In the kingdom of Gorgetown, a tyrant rules with an iron fist. The instruments of his oppression? An army of grotesque, Frankensteinian monsters, the reanimated remains of butchered animals and plants cooked into elaborate meals and brought to life with magic spells. The only opposition? A ragtag cadre of loosely affiliated chefs, led by a musclehead absentee father, cooking the best meals—and monsters—they can to stop the madness.
This is the epic fantasy world of Fighting Foodons (née Bistro Recipe in the original Japanese), a manga/anime/video game franchise of the late ’90s so strange and surreal it makes Iron Chef look like Masterpiece Theatre.
It’s no surprise most Americans missed this pop-culture anti-phenomenon, a blatant Pokemon and Digimon ripoff so third-rate that the television series only lasted one season (the manga stopped after two volumes). But nothing dies on the internet, and sure enough Fighting Foodons lives on, so break out the good kush and watch it tonight. Here’s what’s going on.
A foodon is a dish made flesh with the aid of a magical item called a meal ticket, which unsurprisingly looks a lot like a trading card, a nod towards another hope for the franchise that never took off. Unlike pokemon, foodons are one-of-a-kind, each the creation of a skilled foodon chef. Among the 80 foodons we encounter in the Fighting Foodons universe: Fried Ricer, a spoon-wielding, martial-arts-enhanced plate of fried rice with a humanoid body; Appler, an alligator-shaped creature with the head of a slice of apple pie that has water powers; Beefsteak, a Godzilla-reminiscent titan made of beef stew that has a cow’s head and horns and a “meatloaf box” mouth that shoots lasers.
How the meal tickets work is unclear, but a foodon chef’s skill (and presumably the flavor and quality of the dish) has a direct effect on the powers, strength, and personality of the foodon. A dried-out plate of bad meatballs becomes Burnt Meatballs, a collective intelligence with no fighting prowess and even worse self esteem. Meanwhile Beefsteak, deliberately constructed out of “the most evil ingredients ever assembled” (rancid meat, putrid potatoes, moldy carrots, and tusks of terror), is an out-of-control town-destroying giant, surpassing even its evil creator’s sinister intentions.
Like pokemon, foodons have special abilities, elemental powers, mostly only speak their own names, and like to fight each other. But unlike (most) pokemon, foodons have few reservations about using their powers on humans once all their foodon enemies are dispatched. The evil king Gorgeous Gorge and his death eater squad of Gluttons have kidnapped the world’s best chefs and forced them to create ever more powerful foodons to rule the land. The leader of the rebellion is the immensely talented Chef Jack, who his 10- and 8-year-old children spring from Glutton prison in the pilot. Fighting Foodons follows the adventures of Jack’s older son Chase, his sister Kayla, their pet
Pikachu Omelet, and friends as Chase learns what it takes to become a truly great chef and save the world. Chase has to figure out the laws of life and the kitchen on his own. Why doesn’t his dad help? Because right after his kids break him out of jail and Chase whips up a foodon powerful enough to defeat the terrible Beefsteak, Jack congratulates them and literally just walks away to go off fighting solo.
Fighting Foodons raises questions. Does anyone eat foodons? Are foodons sentient? (Some of them, like Burnt Meatballs, certainly seem that way.) How aware are they of their origins? (Pretty cool with it I guess.) What are the limits for forms of matter the meal tickets can animate, and does the matter need to be edible? (Most foodons are made of cooked food like dumplings and pasta, but King Gorge’s Sushi Ship foodon, styled after a sushi boat of raw tuna nigiri, has me wondering if living or effectively-living organic matter can be turned into a foodon.) Can we turn regular plants and animals into foodons? People? And seriously, is Chef Jack just a terrible father or what?
Anyone who’s spent time mulling over pokemon slavery knows that these paths lead to dark places. But the Fighting Foodons universe is especially grim. In the Pokemon, Digimon, and Yu-Gi-Oh series, the protagonists use their monsters to save the world, but for the most part monster-fighting stands apart from the daily politics of the respective realms. Pokemon battling and the card duels in Yu-Gi-Oh are largely sports pursued as ends in themselves; the digital universe that digimon inhabit is only connected to our own as a way to raise dramatic stakes in later episodes.
By comparison, using foodons to hurt and oppress human beings is baked into Fighting Foodons’ DNA from the very first episode. In the second, Chase shields off a foodon’s fire blast with his wok, endangering his life to save not just a fellow foodon chef, but also his foodon. Foodon lives matter, at least to some, but we’re happy to make them fight each other anyway. The foodons, some of which at least have the capacity for intelligence (is there a specific way to cook a dish to highlight or diminish this trait?), are the complicit stormtroopers of fascist oligarchs. And the ethical responsibilities of foodon chefs to their creations are murky at best.
You see where this is going, right? An insurgency of renegade rebel chefs, unbound by the ethics of their neoliberal peers, start mass-producing foodons out of anything organic, turning anything from supermarket steaks to wooden chairs to other human beings into supercharged-yet-disposable, mentally handicapped soldiers in an ever-escalating war against a decadent empire enslaved to its own base appetites.
Maybe it’s a good thing this franchise was cut short.
The entire English-dubbed Fighting Foodons series is on Youtube. Watch it and decide for yourself just how far this mortal abuse of immortal power can go.