive process isn’t just about graduating, but about their identity as chefs—about their place in the world. To secure that place, everything about their cooking must become elite: their techniques, their ingredients, their presentation.
Lost Perspective #1: Mimasaka Subaru
Many characters in Shokueki no Souma have lost perspective. Two in particular stand out so far this season. One is Mimasaka. For him, culinary strength is in attention to detail—both in the cooking process and observing opponents. Survival and success are found in crushing his opponents.
When he was twelve, Mimasaka was praised for his skills, even though he was still only following recipes and copying his father’s work. His father was not pleased, as this screenshot captures:
In every art, mimicry is the first step. A good mentor would recognize Mimasaka’s meticulousness and help him to develop a culinary style that incorporates detail in a unique way. His father didn’t.
Mimasaka was desperate for his father’s approval. He explains what happened next:
A few days later, there was a showcase of our new dishes with a lot of VIP customers in attendance. I didn’t do it out of malice. I just wanted his respect. I added just one simple twist to Dad’s specialty dish, and I won. I was exiled… no, that’s not it. Dad ran away from me.
And so Mimasaka’s twisted perspective began: “Oh… cooking’s easy. Just one step… one small step is all I need to surpass my opponents. I have that talent.”
He started to measure success by not just surpassing, but crushing his opponents. He takes their tools and their pride in culinary matches.
Souma finally defeats Mimasaka, and the latter starts to say he’ll leave Totsuki. Souma sets him straight on what it means to be a chef:
Even if all the confidence and pride you’ve built over the years is blown to pieces by a major failure… even you’ve had a soul-crushing experience… you still have to open shop the next day. That’s who chefs are. Aren’t you the same way, Mimasaka?”
A chef’s identity, Souma’s telling him, isn’t based on whether he “survives” a competition and surpasses others. It’s based on his desire and will to keep cooking, to open shop and serve more customers. And no matter how messed up Mimasaka’s become, he can still start fresh and cook his own way, a more honest way this time.
Lost Perspective #2: Kurokiba Ryo
Kurokiba’s has two matches so far this season. The first, in episode two, is against Megumi. Both students are from harbor towns. But while Kurokiba had an intense childhood, and his fight for survival included defending his position as head chef by the time he was five or six years old, Megumi was nurtured in her family’s restaurant.
Kurokiba’s survival perspective is shown in his reaction to Megumi’s friends cheering her on:
Kurokiba’s annoyed: “I feel sick to my stomach whenever I see a bunch of chefs pal’ing around! Chefs are all about winning or being beaten. There can be nothing else!”
Megumi: “Are you… sure about that?”
Megumi: “Isn’t it important for people to work together in cooking, too?”
Kurokiba: “The kitchen is a battlefield. Cooking is about power! You wouldn’t understand because you were sheltered as a kid. All your cooking needs to do is to bring your opponents to their knees. That’s it. People who don’t get that can only make food with weak flavor! Get that through your thick skull. The cooking the rest of you have been doing is just trash—a game of pretend.”
Megumi: “You’re wrong. What I… At least, what I’ve encountered is… nothing like trash!”
In the match, Kurokiba’s strength seems overpowering. He ends up winning, but Megumi’s strength—though quiet and less arrogant—earns the judges’ respect.
In the seventh episode, during Kurokiba’s match with Hayama, Nakiri Alice explains his background:
You see, Ryo-kun survived in a kitchen straight out of hell. He only had his skills to rely on in a horrible environment. In order to live, Ryo-kun gained an absolute focus on taste, and a fierce combativeness that smolders within him!
This combativeness only comes out in competitions. In classes, he does the bare minimum to pass, and his dishes lack spirit.
Kurokiba wins competitions. He passes class. He survived a difficult childhood because of his culinary strength. But he seems to have lost something in the process. I can only assume he’ll regain it as the anime unfolds and he battles the protagonist.
The idea that “only the strong survive” is, to some extent, realistic. You can’t graduate from an elite culinary school on willpower alone (though a strong will is certainly necessary). In sports, you can’t get into the Olympics without athletic strength. Just plain living requires some strength, both physical and mental.
On the other hand, every word of the phrase “Only the Strong Survive” is complete bull, using both worldly and Christian logic. The phrase and the ideas behind it are rarely used to state facts—instead, they’re used as excuses to abandon compassion and other strengths. All too often, this “practical statement” gets warped, and people start to believe “only the strong have a right to survive” or “only the strong should survive.” But why am I so sure these ideas are warped?
First, the words “only the” indicate unhealthy individualism. Even in literal survival, humans should be helping each other out. We start our lives as weak babies, dependent on adults for food and shelter. And there are many stories of the stronger family members or friends giving up food or health in order to support the weak. Yes, there are also stories of the physically or mentally strong overpowering the weak to claim tools for survival. But that’s not the only way to survive. And, in most cases, people do better working together.
Literal survival aside, I’ve written plenty about the importance of community and teamwork, and about how different strengths and weaknesses come into play. I won’t repeat it here.
I will say this, though: I know that, like Megumi, I’ve been blessed with a wonderful community. My parents and peers have modeled unconditional support, mutual respect, and compassion. Many people are more like Kurokiba, constantly proving their worth and place in the world through skill; or like Mimasaka, whose father belittled his minor successes and was furious and jealous the moment his son seemed to surpass him. For some of you, the very people who should be encouraging and teaching you instead tear you down. You’ve felt alone in your struggles, whether that means just trying to escape a cycle of abuse, getting to college, or striving for success in an artistic or professional pursuit. People like me and Megumi must seem naive.
But you don’t have to be alone. You can learn to trust. There are people—whole communities—who value as you are and want you to succeed. I want you to succeed. Find those people.
Of course, people are fallible. Even the most well-meaning can fail. God can’t. While I have a lot of confidence thanks to my human community, it’s God who I ultimately rely on. I know my successes—whether material, mental, or spiritual—come from his strengths, as my Creator and Savior. In him, I have a Father and Helper—and, in him, I have a huge family of fellow believers. You can, too. The only problem? You have to become vulnerable to share in God’s invincibility. You have to let him change your view of strength, success, and survival.
This leads me to the second problem with “only the strong survive”: “strong” is a relative and often subjective term. No one except God has absolute strength in any area—let alone every area. And different people have different ideas of what “strength” looks like. Is it mostly mental—a matter of willpower, perspective, shrewdness, intellectual ability? Is it more people-oriented—charisma, communication skills, persuasiveness? Is it physical? Emotional? Economic?
This is an especially big problem when people start judging others’ value based on their strength (i.e. “only the strong have a right to survive,” or “your place must be earned”).
As a Christian, I know the world’s definitions of strength are usually pretty twisted. It’s really easy to get caught up in value and strength systems and lose an eternal, Biblical perspective. Biblical heroes value God’s strength above their own or that of others, whether in Old Testament war or missionary work. I try to reflect on Paul’s perspective on weakness in 2 Corinthians 12:
And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Cor 12:9–10)
Sometimes, true, lasting strength goes against the world’s logic.
My third point relates to the last: the word “survive” means different things in different contexts. Sometimes, people apply “survival” logic in a place they shouldn’t. In Shokugeki no Souma, characters want to “survive”—meaning graduate—an elite culinary school. If they fail, they can still become excellent chefs—they just might have to take the long way in order to get broad recognition. Or they might have to ask themselves what’s really important about cooking. But many characters are also looking to defend their identity as elite chefs. And then there are those like Kurokiba, who apparently did rely on his skill from an early age to provide for himself—to secure himself work and identity. He has provision. He’s valued by a member of the culinary elite Nakiri family. But he’s stuck in survival mode, unable to appreciate the cooking world on a community level. His perspective is skewed.
Now, when I look at survival from a Christian perspective, my question is this: what part of me do I want to survive even the worst trials? The answer is my relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ. That’s more important than life in this world. It’s more important than “surviving” in a career or any type of success. And it’s not something I’m supposed to defend on my own strength.
It’s really difficult not to be pulled into others’ definitions of strength and success. In order for your values to survive, as Souma’s do, you need a different kind of strength—you have to know what you believe and where you draw your strength and identity. For Souma, it’s about family restaurant values, strength drawn from experience, and his identity has a professional chef. He’s strongly rooted in that, and no matter what his classmates say about “survival of the strongest,” he won’t waver. For me, it’s about Biblical values, God’s strength, and my identity in Jesus Christ. If I don’t keep returning to God’s Word and meditating on what he says about identity and faith, I will waver. I do waver. But, by God’s strength, I will survive in every way that matters.
Where do you draw your strength? How do you define strength and survival? Is your identity wrapped up in your strength in any particular area? Should it be? And how do you view those who are “weak”? I encourage you to ask yourself these questions. It’s too easy to lose perspective the way Mimasaka and Kurokiba do, even if it’s not apparent in such an extreme way.
Note: I wasn’t exaggerating when I said this show is ecchi. The audio matches the visual, so closing your eyes doesn’t get you away from it. The second season is a bit better, but I cannot in good conscience recommend Shokugeki no Souma to young, Christian, or otherwise sensitive viewers. You know yourself best. As much as I enjoy this show, and as many good points as it has, it’s not a masterpiece, and it’s not worth the risk if you know ecchi isn’t good for you.