Why Do We Love Animated Food? – This Week in Anime

Nick and Steve dive into some of the most delicious-looking anime around while talking about why they have been (and continue to be) so popular.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by the participants in this chatlog are not the views of Anime News Network.

Today’s Menu for Emiya Family, Food Wars! (Season 3), Yakitate!! Japan, Wakakozake, Laid-Back Camp, and Sweetness & Lightning are streaming on Crunchyroll. Delicious in Dungeon and Flavors of Youth are streaming on Netflix. Ghibli Movies are streaming on Max


Since time immemorial, people have loved eating food. Today, Nick, we’re going on a culinary journey spanning millions of years, starting with the first human to ever pluck a berry off a bush, and ending with this still image of a fantasy knight man sniffing a severed mushroom foot.

Look, I don’t know how we got here either, but someone has to find some answers.

Nah, this seems like a pretty direct line from our hunter/gatherer ancestors. If anything they’d have a way easier time understanding this than any of those farming-based isekai shows from last year.

Sadly, I’ve just been informed by management that we can’t fire up the ol’ ANN time machine to ask those ancestors in person, so we may have to narrow the scope of this column a bit. On the plus side, it turns out anime food has a fairly rich and savory history on its own, so I think that topic can still sustain us.

It only makes sense. While the rise of “Foodie” subculture in the mainstream is relatively modern, food itself is quite literally inextricable from human history. It’s a thing all of us need in some form or another, and is a topic of fascination and creativity in every culture out there. So of course we’d get some anime and manga entries in there eventually, like with Diners, Dungeons, and Di- er, Delicious in Dungeon here.

Food is also such a multi-sensory experience that you’d think tackling it from a purely visual or audiovisual angle would be moot. I mean, what’s the point of looking at a drawing of a roast chicken if you can’t rip off a drumstick and dig in? But you also have to consider how food/cooking shows have got to be one of the most persistent and popular avenues of TV, period. Our brains literally and figuratively hunger for food, however intangible it may be. No wonder you’ve got anime and manga adding to the pot.

It’s a tough sell in certain ways, which makes it doubly impressive that D in D has managed to make it work with completely fake food made from conceptually impossible ingredients. It’s one thing to draw a good-looking meal. It’s another to come up with one made out of stuff that looks like this:
I have wanted to stick a fork in literally every meal they’ve highlighted. I am Laios-coded. I’m not afraid to admit that.
You should be a little afraid to admit that.

There are worse screenshots you could have gone with there, so I’ll take that as a small win.
To me, Delicious in Dungeon‘s secret sauce is its holistic approach to underground eating. Ryōko Kui‘s synthesis of real-life biology and classic tabletop RPG monsters makes it so much more than just food porn. It’s a fascinating and constantly innovative dungeon-to-table documentary.

While most of the other shows we’re going to talk about in this subgenre are focused solely on meal prep, this show tickles the same part of my brain that loves learning where fantasy cultures go to the bathroom. It’s fully dedicated to interrogating not just the sourcing and processing of food, but of the shape it takes before and the political implications of who gets it after. It rules if you’re a specific kind of nerd.

I could listen to Senshi explain the logistics and economics of the dungeon toilets for hours. Though, for the sake of the series’ continued popularity, I understand that’s not feasible.
We’ll have to wait for an adaptation of Soara and the House of Monsters for that. Seriously though, the politics and logistics of food are fascinating. Eating is so universal that, for people who don’t have to worry about hunger, it can easily be taken for granted. Yet the question of what food is available to what people—and for what reasons—is endlessly complicated. So seeing that topic brought up here was cool.

I like the kinda dark comedy of Senshi doggedly trying to bake bread while that heated, blood-soaked argument is going on in the foreground. But he too has a point. Food can divide, but it can also unite. And it’s probably easy to bring people of all creeds to the same table when the bread looks that good.

It rules. While sharing a meal doesn’t suddenly fix all the history and bloodshed between the Orcs and their opponents, here it allows them to socialize in a way that puts them on an equal level over a universal experience. Probably helps that this one didn’t involve any screaming vegetables or newly discovered invertebrates. The worst way to blow international diplomacy is to serve somebody uncooked oysters.

Internal diplomacy is also important—i.e. the gang needs to feed Marcille a normal meal once in a while, lest she explode.

Marcille’s just gonna have to deal. There’s no “Sweet & Sour Chicken” copout option at the restaurant—so learn to enjoy the spice of life, hold your nose, and eat your bad omelets, lady.

The perils of picky eating aren’t limited to food either. It’s good to sample a wide range of art and media as well, to both broaden and sharpen those tastes. There’s a wide world of anime—and anime food—out there. I suspect, though, if you’d ask the median person, their point of reference point for animated eats isn’t going to be Delicious in Dungeon. It’s probably going to be this guy.
Ah right, I’ve seen that on every one of the thousands of “Anime Aesthetic” Twitter accounts that were devastated to find out about the pink tint on Sailor Moon being an accident last week.

I haven’t bothered to verify this, but I’m certain that “Ghibli food” is a well-trodden tag on Tumblr. And I mean, while that’s a label that flattens the various examples and artists found throughout the studio’s oeuvre, it’s also true that the bacon there looks upsettingly delicious.

That’s certainly a key part of it. For a lot of viewers who aren’t nerds begging to know more about the agricultural laws of RPG Town, the appeal of Foodie anime is to just look at some deliciously-illustrated cuisine, and those Ghibli posts that go viral every few months certainly satisfy that hunger. Though honestly, I’m more of a turkey bacon guy, myself. Sorry, Calcifer.

The films themselves are pretty smart in how they utilize food too. Most recently, The Boy and the Heron integrates hunting, food prep, and eating into its collection of metaphors about the continuity of life and death. In Kiki’s Delivery Service, Kiki’s job delivering baked goods is her first step into adulthood. She also helps those old ladies make this herring pie, which, from the name alone, I can’t imagine tastes as good as it looks—but it does look really good.

That looks like a dish best kept exclusive on Instagram feeds, honestly.

Spirited Away‘s smorgasbord is best kept at arm’s length too, though less for any perceived disgustingness and more for the fact that it turns you into a literal pig.

I’m always telling people, “Don’t eat food offered by strange fae creatures at festivals.” But they just keep stuffing their faces. Most of the time those places don’t even have grades from the health inspector.

I guess it’s no shock that some of the highest-profile films in the industry can make their food look extra yummy. Man, however, cannot live on Miyazaki meals alone.

Thankfully there are other filmic foodstuffs to feast upon out there. It’s only a matter of time before Shinkai makes a big romance film about aspiring restauranteurs, but in the meantime, CoMix Wave Film already has a production under their belt created to make your mouth water.
Despite the title, it’s only the first segment that deals with food. But what it lacks in culinary runtime it makes up for with some of the finest broth sakuga I’ve ever seen.

Now that’s some good shit. Like, the Ghibli food might look tasty, but that stuff feels real. The bubbles in the oil. The ripples on the egg. That’s the kind of stuff we should be stealing to make monetized Twitter accounts of.

You gotta figure there are two main angles to tackle animating food from preparing it and eating it. Most shows will cover both sides of the equation but the examples with more animator manpower tend to lean more into the prep angle because it’s the more technically involved side. Today’s Menu for the Emiya Family is a great example of that since it centers itself on the skills of everyone’s favorite housewife, Shirou.
That’s another wrinkle to this subgenre. The sub-subgenre of food-based spin-offs. Like hey, Fate fans, are you tired of the fifty bajillion action shows and films this franchise has been pumping out for a decade? Well here’s a low-stakes comedy about Shirou making dinner. And with how eagerly those fans ate it up, it feels like we’re maybe two years from a Nasuverse crossover that’s entirely about rival hotdog stands.
I’m trying to remember if that was already the conceit of a Fate/Grand Order event. Probably was. It’s certainly a phenomenon that makes a lot of sense. Fanfiction writers love throwing characters into their coffee shop AU’s, so why not have official channels doing more or less the same? I’m not immune to Rider chillaxing in a black turtleneck.
Even outside obvious fanservice, there’s also just a lot of appeal to seeing characters who are usually in fantastical, larger-than-life, or just high-stakes scenarios settle down for something mundane. You can add or emphasize their personalities by highlighting what they like or dislike—or in Shirou’s case, focus on the domestic angle of his character in a way that makes him way more endearing than his mainline counterpart.
It’s not even limited to anime either. The first one of these I ever encountered was Shokugeki no Sanji, where the creators of Food Wars! made official One Piece fanfic about everyone’s 8th favorite Straw Hat pirate doing, well, Food Wars! things.

It’s unironically the coolest Sanji has looked in years.
The least surprising crossover. Witch Hat Atelier has a food spinoff too, and Arknights has a cute manga about various Rhodes Island operators flexing their kitchen know-how. And of course, there’s no shortage of original foodie manga, like What Did You Eat Yesterday?
Though now that I’ve mentioned it, Food Wars! is probably the example folks are most likely to be familiar with, thanks to its dedication to satiating hunger and thirst.

There’s no shortage of writings linking food with sex. I don’t know if Food Wars! is intellectually sound enough to warrant that kind of analysis, but it is there.

Honestly, despite the hook of seeing people stripped by the power of spice, Food Wars! does have a decent amount to say about the first half of its title. While it’s all filtered through the lens of a sports anime, there’s a lot of focus on how to make food that is appealing, unique, or even an expression of the chef’s personality. It seems to believe that cooking is as much an art as painting or music.

Okay that’s a more thoughtful answer than I was expecting. Nice! Personally, though, if I’m talking shonen food anime, I’m going with the one built on an awful pun.

I watched a few episodes of Yakitate!! Japan back in college anime club and never again since—but I do remember enjoying it!

I never got that far into it myself, but I do rather like the angle of the main character trying to make a distinctly Japanese kind of bread. Food was historically highly specific to the culture it was created in but the globalization of resources means different places can create their spin on even the most staple foods. It begs for a deeper look into what forces and circumstances might lead to something feeling nationalistically distinct while still being the same kinda food you could find in any grocery store on the planet.

I think for me that’s also part of the appeal of anime specifically. There’s so much Japanese cuisine I’d know nothing about if not for that innate cultural exchange.
Guess that means we can include Glitter Force in here to teach us about Japanese Pizza.
Along those lines, I even appreciate the approach of a smaller and simpler show like Wakakozake, which is a series of two-minute shorts about a woman going out to drink after work. That’s it. But it’s both charming on its own and informative of the kinds of alcohol and snack/meal pairings you’d enjoy at a bar or izakaya.

That’s pretty neat too. As fun as it is to see shows come up with wild new recipes or fancy takes on familiar dishes, there’s also something relatable in just seeing what food people wolf down when they need something comforting or familiar. All we need now is an anime about somebody drunkenly buying and eating $50 worth of Taco Bell.

Lol yeah, my “Wakakozake” in college was running to the local Wawa and getting a bowl of mac and cheese at 2 am. For more wholesome anime food enjoyment, though, one of my favorites is Laid-Back Camp. While not solely about cooking, it frequently highlights the tastebud-transformative power of the great outdoors, which can turn even simple Cup Noodles into a feast.

I’m seeing a disturbing lack of marshmallows or graham crackers in those screenshots. Are you sure they know how to camp properly?

Gotchu covered. I still don’t know where the hell they got circular graham crackers though.

If food anime has taught me anything, it’s that everything is possible with a Japanese convenience store.

While I was going through my screenshots, I also noticed a big jump in food sakuga quality between the first and second seasons. Like I think they saw how much the audience latched onto that part of the show and made sure to ramp it up in season two.

That does seem like a rising trend. Even Western properties are getting in on it with the likes of Superman vs Meshi, which is about exactly what you’d think it is.
And speaking of trends, another thing Laid-Back Camp integrates well is the modern social aspect of food. Rin sharing pictures of her meals with friends is an important part of her solo camping adventures. And in the Instagram age, it’s a vital component of the restaurant experience now as well.
Now I’m thinking about a foodie anime, but all the characters just make those weird, gross recipes for people on TikTok to react to.

Ah yes, a cursed anime about people brewing sangria in their toilet. I can think of a few directors who could probably handle that.

Our artistic relationship with food could stand to be as wide and varied as our gestational one. I don’t just want food anime about cooking good stuff. I want a comedy about somebody destroying their kitchen by trying to make 50s-era novelty gelatin meals. Or trying to create the spiciest hot sauce to ever scorch a human tongue. Give me an anime adaptation of The Bear while we’re at it.

Unfortunately a lot of the hooks these days seem to be “isekai, but the protagonist can cook! Wow!” Not quite the innovation either of us is looking for, I suspect. But if I rewind to 2016, I did like the wrinkle that Sweetness and Lightning added. Sure, it was a story about a single dad learning to cook to better bond with his daughter and get over the death of his wife but it was also a story about getting a four-year-old to eat nutritionally balanced meals.

The biggest surprise is that it didn’t turn into 12 episodes of making chicken nuggets shaped like dinosaurs, honestly.

That’s the magic of fiction.

But seriously, that’s a good angle to take. Anime about raising kids often glosses over the more troublesome parts of caring for a toddler, including getting them to try new things and eat stuff they really should, lest they grow up to be somebody who won’t even have lettuce on their burgers. It highlights how much our tastes are determined by what we’re raised on, and how integral what we eat is to our personalities. We are, in fact, what we eat.

And that’s a good way to pull us back to Delicious in Dungeon and its holistic thoughtfulness. We’re all inexorably intertwined with the matter we stuff into our gullet. Modern conveniences make this easy to ignore, and maybe that’s not the worst thing. But If we choose not to think about that, then we’re ignoring the threads that connect us not only to other people but to all other organisms on the planet—especially the delicious organisms.

It’s the circle of life. One way or another we all turn to food eventually, whether we’re meat in an animal’s gullet or our bones are fertilizing plants. So next time you sit down for a meal or just sneak a midnight snack, try to think about your place in the universal food chain. And remember: