Isekai Shokudou or Restaurant to Another World is exactly as it sounds and little more. Its title is literal, succinct, and as will be repeated: I think that’s fine. Doubtlessly you don’t need a plot summary as there really isn’t much to delve into. It portrays characters from a fantasy world finding a magical door to a modern Western restaurant, Nekoya, in Japan. There’s a lot of questions that could be raised when watching the show or reflecting on it. Several can be asked about the magical door itself. There’s also brief glimpses at the evolution of technology and agriculture as a result of customers emulating modern food and tech. What about the discrimination towards demons and half-elves? The wage gap? While fantasy currency is useless in the modern world, what about its purity and cost as a metal? I could go on and on, but the fact of the matter is that the show didn’t really explore these topics.
Audience reception was generally positive, but Isekai Shokudou aired during the Summer 2017 season. For reference, Shokugeki no Souma was airing its third season in Fall 2017. As a result, I think there were some misconceptions about the show. Cooking anime don’t seem to be particularly prolific and so Shokugeki no Souma was the only point of reference for a lot of people. I suspect the anime community expected a bit more focus on action and fantasy in the vein of shounen while the show ended up being the exact opposite. Critique followed the train of thought that the show had no progression, main story, or plot as nothing happened. After reading the previous list of topics they could’ve written about in-depth, you might be inclined to agree that a larger overview of topics related to cooking should’ve been explored. Well, I actually disagree.
My argument here isn’t that Isekai Shokudou is an objectively great anime. I understand why it has a 7.35 on MAL and I think that’s a fair score. In fact, this article is barely an argument. I’m writing this to affirm why I liked the show and to explore the main theme because there was one integrated into every episode. It was never about large complicated ideas. Instead, it was about appreciating the small things. In this case: food and food culture.
From the beginning of the show, it’s stated that Nekoya is not a traditional Japanese restaurant. While it does have Japanese cuisine to suit the local palate, it’s a so-called Western restaurant. In this case, they define Western not just as food from Europe and the Americas as is often associated. Instead, Western is closer to a term for foreign, defined as food not having originated in Japan. This alone is integral to the entirety of the series. By showing culturally diverse food, it holds up and embraces its interconnected nature. We shouldn’t be stringent in what we accept or negative towards foreign food as so much of what we eat doesn’t originate natively. Sometimes this is the case in recipes, but it’s also true when we look at crops themselves and international trade routes.
When it comes to food, no one is excluded. Elves represent this most overtly with their aversion to eating meat and dishes created with animal products: veganism. Even then, there’s still options available to them and they’re quite good. The perspective is not that veganism is exclusively a restriction either- it’s a push to further explore new tastes. SORTEDfood is a great channel that maintains the comedic nature of a bunch of friends while talking, teaching, and messing about with food. In the past, they’ve brought to attention and raised good points about traceability, food alternatives, and veganism to name a few. You don’t need to be particularly interested in cooking to have a laugh.
In a way, there’s also a subtle allusion to the unification that food can provide. Nekoya is often filled with multiple inhabitants from the other world, all varying species. Despite any barriers that may exist, that all fades away when they enter the restaurant’s door. No one wishes to physically fight in earnest fearing they’ll be kicked out. As such, it’s almost like they’re on sacred ground. The only argument that transpires there is about which dish is supreme. It’s a common occurrence, but it’s always friendly banter with the resolution that everyone has their own preference. Those arguments also serve to broaden the horizons of other customers, urging them to try other dishes.
The very lighting of the restaurant, or at least the warm colors used in its depiction, reinforce the homely nature of the environment. I’m sure everyone is aware of color psychology so we can sail past that. Interestingly though, when I looked to see if there were any articles written about lighting in restaurants specifically, there was one worth mentioning. Its title is Fast Food Restaurant Lighting and Music can Reduce Calorie Intake and Increase Satisfaction (Wansink & van Ittersum, 2012). Before I discuss it, I do feel that the title is irritatingly misleading. To me, it presents itself as some miraculous way to reduce calories while maintaining portion size and food consumption. That’s not the study at all. It merely observed the effect of lighting and music and its relation to how much people ate. Dim lighting and soft music caused people to eat slower and often less than the other extreme of loud music and bright lights which accelerated consumption (p. 231). Very generally, this (dim lighting and soft music) led to greater satisfaction with the food. There is other speculation about their data, but honestly it’s fairly flimsy and so I opt to forgo writing about it.
Usually, I’d apply a study’s conclusion to the anime I’m discussing- that’s the point of bringing it up after all. In this case though, I want to make a few points:
- The study was about fast food restaurants. That means it doesn’t directly apply to proper restaurants. It’s difficult and often faulty to generalize results that occur outside of a lab setting due to the amount of factors out of the researchers’ controls.
- The study’s sample size consisted of 62 people. While that is decent and the results it concluded are backed up by significant enough data (large enough to not be a result of random chance), it remains a singular study. Despite this phrase being frowned upon since it’s self-evident within the science community, I say it anyway: “further research must be done.”
- To you as a reader, while it may be difficult due to a variety of reasons, try and read a citation’s original text. At the least, skim it. While a writer may propose something, even with citations, don’t treat it as fact. Not all research is done well and you need to learn when to disagree with experts’ methodology or conclusions about their data.
All that aside, there are still other factors beyond the lighting which theoretically increase the homely feeling of the diner. For one, it’s the proximity of the dining room to the kitchen. While you’re seated at your table, you can hear the chef preparing your food. It’s one step away from watching your parents cook as you did as a child. You’re doing nothing physically, but you’re anticipating the meal and thinking about it in your head. You can smell the delicious aroma wafting from the back that causes you to salivate. The placement of the furniture and lack of separators between tables aids this. In an open room, you’re not only smelling what’s being cooked currently- you register all the sensory information from others’ food. You’re able to see their reaction, one of pure bliss, and you too come to expect that. Those other people aren’t just customers either. You’re all regulars at this lovely restaurant, nicknames given to each other based on your favorite dish. It’s truly a familial experience.
While it never explored the purity of coins, it did touch on the craftsmanship and advancements of the modern age. Episode 2 featured a treasure hunter and soldier baffled at the availability of free cold water and the presence of ice respectively. Episode 5 featured a half-elf who emulated a fridge with magic while wondering how the restaurant copied her writing perfectly to produce multiple menus. Episode 9 featured a dwarf who marveled at the craftsmanship of a beer mug. This is all a showcase of the little things we take for granted. Settings like the restaurant shown in the anime are personal favorites of mine. Whether they be cafes, tea shops, or bars, they all represent a peaceful place away from the business or action. It’s as if time stops and life allows you room to breathe. When you’re there, all you need to do is enjoy the atmosphere. Places like that transport you to another world.
“Isekai Shokudou Is A Perfect(ly Okay) Anime” – There’s nothing exceedingly spectacular about it and that’s fine. Not everything needs to be met with raving reviews, heralded as a masterpiece for all to follow. It’s still filled to the brim with little details to appreciate and makes for both a pleasant and relaxing viewing experience. To like it is to recognize the little things that make it good, a successful passing on of the theme. Watch it on Crunchyroll, Funimation, or Amazon if you haven’t already. There has even been an announcement of a Season 2!