I’ll be frank. True Cooking Master Boy is at a clear disadvantage. Not only is the fourth season of the beloved Food Wars! airing this season, but this show is a sequel of a really old one that western audiences have probably never heard of. Furthermore, the English title of ‘Shun Chuka Ichiban’ is ‘True Cooking Master Boy’. Extremely on the nose to the point where its a little silly. With audience attention already on the culinary anime that finally brought the genre some fame outside of Japan, thanks to that classic Shonen Jump formula, I think its a big ask to try and get them to jump aboard another buffet cruise when they’ve long since set sail on the first one. In Japan long-time fans of the old series are probably happy to see a return but similarly, I’m not sure if newer audiences will take to this with all that’s stacked against it. However! The idea of a new anime based on a 90s cooking manga about Chinese cuisine is absolutely up my ally so I’ve been excited since it was announced. Now that we’re three episodes in, I’ve got to ask myself, was I right to be?
Ehhh. It’s not too bad but in a nutshell, it’s definitely lacking the spark of a Food Wars! or Yakitate Japan!. While you don’t have to have watched the 90s anime to follow along with the story, True Cooking Master Boy begins with the protagonist Mao already being the youngest master class chef of them all. No trying struggling, no trying to get better. In the first two episodes, he and his friends get caught in some kind of predicament and have to win a cooking contest to save their hides. Taking place in 19th century China, something I do really like about the show, there’s no photographs or snap-chat or whatever so nobody really knows what he looks like. It’s only after this kid beats people with wacky and endearing names like ‘The Dim Sum Master’ that people realize who he is. I guess if I’d seen the old anime, I’d have realized too.
The third episode takes a surprisingly more serious turn than the first two though. Mao and his gang are invited to a mysterious dinner during which they and the other assorted guests are unknowingly served POISONOUS FROG MEAT. I don’t remember anyone trying to kill Yukihira Soma. In fact, it’s only due to the True Cooking Master Boy himself that a bunch of people who’ve attended a clearly sketchy dinner they received an anonymous invitation to that they survive the ordeal. Everyone else thought they were eating quail meat! Silly them. Now that Mao’s almost been killed, you’d think he’d do something other than cook his way out of his problems but no; He is the cooking master after all. Our boy proceeds to have a cooking match against his would be killer. Anime is as anime does I suppose, but this really is a bit of a stretch don’t you think?
While True Cooking Master Boy lacks the oomph of similar shows, there’s definitely some stuff here to be positive about. For starters, I’m really enjoying the art style. Again, based on a 90s manga, so the animation team at NAS has opted to modernize the look but only a bit. You’ve got character designs who walk the thin line of not looking dated but still retaining some old school charm. There’s also a lot of soft colors in the visual palette of the show which makes it very easy on the eyes. Finally, there’s a lot of lighting and white outlining which when paired with these soft colors and charming designs really makes the show pop. It’s not the most beautifully animated show of all time but there’s nothing else that really looks like it out there. It definitely stands apart visually from the crux of everything else coming out now.
Another key factor to True Cooking Master Boy is the fact that it takes place in 19th century China. That means the show serves as an introduction to all sorts of delicious traditional Chinese cuisine. The first two episodes alone have seen Mao cook up rice inside a rare black rooster and create a Shuumai the size of a horse. While the shokugeki in Food Wars! more flare, the more targeted approach of this show and Yakitate Japan! appeal to me more on a base level when it comes to the culinary parts of these shows. Arguably the thing I’m looking forward to most while watching this 12 episode show is all the delicious cartoon Chinese food I wish I could be eating, well, this very second. Let’s hope in addition to the food, this anime also serves up some characters and stories that are a bit more compelling than they have been in these introductory episodes.
From here on out, I’m not really sure what to expect from the show. Are we going to get more one-off episodes where making chicken rice will turn them into local celebrities or will appetizing assassinations become the norm? Will it decide to either take itself seriously enough that a murder attempt makes sense in its narrative? So far, no grand plot’s been set up in the first few episodes though the third one did end on a cliff-hanger. Food Wars! takes a long while before its bigger narrative starts to take precedence in the series but in its case, the series was maybe even better when it was just about the cast’s daily lives and their tantalizing shokugekis. Here, the cooking battles aren’t so intense and, while I’m enjoying the tour of Chinese cuisine and the refreshing old-school art-style, as of now the show lacks the bite it needs to be a worthy competitor to its currently airing competition. I’ll keep watching because that’s what I do; Watch middling anime so you don’t have to.
If you’re so inclined, you can check out True Cooking Master Boy on Crunchyroll.