The anime series Food Wars! picks up where Tampopo left off and shamelessly runs with it, though it remains on the tamer side of PG-13. (Despite the pilot episode closing with clothes exploding off of people who came to shake down the main character while screaming "MEAT JUICES!!!!") Set primarily in an elite culinary institute (think something like the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York, but for precocious and driven high schoolers), the show and its source manga follows the young, disruptive chef Soma Yukihira and his impossibly learned and specialized friends doing what they do best and enjoy most: cook. Food Wars! animates its chef-y dishes to their platonic ideals -- explained in jaw-dropping detail in a recent behind-the-scenes documentary -- to the extent of drawing every individual noodle in a bowl of ramen and having a color specialist on staff to focus exclusively on the food, which spans the culinary spectrum of regions and ingredients. They're just as likely to cook omelettes and rice as they are to use ants or skin a crocodile.
For food in anime, there is a "truth in its hyperbole," as Tejal Rao wrote in The New York Times about the katsudon in the competitive male ice skating (and boy love) anime Yuri!!! on Ice. This truth applies to the over-the-top reactions in Food Wars! that open up parallel universes where someone's shred to pieces because the vegetable terrine they just ate was that fucking good. Because of this, the series dips into fan service, sure, but it grasps the transportive nature of food, that a dish with strong honey flavors could evoke the image of dripping in honey at an apiary. Like, why not? A Japanese friend once told me that Americans don't appreciate their food enough, and watching Food Wars! both exposes that gap and invites us, in the extreme, to join in.
Food Wars! is more than teens learning how to cook the best food in the world; a competitive element drives the fast-paced series, establishing the dynamics of rivalries and friendships, separating the school's top chefs from the weaker ones. Called shokugeki, these high-stakes food battles are like episodes of Iron Chef: They're set in a massive kitchen stadium, a key ingredient must be highlighted in the dishes presented to a judging panel, and there's color commentary on the preparation. In some of its most interesting moments, Food Wars! becomes a twisted interpretation of an informational cooking show, its Michelin restaurant-quality dishes dramatized as courtside action. Complicated techniques, like filleting notoriously difficult fish like eel or monkfish, are done in single, triumphantly exaggerated knife strokes; regional cooking concepts, like the tingly-spicy ma la in Sichuan cuisine, are explained in accessible detail. Food emanates an aroma-aura that takes up the whole room, and onlookers cheer for these moments like they just witnessed a dominant dunk in a close basketball game.