In her 2004 analysis of the Japanese food comic Oishinbo (1988-1992), Lorie Brau grounds her research in a deceptively simple question: “How does food… forge and mediate relationships and construct cultural identity?” Brau’s analysis of gourmet comics (gurume manga) shows that representations of food can serve as powerful conduits of ideology, often having the capacity to “communicate feelings more effectively than can language.” With our ability to connect through cuisine, it is perhaps no wonder why food-related content has only increased in popularity in Japanese televisual media and light novels since the 1980s. While early examples of gurume manga and anime are grounded in the spaces of everyday life, they have undergone a renaissance that stretches the boundaries of both taste and genre. With the introduction of food-related content into works that feature other cultures and supernatural, otherworldly spaces, cooking helps characters navigate relationships and existential questions about cultural and ethnic differences in their respective contexts. This paper compares and contrasts two contemporary anime that could not be more different in terms of their genre and content: Golden Kamuy (2018-2020) and Kakuriyo: Bed and Breakfast for Spirits (Kakuriyo no Yadomeshi, 2018). The former is an action-packed narrative set in the Meiji era about the hunt for indigenous Ainu gold and the relationship and mutual aid between a veteran of the Russo-Japanese War and a young Ainu girl for an adult male (seinen) demographic. The latter is an isekai (another world) romantic comedy about a young girl who can see spirits and works at a supernatural bed-and-breakfast to pay off her grandfather’s debt to avoid marriage to an ogre. It began as a light novel for an adult female (josei) audience. On the surface, these two titles have little in common. But a deeper interrogation shows that they share a common visual and narrative strategy where food is used to navigate the encounter with the Other across ethnic, cultural, and spiritual lines—whether those differences are Ainu/Japanese or spirit/human. Food is ideological, and in watching characters cook and eat together, these shows idealize a positive, if not utopic, message about the imagined possibility of a multicultural contact zone enabled by the preparation, consumption, and digestion of food.
Spiker, Christina M. “Food Anime and the Consumption of Difference: A Comparative Analysis of Golden Kamuy (2018-2021) and Kakuriyo: Bed and Breakfast for Spirits (2018),” paper delivered at the Midwest Popular Culture Association in Minneapolis, MN (October 7-10, 2021).