In the “Gourmet Age,” a world like ours but … er, tastier, he-man chef and wild grub rustler Toriko ventures forth into the world to hunt down and cook the most outlandish, exotic, and delicious monsters he can scare up. But enemies are waiting in the wings, who want to do more than just ruin his meal.
This loony premise—Dragonball Z starring Anthony Bourdain, maybe?—serves as the basis for an adventure show aimed mainly at younger audiences. It doesn’t break much ground (apart from its hilarious central idea), but it always keeps things moving, and the cast in both English and Japanese have great fun hamming it up. Pun intended.
- Novel premise, to say the least.
- Executed with high spirits and broad good humor.
- Settles down a little too easily into more straightforward action-adventure anime territory.
- Definitely not for those who are squeamish about meat-eating!
- Director: Akifumi Zako
- Animation Studio: Toei Animation
- Released By: Toei
- Released Domestically By: FUNimation Entertainment
- Audio: English / Japanese w/English subtitles
- Age Rating: TV-PG (action violence)
- List Price: $39.98 (DVD) (two volumes)
Welcome to the Gourmet Age
“This is the Gourmet Age,” intones a voice that seems suited to a muscular Michael Bay action-movie trailer, as we are introduced to the world of Toriko. Some world it is, too: one where trees bloom with ramen, island chains spontaneously serve breakfast for thousands, and a muscular hero strides through this landscape harvesting exotic things to eat by wrestling it into submission with his bare hands.
Toriko is his name, and he comes off as what you’d get if you crossbred Bear Grylls and Gordon Ramsay. He hunts the tastiest of beasts—like the Gararagator, which normally takes dozens of men to bring down—using his “Knife and Fork” martial arts style. And once he claims his prey, he takes it back into the kitchen to serve it up sizzling hot. His dream: to create a perfect multi-course meal, with the rarest and most exotic of creatures used in each course.
The whole trick to making a premise this silly work is to play it with as straight a face as possible, and to their credit, everyone involved with Toriko does precisely that. As a result, when the story takes a slightly more serious turn later on, it doesn’t become derailing: by that time, you’ve already made an investment in the goings-on, and you want to see what happens next.
The first few episodes of Toriko are mostly the kind of monster-of-the-week business that are distinguished by having Toriko ultimately serve up his quarry and wax rhapsodic about how great it tastes. He’s joined by an audience-identification character, a hapless young chap named Komatsu—himself a chef of considerable skill, but in perpetual awe of Toriko’s he-manly hunting and harvesting skills. Gradually the series fills out details about the world of the “Gourmet Age”—including things like the wildlife preserve known as the Biotope, or the sinister IGO (International Gourmet Organization). The latter have their eyes on such exotica as the “Gourmet Cells”, biomass harvested from certain animals which transform the consumer in unprecedented ways.
If this sounds like the sort of Object of Power Quest that fuels so many other anime shows, you’re right, and it isn’t long before Toriko settles down into more or less that vein. What makes it stick out a bit more is both the food-centric premise—even when it’s only just a gimmick, it’s still hilarious and diverting—and the manly-man antics of the main character. Toriko also has a code of honor and sticks to it: he won’t hunt anything that he won’t himself eat, and he resents the exploitation of animals’ suffering—so much so that when he rescues a female wolf-creature that was preparing to give birth, the baby animal becomes attached to him. (This becomes the source of one of the funniest lines in the whole show: “He’s a studmuffin, high in moral fiber!”)
One of the downsides of any show with a really creative premise is how they follow through on it. The way Toriko explores most of its ideas sticks well within the adventure/action genre: the Gourmet Cells a big MacGuffin for everyone to chase around, but stuff like Toriko’s code of only killing what he’s going to eat doesn’t get explored as thoroughly as they might in a more thoughtful show. It’s there for—pun intended—spice rather than meat. Another limitation is the disappointingly low-end animation: the show looks way too cheap for its own good during some crucial action moments. But it’s all done with cheeky good humor and high spirits, which count for a lot in a cynical age.