Apprentice chef Tsurumi Asuta wakes up in a mysterious forest after jumping into the burning building of his family’s restaurant to save his father’s precious knife. Confused at where he is and how he survived—or if he’s even alive at all—he’s chased by a giant hog, and is subsequently rescued by a beautiful young woman, Ai Fa. The gorgeous hunter invites him back to her home, but the food she offers is terrible!! Now, with his passion for cooking and creating food for others, Asuta decides to dedicate himself to making better food for this ‘other world’.
Cooking with Wild Game is an ongoing light novel series written by EDA and with illustrations by Kochimo. The series is available digitally from J-Novel with translation by Matthew Warner, and the first volume was released in February 2019.
Isekai has become the bread and butter of current light novels—from the highly popular to the relatively unknown, more and more protagonists are finding themselves being flung into weird, unknown worlds. With any large trend within the medium, so too starts the variations, parodies, and subversions within the genre. These types of stories allow for creative liberty and exploration from authors, and Cooking with Wild Game falls into one of the more unconventional types of isekai. Asuta is not planning to save the world, and (at least with this first novel) he’s not leading the charge of a giant army. Instead, his expertise, talents, and passions are smaller-scale—focusing on the tribal settlement of the people on the edge of the forest, who struggle to do more than survive. Asuta is going to create change by making delicious meals.
This other world is not a fantasy one, with no hints of magic or the unnatural given; I did appreciate this a lot as it felt more grounded in reality and familiar despite the harsh living conditions. The first to discover (and subsequently rescue) Asuta is Ai Fa, a beautiful teen girl who had been out hunting the very creature he had been chased by—a giba, a boar-like beast with thick tusks and horns, as well as a heavy hide. Hunting is not a usual role for women in her culture’s traditions, but after the death of her father in the years before, she had decided to fend for herself. It becomes quite obvious that Ai Fa is quite the anomaly herself—she’s been ostracised by the larger community after rejecting the advances of the ruling family’s heir (who had snuck into her house to assault her after her father’s death, but had ended up being beaten up by her) and also rejecting the offer of marriage from the second-largest rival family. Since then, she’s lived her life without interacting or relying on anyone else, and become the hunter her father had trained her to be. She has no interest in ‘women’s work’, and prides herself on that fact.
For Ai Fa and the rest of her people, hunting and eating is purely a means for survival, with little care given to food preparation. And regardless of Ai Fa’s disinterest, their food is gross and unpalatable—the meat rubbery and gamey-tasting, the few vegetables mysterious and hard to work with. Through trial and error though, he’s successful at making a delicious meal for the young woman hosting him—and soon he’s confident enough to try and experiment some more with different dishes. There’s a very in-depth scene of bloodletting, gutting, skinning and carving a giba, so for those who are squeamish or dislike descriptions of those sorts of things: beware! I appreciated the dedication and respect our main character had for this process, but I will admit I scoffed at the reverence he had in removing and handling the animal’s testicles. Seemed pretty on the nose, as it were.
It quickly becomes evident that the lack of good-tasting food is a prolific problem throughout the settlement, and just the fact that he’s a man focused on food preparation makes him fairly odd too. This challenge to gender roles is a nice addition to the story, and I appreciate what EDA tried to accomplish.
The themes of family are also well done, with Asuta’s sadness and worry over the people he had left behind on Earth (mostly his father and childhood friend), as well as Ai Fa’s relationship with her own father and the Ruu family’s dynamics. In all cultures, enjoying and sharing good meals is the foundation for family interaction and community socialization—if it’s this thread that the series follows going forward, I’ll be happy. It must also be mentioned though, that there’s an icky feeling of ‘civilizing the savages’ that comes with this sort of story; is it really believable that generations of people would have just accepted disgusting-tasting food as normal without trying to fundamentally change something? There’s a lot of potential introduced in this first book, and considering there’s already 16 volumes of this series available in Japan, I hope it can capitalize on that.
This book falls a little too far into the typical pitfalls of this type of isekai for me. The overt descriptions of Ai Fa and other women’s ‘alluring’ bodies and gorgeous figures are hard to get through whenever it’s mentioned. (It’s mentioned often.) It certainly doesn’t help that all of them are scantily-clad even when doing difficult or athletic work—unwed women only covering their chests and hips, with the rest of their skin exposed. Asuta’s inner monologue descriptions also lean heavily into exoticism, describing how ‘different’ and beautiful they look: dark skin, blue eyes, long blonde hair, and tight muscle. I’m not the intended audience that finds those sorts of descriptions tantalizing, but I can’t imagine reading such repetitive description, again and again, is very engaging. There’s an entire struggle against a river serpent where our lady hunter is naked (she had been bathing just beforehand) and her nudity and reaction to the situation feel totally unnecessary outside of gratuitous fanservice. (It’s also graced with an illustration that evokes tentacle porn, so there’s that…) Ai Fa’s tsundere personality also seems ham-fisted and overwrought, just so our female protagonist can maintain a badass veneer, whilst still fulfilling the wish-fulfillment aspect of most modern isekai. Happily, Asuta so far has enough unique personality and motivations to keep him from falling into total self-insert, even if he suffers from a “not creepy, I swear” tendency of commenting on how delicious Ai Fa smells.
This first volume is a fairly strong start to an interesting twist on a somewhat tired premise, and although it has the potential for more it doesn’t manage to shake off all of the worst tropes of the genre. For fans of isekai looking for something different from the sword-and-sorcery fare we usually see, this may be just what you want—but there are many other food-focused isekai, so it’s hardly unique. For me, the good wasn’t able to escape the bad.
Gee’s Rating: Middling; has potential.
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