Watch the Omoide Poroporo scene that I talk about in full here.
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If you’ve sat through enough anime, then you’ve most likely watched characters overreacting to food about a quarter-million times. It’s one of the most overused sight gags in the medium; but it’s not hard to understand why.
The setup is comedic tension 101: anticipation builds as the character prepares to eat, and the question, “delicious or disgusting,” becomes the source of suspense. Imagine it like pulling back a rubber band–when the food enters the mouth is when the band is most taught, and the reaction is the moment of release. It’s as basic a setup as they get–and since you can never be sure if the food will be good or bad, the punchline maintains some minor degree of surprise.
Shows like Food Wars and Yakitate Japan base their entire episode structures around this setup, pulling the rubber band back as far as it can go by hinging a character’s progress on each cooking challenge, and then launching it soaring through the air with ridiculously over-the-top reaction sequences in which the comedy comes from witnessing just how insane the scene might get. On the flipside, I’ve seen a lot of shows go out of their way to undersell this punchline as an inverse of the cliche.
In most cases, these punchlines also serve as minor character building, teaching the viewer whether or not the character who prepared the food is a good cook. This trait is rarely consequential, but sometimes becomes symbolic of the relationship between the cook and the eater. In ef ~a tale of memories~, Kei’s inability to cook becomes a major hurdle as she realizes that she’s losing her place in the show’s big love triangle to the girl who can cook. Conversely, In Gurren Lagann, the fact that Simon is the only one who actually enjoys Nia’s terrible cooking is taken as a sign that the two are made for each-other. In some situations, such as in Kuroko no Basuke, the eater might even put on a brave face and pretend to enjoy the cook’s terrible product as a show of affection, or to preserve their feelings.
These gags can also be used to show a character taking interest in new things and overcoming their biases; such as in the first episode of Silver Spoon, wherein Hachiken starts to overcome his disgust at how organic food is made by tasting how delicious it can be. In the first episode of K-On, the light music club members bribe Yui into joining their club with cake, and the tension becomes more a matter of whether or not their bribe will succeed.
Perhaps the most interesting context into one of these gags is in Log Horizon, during which the characters spend the first few episodes believing that good food doesn’t exist in the video game world that they’ve been transported to. Once they finally get a taste of real food in episode five, it’s actually an emotional payoff, and the launching ground for a major plot point going into the next arc about using food to change the world.
However, even in all of these cases, the actual eating gags are not terribly memorable. In spite of how common this joke is, I had difficulty coming up with examples to use in this video, because these moments are so common and utilized in such similar, boring ways, that I typically start to zone out as soon as the setup begins.
Even still, there’s one comedic reaction to characters eating food which stood out to me not only as the best example of this kind of scene in anime, but also as the best scene in the film that it played in, and one of the more memorable comedic scenes in animation. It comes from a studio Ghibli film called Omoide Poroporo, or Only Yesterday, which was directed by Isao Takahata and released in 1991.
The setup for the scene is pretty funny in itself. It takes place in the 1960s, at a time when imported fruits were an uncommon and expensive sight in Japan. Taeko’s family manages to acquire a pineapple, which none of them have ever seen before and all of them are excited to taste. By the time this film was made, the idea of being excited over a pineapple would seem passe even in Japan, which gives the entire scene a comedic kind of nostalgia.
The family’s excitement over foreign fruit creates an excellent tension build, as we can be certain that this pineapple won’t possibly live up to anyone’s expectations. What sets this scene apart from its contemporaries, though, is how the tension continues to build after the characters have already started eating, as it becomes apparent how none of them wants to admit to themselves that their excitement was unwarranted.
All of this is exacerbated by the excruciating length of the cut and painstakingly detailed animation, as we watch the family’s expectations crumbling across their faces in real time. One by one, each character comes to terms with their disappointment, with Taeko’s sisters getting bored and leaving the room to put the whole thing behind them, and Taeko’s mother telling her that she doesn’t have to finish it. Of course, Taeko being the stubborn child that she is, refuses to believe that her excitement was all for nothing, and keeps going as long as she can.
This scene is funny not because of the extremity of the pineapple’s taste, but because of how hard the characters try to avoid their disappointment. It reminded me of no shortage of memories from my own past of being overly excited to try some new kind of food, and then very slowly coming to the realization that it wasn’t as good as I wanted it to be.
There’s even a sort of multi-generational nostalgia to this scene, as I can relate to the reactions of every single character. I’ve been Taeko, trying to lie to myself to avoid admitting defeat; I’ve been her sisters, trying to do something else quickly to take my mind off of it; I’ve been her mom, feeling bad that I overhyped someone else for something, and trying to extend the olive branch that it’s not so bad if we’re all disappointed together; and I’ve been her grandmother, taking the edge off by venting in open criticism of the thing that disappointed me.
While the ridiculous overreactions to food in shows like Koufuku Graffiti and Food Wars can be pretty entertaining in their insanity, I feel like none of those scenes are memorable in the way that the pineapple scene is. We don’t really need a minute-long reaction sequence to appreciate the fact that a character can cook well,–but taking several minutes to explore the nuanced ways that different people might respond to disappointment was fascinating in the way of a truly great scene, and I’d kill to see more anime putting this level of thought into their visual comedy.
Let me know what you think about food reaction gags and share some of your favorite examples in the comments below. Stick around on my channel for more videos like this, and support me via patreon if you’d like to help me to produce this kind of content. Thanks again for watching, and I’ll see you in the next one!