Mangaka Yūto Tsukuda on ‘Food Wars!: Shokugeki no Soma’ (interview)

Food Wars Mangaka Yūto

Credit: Nerd Reactor

During Anime Expo 2017, we had the opportunity to sit down with Guest of Honor Yūto Tsukuda, the writer behind the popular Food Wars!: Shokugeki no Soma. The series follows Soma Yukihira who enters into the prestigious cooking school after his father informs him that he is closing the family restaurant. Here Soma’s culinary skills are put to the test as he learns that at Tōtsuki Culinary Academy, only 10% of the students manage to graduate.

NR: What was your main inspiration for creating Food Wars!: Shokugeki no Soma?

Tsukuda: So actually everything started from Saeki-sensei who is the artist. He and I had the same editor at the time, the original for Food Wars!, whose name is Nakaji-san. When Saeki-sensei and Nakaji-san were out having a drink one night, Saeki-sensei said, “Hey, what if we drew something about a girl who eats really great food and goes into ecstasy.” And so Nakaji-san says “Yeah! That’s a great idea!” (Triumphant laugh) Saeki-sensei wanted to focus on just drawing the manga, though, and they needed someone to focus on writing the story itself, so then that’s where I came in. I want Food Wars! fans to know that without Saeki-sensei, there would be no Food Wars!

SHOKUGEKI NO SOMA C 2012 by Yuto Tsukuda, Shun Saeki /SHUEISHA Inc.

NR: The dishes in the series are very intricate. How much research did you do when you designed the dishes?

Tsukuda:  I actually wasn’t all that familiar with cooking, so at the beginning, Nakaji-san and I would actually go around every week and do our research via going to restaurants and eating. In general, when we know that there’s a certain dish for an upcoming chapter, then yes, we’ll try to research the recipe and try to actually taste it. Lately, I’ve accumulated enough information to the point where when new dishes come up, I can work that into the story from previous research. At the beginning, when we were doing research on eggs benedict and soufflés, I remember having no idea what these dishes were like, so I ended up eating multiple portions over the span of a few hours. I wasn’t feeling that great (laughter). Oof!

NR: Just a little for clarification on that one, did you try the same dishes or different versions of the dishes?

Tsukuda:  All kinds of variations. We were running out of time, so I had to squeeze my research into a single morning. By noon that day, I actually probably ate eggs benedict that I should’ve separated into two days’ worth of eggs benedict.

NR: So what is your favorite dish that you introduced into the manga?

Tsukuda:  The fans really enjoyed Soma’s quail stuffed with risotto and egg during the Stagiaire Arc. That is the French spin on the Japanese oyako donburi, which is egg and chicken over rice.

SHOKUGEKI NO SOMA C 2012 by Yuto Tsukuda, Shun Saeki /SHUEISHA Inc.

NR: So it’s very fun to see the different over-exaggerated reactions. Like when a character’s clothes burst when a character tries a dish. What brought about this idea?

Tsukuda:  As I mentioned before, it was Saeki-sensei’s brain child of the girl’s clothes flying off in ecstasy because of what she ate. So, how would you define ecstasy? We could have them get naked! Chapter one was really the anchoring of what Food Wars! is about. I felt comfortable once I came up with the idea of having the men ripping off their clothes too! And of course, you can’t just have people taking off their clothes. The fans would get bored. We would get bored. So then we’ve had different ideas. Like, let’s say they transform into these magical school girl clothes (laughter). (Singsong) So we put back clothes on in that case and a different case where they’re ripping their clothes off again. We all work together to make it more interesting and fresh every time.

NR: Sounds fun. So one thing you introduced in the first chapter was a picture of Yukihira Soma’s mother. And one thing that we never talked about was how she and Joichiro met. Will that be something that fans can look forward to in the future?

Tsukuda:  That’s something I’ve always wanted to address, and Saeki-sensei and I are on the same page that we’re definitely going to go into that. Because Soma’s mother is in Chapter one, I was worried that the fans might have forgotten about her by now. But no, they’re more and more curious about her. In the manga itself, there’s a little bit of a hint. There’s a scene where Joichiro is talking about Soma. And he says, “You know Soma has this special talent that I don’t even have.” Therefore, Saeki-sensei and myself, we believe that that special talent that even Joichiro doesn’t have must come from his mother. So at some point in the story where we want the readers to understand what Soma is all about, I think we’ll be able to include an episode featuring Soma’s mother.

NR: So you’ve introduced a large cast of characters in the series. What character have you most enjoyed working on?

Tsukuda:  I go through different trends personally. First, I wanted to marry Megumi. And then Erina-sama. She’s just gets cuter and cuter. Hold on hold on! But then there’s Alice who’s really pretty cool. Ah, but if I’m going to date someone it’s going to be Yoshino. So right now it’s become, Rindo Kobayashi. Very similar to Alice, but she can pretty much do anything she wants. Alice, for example, has a scene where she has a gas mask. And she says, “Thank god I brought this.” So because Rindo kind of has full reign too, I’ll be writing about her, and think, “Oh yea, she can do this too.” I’m surprised what she’s capable of doing as well.

NR: Soma always aims to achieve his dreams. First, it’s to run the Yukihira restaurant, then to prove his cooking, now to take a seat in the Totsuki Elite Ten. What do you think is going to happen when he manages to earn that spot? What will he want to achieve after?

Tsukuda:  That’s a very good question. It’s a pretty deep one. So his short term goals are always changing little by little. For example, “I want to be better than my dad,” or “I want to take over the family restaurant.” Then his first challenge is Erina. And then he then gets to know the Elite Ten and tries to get a spot, so that also becomes a challenge. So I think his dreams and aspirations are more instinctive. It’s not like he’s necessarily driven by outside forces. It’s a little bit hard to pin down. Lately, I feel okay comparing him to Goku in Dragon Ball. I don’t think Goku is necessarily satisfied with the act of winning the Tenkaichi Budokai, or satisfied with the act of beating Majin Buu, for example. And as your question points out, Soma’s goals and challenges change little by little. But how like Goku always says things like, “I just want to fight the strongest guy out there,” that’s something that Soma feels within himself as well. That’s a really hard one. I can’t really say “this is his goal,” and “this is his next goal.” I think this is something I can’t answer right now, but I’ll have to discuss it with Soma as he goes through his journey.

NR: So what was one of the most memorable arcs you’ve worked on? I know they’re all your babies, but what’s one that has had the most lasting impression on you?

Tsukuda:  The part where, to rescue Megumi, he does a shokugeki with Shinomiya during the camp arc. When we published Chapter 21, when we wrote that chapter and submitted it, my editor at the time, Nakaji-san, and I knew that if we continued to execute it properly, we could take the series to the next level. For several chapters after that, it was incredibly mentally taxing for several weeks because I was trying to make it the best that it could be. There were times I kept Saeki-sensei waiting while I was working on the story, and he was incredibly patient with me. At the end scene after the battle when Soma hits the wall because he’s lost, and he’s angry about that, that’s when Nakaji-san and I were able to breathe a sigh of relief, because it was over. And then it was like “Oh no, we have the next chapter to write. Time to get back on the horse again!” (Laughter)

NR: I just want to say that my favorite chapter of the arc is the Stagiaire.

Tsukuda: Thank you.

NR: Soma and Joichiro having the habit of making the terrible-tasting food while practicing. Did you actually– have you tried any of those?

Tsukuda:  I did try making the squid tentacles and peanut butter. I did try that. (laughter). But I used a really sweet peanut butter called “peanut cream” that we have in Japan. So Morisaki-sensei who is our food consultant, she says, “Oh you know if you used a less sweet one, this actually might work.” So with confidence, I was able to write that sweet peanut butter and squid do not go together.

NR: So for those who are currently following the manga, I have to ask will we see more of the Aldini brothers.

Tsukuda: I’d like to! So, Takumi Aldini ended up losing to Mimasaka. We were debating to the last minute if Takumi should win. But of course, in the end, Mimasaka does win that one. But I feel that because he lost that, it creates a springboard for him to be able to grow from there. Takumi’s cuteness and adorableness won’t change. So female fans, watch out for more Takumi.

Volume 19 of the Food Wars!: Shokugeki no Soma manga will be available on August 1st, with a third season of the anime announced.

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