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Hell’s Kitchen: The Anime

There’s something so fascinating about Gordon Ramsay’s Hell’s Kitchen. It’s a simple formula that can be boiled down to The Apprentice but it’s about cooking. A large group of both professional and amateur chefs battle it out week-by-week completing cooking challenges and desperately try to be the winning team to avoid the possibility of being eliminated from the competition. The reward at the end? Glory, money (lot’s of money) – and you get to run one of Ramsay’s restaurants with a big salary (a very big salary). There’s intense, over-the-top drama, there are tears, and there’s a hell of a lot of arrogance and bitching. The show is both American and a reality TV show, so it is unbelievably over-dramatic, to the point where it is quite impossible to put on and ignore, and even harder to not watch just one more episode. The drama is so intense it becomes funny to watch. Shamefully, I once watched an entire season in one sitting. I didn’t sleep that night. It’s trash TV. I love it.

The selling point of the show is not only that it is a competition, but a chance to grow as a chef – to be tutored by the great and almighty god of cooking, Gordon Ramsay. It’s quite funny, sometimes, to see how much these chefs look up to and fear Ramsay – especially when I’ve seen him on UK shows and can see how much of an act he is putting on in America as an aggressive, sweary, British chef. He’s not like that on UK TV – probably because people wouldn’t put up with it so much. People in Hell’s Kitchen are terrified of him and also idolise him – if he gives one of them a compliment they’ll almost collapse with the pride. It doesn’t even have to be anything big – they might have cooked some spaghetti properly. They’ll record interviews Big Brother style so that sound bites can be played over the top of challenges. Some have been so overwhelmed by Ramsay’s presence that they have started crying.

I’ve always felt while watching the show that it is well executed; by the end of a season, you feel as though the right person won and the right people lost – yet the show can still often surprise you unexpectedly, which is all in how it’s edited but that’s a topic for another blog. The show is so completely ridiculous and it’s one of my favourite shows on TV – so you can imagine my disgust when I realised that it has been removed from UK Netflix. What’s even the point of Netflix anymore? It has since been restored, but I have found a new love.

In my dark days of not having access to Hell’s Kitchen, I have discovered a new light to lead me further down the path of cheesy, melodramatic cooking shows. “Shokugeki no Soma” doesn’t really translate into English as anything useful, so it has been renamed to “Food Wars!” in English speaking countries and that is what is translated into other languages – so in French, it is “Guerres Alimentaires!” I thought that was interesting so I’m sorry if you don’t care. The exclamation mark cannot be removed – it is part of the title. Personally, I prefer the title Shokugeki no Soma – but only because I’ve watched a season so I know what a Shokugeki is and I know who Soma is.

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The student cast of Shokugeki no Soma

Soma Yukihira works in a popular diner run by his father, Joichiro Yukihira. Because of their god-like cooking abilities, Restaurant Yukihira is incredibly popular. One day, Soma’s father tells him that he must go to a cooking school, but not just any cooking school – the best cooking school in the entire world! Totsuki Culinary Acadamy is the size of a city behind its closed walls and has a pass rate of less than 1%. Not because it’s actually a terrible academy which fails to properly teach it’s students, but because so many students get in at the first year and the standards are unbelievably high, leading to many expulsions. So you could say that the graduates are the best in the world because of a process of elimination rather than any particular training – in this way it reminds me of getting a Hunter License in Hunter X Hunter (very recommended).

In that, we have the drama aspect of this show. Soma is already better than most of his year at the academy because his father taught him so well while they worked at their small diner in Tokyo. During his three years at the academy, he must complete many varieties of challenges – all of which involve cooking in some capacity. One might wonder when the actual teaching happens because every day seems to involve a new challenge to test the students, and not a lot of actual lessons. Fairly reminiscent of the challenges in Hell’s Kitchen, but much more dramatic and often quite a lot more dangerous. Students battle it out in Cook-Offs called Shokugeki – which is the only way disputes can be formally resolved while at Totsuki. Any student can challenge any other student or teacher to Shokugeki – often by shouting ‘SHOKUGEKI!’ at them. While it is admittedly not exactly the same in Hell’s Kitchen, competitors are often challenged to battle each other in the cullanry arts by Ramsay.

Shokugeki No Soma is unbelievably melodramatic, which is the primary source of comedy in this show – and this show is very funny. Not an episode goes by that I won’t laugh out loud, rather than just quietly chuckle as I normally do. Students have ridiculous feuds between them which involve them shouting about how they are so much better than the other and that they will destroy them. A little bit similar to Hell’s Kitchen when competitors take a dislike to each other and have stupid arguments. My favourite was when one man started shouting at the other, “I will cook circles around you! You couldn’t cook my cock!” What makes Shokugeki No Soma so funny is how self-aware the show it to how stupid the drama is. Either when it comes to how the animation is done, or the sound design, or the acting. It all comes together beautifully to create a great show. It’s all excellent in execution and makes the show extremely enjoyable to watch. I love it. I want an anime Gordon Ramsay to show up for one episode to reveal that he was trained there as well – that would be my make-a-wish if I was a terminally ill child.

In conclusion, I recommend you watch Hell’s Kitchen and Shokugeki No Soma. I’m not sure where any of this was going to be brutally honest. Happy Easter?

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Anime is Weird – Sword Art Online is Great

I used to be one of those people. I used to avoid anime. I would scroll through Netflix, see an anime title, and instantly reject it. Why? Because anime is weird. People told me to try it, they told me that it’s really good when you get used to it. This only leads me to judge those people harshly. “They’re weird, ” I thought to myself, “They can no longer be my friend” I decided. Over the past three days, my mind has been opened; anime is really weird, and yet it is also amazing.

The first I heard of Sword Art Online when my brother mentioned it to me a few years ago. He said the name in passing and my response was thus:
“Sounds like a video game.”
“Yes, it’s supposed to” he replied.
I forgot about this until earlier in 2015 when the exact same thing happened, this time in a shop. I later found it on Netflix and added it to my list. It was only a few days ago that I decided to take the plunge. I watched one episode and my reaction was to tweet the following.

https://twitter.com/sammysquirrel12/status/688148658873737216

And it is. I stand firmly behind this tweet. I watched all 25 episodes of Sword Art Online and you know what? Anime is weird – but sometimes it’s great. And it is greater than it is weird if that makes sense.

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Yes – this is indeed an anime.

Sword Art Online is about a video game – an MMO in the year 2022 called Sword Art Online, hilariously enough. What’s exciting about this video game it that it is the first to use a new VR technology called ‘Nerve Gear’ which straps on to your head, and it’s basically like Avatar except better in every way. Your mind is transferred to this virtual world where you fight monsters and hang out with other players in a fantasy world. It’s amazing and everyone logs in on the launch day since it’s the first of its kind. Things go well until the players notice that there is no way to leave; the logout button is missing. They learn that if someone removes the Nerve Gear helmet in the real world, they’ll die. They also learn that if they die in the game, they die in real life. It’s Matrix rules without the convenient telephone situation or any other way of leaving. The only way they can leave is if the boss on the 100th level of this big old tower has been defeated (which means they have to beat the bosses of all the other 99 floors as well). So that kind of sucks and people get upset about it.

We follow the story of Kirito. Kirito is special in this world; he was a beta tester, which gives him a distinct advantage; there were only 200 beta testers (it’s worth clarifying here that the players could log out during the beta test). He’s also MLG pro-MVP god – like seriously, he’s so OP most of the time that’s it’s sort of ridiculous. There’s one point where about four other players attack him at the same time and his reaction is to tank it; his HP is so high at that point that, even with all four players attacking at the same time, he couldn’t be harmed. Kirito meets a girl named Asuna. Asuna is mysterious and at first, they don’t get along, but after time, they grow to love each other in an entirely predictable manner. I’ve no problems with this because it’s not that important – what is important is that they are head over heels for each other and damn well pleased about it. The plot then follows. I won’t spoil it for you, go watch it for yourself. Their love is cheesy, yet somehow it’s not cringy. I genuinely cared about their relationship because it’s not over the top, it’s almost subtle and you could call it realistic, depending on your expectations. I cared so deeply by the end for these two; any harm that came to either of them felt like it was harming me too. Okay – maybe not that extreme, but them sticking together felt, for some reason, really important to me.

It’s not all love and games in Sword Art Online, there are the other people as well, and more than that, the world of Sword Art Online is incredibly detailed – it almost feels real. The story is about this world and the people who live in it, and the writing really brings the world and its people to life. I mentioned that Kirito was a beta tester earlier. Well, that causes some friction early in the story and also throughout. You see, some people reckon that beta testers have an unfair advantage – a six-month unfair advantage to be precise. Worse, these beta testers, with their advanced knowledge about the game, generally decided not help new players out when the crisis began and just play solo, collecting all the good items before anyone else could get them. This, you’ll agree, is not very sporting and you could describe this kind of behaviour as cheating. Shocking – I know. These people are labelled ‘beaters’ – a combination of beta tester and cheater. I’m not sure what’s wrong with calling someone a cheater but whatever floats your boat. Beaters are not well liked in this world and some people say some right nasty things to them. Those things hurt. Beaters are discriminated against and treated with a certain level of suspicion. Because Kirito is a beater some choose not listen to him when he tells them something important – a move which seems really stupid considering that he probably knows what he’s talking about. It’s this kind of real world discrimination, brought into a fantasy world, which makes the people seem like people. A proper society emerges, with all sorts of social issues, there is a big army which keeps the peace between people, there are lawbreakers who steal from others and murders who murder each other, there’s common racism, there’re shops, there’s true complexity in the world.

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Drama.

I could go on. And I would if I could make it interesting. There’s so much that I want to write about – the people, the world, the story, the way the game makes sense and is generally really well thought out and so on. Honestly, it’s fantastic. I do however want to talk about anime in general and not just stick to how great Sword Art Online is. Anime is weird. Most of the time I’ve no issue with its weirdness. It really adds to the experience when something so predictably anime happens. It’s an inexplicable mix of cheesy and deadly serious, and a heap of melodrama mixed with genuine drama. It sounds like it can’t work, but it’s amazing. Just look at the opening credits for God’s sake!

The confusing translations also add to it. I’ve read those lyrics many times and I still don’t know what it’s on about. I have no issue with that. I think it’s great and can only amplify my enjoyment. Anime is anime. It’s weird, and I can’t even explain why. All I know is that there were several moments where my reaction was “yup, this is an anime.” Sometimes things happen which are so typically anime that I can’t help but feel exasperated. Women are all attractive people – far more than the men (although this may be just my heterosexual male viewpoint), and I don’t really know how I feel about it. They spend half their time being over emotional, and the other half being genuinely strong characters. I can’t think of a single woman in SAO who wasn’t up for a fight. The women are strong and feel necessary, so I don’t think I have an issue with them. Anime is weird. I can only explain why by showing you this (with the mildest of spoilers):

Sword Art Online is brilliant. Go watch it. I finished it yesterday and since then I’ve felt a familiar sense of emptiness I always get when something great ends. I got it with the Witcher 3, and I got it (not quite as much) from this. It’s an emotional ride which left me feeling warm and happy, but also sad that it was over. Yes, I know there is a series 2, but I don’t want to watch it in case it’s not as good. It doesn’t feel like something which should have a sequel or a potential film for that matter. I may try watching the next series, but I’m not interested in disappointment. Anime is weird – but most of the time, it’s great.