Once again, TEAM JUMP made their way to Japan for JUMP FESTA 2019! Editors Alexis Kirsch, John Bae and Marlene First got the chance to sit down with Yuto Tsukuda, the writer of Food Wars!, for an incredible interview! And we also have an exclusive one-shot Food Wars!: Shokugeki no Sanji tribute to One Piece! Read here!
Team Jump: What are the specific challenges of working on a manga about food?
Tsukuda Sensei: A lot of famous, classic cooking manga have been published in Japan, so coming up with an idea for a cooking manga isn’t that hard if you study all of those. What’s hard is turning that into a good story. And this is a shonen manga, so you need to keep coming up with new opponents. In a cooking manga, all the competition has to take place in the kitchen. You’re restricted in what you can do. In a traditional battle manga, the fight could break out anywhere. Those limits are the toughest aspect of a cooking manga. In Food Wars!, we’re up to like 32 volumes, so to get the characters out of the kitchen, we’ve done things like have an arc where the students need to find their ingredients in the wild. There was also the match against Subaru Mimasaka where we had the battle be about the mezzaluna. I tried to make the motivation be something that is removed from the kitchen. Because the rival disrespected the character’s precious knife by sticking gum on it, the battle had more emotion to it. So coming up with character motivations outside of the kitchen is one of the greatest challenges.
Team Jump: Are there any dishes in Food Wars! that you've wanted to try but haven't gotten a chance to?
Tsukuda Sensei: Early on, I made a number of them myself and went over to consultant Morisaki Sensei’s house to try some as research. But lately, I’ve been too busy to eat many of the dishes. One that I wish I could make but that seems impossible is the sushi rubies by Somei Saito, the sushi chef. Getting all those special ingredients is just impossible for a regular person, so I don’t think I’ll ever get to eat that. It’s possible that even Morisaki Sensei wouldn’t be able to get all of what’s needed.
Team Jump: What was the best thing you ate in America when you came to Anime Expo?
Tsukuda Sensei: Oh, I wish I could answer this, but unfortunately everything I ate was delicious! The reason was that my hosts at VIZ Media, Takada-san and Kadowaki-san, have amazing taste. I’ve heard other people say that when they visited the US the food wasn’t that good and they wanted to go back to Japan as soon as possible. However, I had absolutely zero stress when it came to food while I was there. Seriously, zero. I want to answer this question, but… Hmm… One thing that I remember well was a lamb hamburger at this diner-like place. That was so good. And also one more, but this is more tied to the experience itself: So this was my first time in the US, and I went down to the Starbucks in the hotel while all nervous. I then ordered a coffee and plain bagel all on my own, and I was so proud of myself for being able to do that. I can do it! (LOL!) So the memory of that is strong.
Team Jump: Do you enjoy cooking? What's your favorite food to make?
Tsukuda Sensei: I actually did all my own cooking in college to save money. Most students would go to the cafeteria, but I would make my own lunches. I saved serious money. I was trying really hard to stay under 10,000 yen a month. In my second year, I submitted to Shonen Jump and received a 150,000-yen prize. After that, I wasn’t as strict. I suddenly had money to waste! I do go all out and cook when my friends come over to visit. But when I was a student, to save money I’d make simmered kabocha (pumpkin) and kinpira gobou (braised burdock root). You might not have had either before, but I think simmered kabocha and kinpira gobou are more delicious than anything else in the supermarket. Those two are my specialties.
Team Jump: How did you come up with the idea for the Noir?
Tsukuda Sensei: Good question! In manga, it’s common to have, like, an underworld version of things. The whole “First I conquered the legit world, and now I’ll challenge the underworld!” type of thing. I thought long and hard about how the underworld would need a reason to join the plot, and actually, what happened was we all went to this super-expensive restaurant in a hotel. One of those places where it’s really hard to even get a reservation. We’re at this expensive place, and I’m just thinking about how I wouldn’t be here if not for Food Wars!. I was feeling really grateful to the series, and it dawned on me how there is a world of cooking that I just don’t know about. It was at night, and the night view was beautiful, and I started thinking about how there are probably places like this where only people like politicians and artists with money go. So I exaggerated that by including crazy dishes you can’t get anywhere else, dishes that were even illegal, and that’s how I arrived at the Noir.
Team Jump: Do you think there are real evil chefs in the world, should we be worried?
Tsukuda Sensei: We’d have to figure out what “evil” would mean in that situation. But I want my readers to know that the better the chef, the more they want to shock their customers. So when you meet a talented chef, you better be prepared for anything. You’ll be defeated. You’ll be shocked. Be careful.
Team Jump: If you entered a restaurant and saw that the chef looked like some of the Noir (Scary Clown, Chainsaw lady, etc) what would you do?
Tsukuda Sensei: [laughs] I don’t know, that might be popular these days. Like, a “Wow, they cook with chainsaws?! Look at what they’re doing in the kitchen!” type of thing. It might be a hit. But if I saw that, I’d pretend I’m a regular and remain polite and focus on protecting my life.
Team Jump: Let’s talk about the character Asahi. He feels like the ultimate rival character. Was he created as the opposite of Soma?
Tsukuda Sensei: This is a really good question as well. Soma’s opposite is actually Erina. I designed Asahi as someone who’s wearing the same skin as Soma but is completely different underneath. He’s not the opposite, just different. And the purpose of Asahi is to highlight the different themes that define Soma and Erina. So it’s something I threw in to see what would happen next. It’s important for the creator to sometimes take a step back and see what will happen. Another thing was to see how it might be nice if stupid Soma Yukihira could also tell a girl that he likes her. Like, “Soma has all these cute girls around him, and all he cares about is cooking—why can’t he act more like Asahi?” That was part of why I added him.
Team Jump: Will Soma ever notice the cute girls around him or will he always be too focused on cooking? Well, you basically covered that with the last answer.
Tsukuda Sensei: This question is actually one of the most important themes of the manga. We’re trying to find this answer. The creators of the manga and the editors are interviewing Mr. Yukihira about this. “Hey, you—what’s going on?” My plan is to keep interviewing him until the end and see if we can get an answer.
Team Jump: Has Soma given up on defeating his father?
Tsukuda Sensei: Definitely not. We’re currently in the Blue Arc, and the reader could take all the information I’ve given and assume that defeating Asahi means Soma has defeated his father. It’s not unreasonable to think that. However, even if Soma has won, and everyone around him acknowledges that he’s now better, Soma will always remember all the times he was crushed by his dad. His dad will always be a rival who’s towering above him. So I think he’ll be cooking for his whole life while chasing his father’s shadow.
Team Jump: What was the process like working on Shokugeki no Sanji? Did you enjoy writing a story with another creator’s characters?
Tsukuda Sensei: This is a good one. Mind if I get into all the little details?
Team Jump: Please!
Tsukuda Sensei: So I was eating a meal with my first editor, and he suddenly says, “Hey Tsukuda, don’t you think Shokugeki no Sanji would be interesting?” I responded, “What the heck is Shokugeki no Sanji?” There was no such thing. I asked what he was talking about, and he explained the concept: the creators of Food Wars! would create a story in the One Piece universe starring Sanji. It sounded awesome, so I started coming up with the basic plot to show Oda Sensei. I went all out and basically created a novel. He read it and was like, “Perfect, do it exactly like this.” We started with the plan to do it in 31 pages, but my editor at the time suddenly increased it to 35 pages. That’s four more pages. The problem is that we had to do this while also doing the weekly 19-page Food Wars! chapters.
Team Jump: You didn’t take a break?
Tsukuda Sensei: Saeki Sensei said he didn’t take a single day off. Once I completed the storyboards and handed them off to Saeki Sensei, I could go back to focusing on the Food Wars! chapters, but from the time my editor brought up the idea to when I completed the storyboards, I didn’t take a single day off. I would finish the Food Wars! storyboards and send them off to my editor, and then I would work on Shokugeki no Sanji while waiting for my editor to get back to me with comments. We did get a few suggestions at the early stage: “Make this part more exciting” and stuff. So I fixed a few things and sent it to Oda Sensei for final approval. He only had two or three changes, which he wrote in red ink.
When Soma cooks, he ties his towel around his head with his left hand. So I did like a self-homage, self-parody by having Sanji remove his tie when he cooks. He’d roll it up and put it in his pocket. He’d do that to get into cooking mode. But Oda Sensei wrote that it’s the opposite: Sanji tightens his tie when he cooks. My editor and I were like, “I see!” when we read this. After he’s done cooking, he loosens or adjusts it. My editor and I were like, “I see! I see…!” He tightens his necktie! But that made me realize that a man’s necktie can be a good way to show characteristics in male characters, and female fans might enjoy it. I was so happy that thanks to Oda Sensei, we got a cool scene where he tightens his tie.
The fan reaction to the chapter was strong as well. We did get some comments from fans that this wasn’t the Sanji they imagined, but most fans were happy and wanted to see a continuation. Some people said they like Food Wars! but would like to see at least one chapter of this a year. But that means we’ll never get to take a break. When we saw Oda Sensei at the New Years’ party, he told us he was really happy with it. And that was when he said, “We’re making an anime version of it.” Now the two editors of the series are in a bind since the companies working on the two projects are totally different. [laughs] Now everyone on the editorial side is greatly perplexed, trying to figure out what to do about it. On the other hand, Oda Sensei is just like, “So what? You are going to do it.”
I just have one last thing. The One Piece chapter in the first Shonen Jump I ever bought with my own money back in junior high was the part where Luffy heads out to search for a cook. Being allowed to create a story for a character that you enjoyed as a regular fan is surreal. It would be like if I could direct the next Kamen Rider series. I guess it’s like with the Shin Godzilla movie—Hideaki Anno was a big Godzilla fan, and now he’s directing the movie. It was like that for me. “I get to do Sanji?!” That made me really happy. Connecting it back to Food Wars!, I was able to incorporate the concepts and pace I created for Food Wars! —overcoming hardships with cooking and winning—with Shokugeki no Sanji really well. So it reminded me of all the potential that exists within Food Wars!. It’s something I don’t think I would have realized if I had not done Shokugeki no Sanji, so I am so blessed to have received this opportunity. Sorry I went on for so long.
Team Jump: Not at all!! Thank you so much for your time!
Stay tuned for more great JUMP FESTA interviews!
Read this exclusive one-shot Food Wars!: Shokugeki no Sanji tribute to One Piece here!
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