With Christmas coming, it’s finally a chance to write more at last! As many of you know, writing is fun but requires some time for a great product, and finally, more of that precious resource is available as the holiday draws nearer.
Show: Today’s Menu for the Emiya Family
Studio/years released: Ufotable, 2018-2019
What do you get when Fate is combined with a cheery slice of life concept? The answer is this show, which incorporates a variation of the original Fate/stay night characters in day to day life around Fuyuki City, and in turn, has a focus on Shirou Emiya and his cooking skills.
Contrary to Zero or 2016’s Unlimited Blade Works, this show’s a miniseries and just 13 episodes, each in a more episodic format highlighting different members of the cast. While charming and light, supported by colorful animation, the show’s biggest note is that it requires “prerequisite knowledge” of the characters in the franchise to truly understand the allusions and references. This aspect is not uncommon with spin-off series, but it is worth noting because unlike other SOL fare, including previously reviewed shows on here such as K-ON! and Nichijou, it’s not something one unacquainted with the franchise would get the fullest experience out of.
So what makes this series well worth the watch beyond the Fate allusions? For one, each episode has actual recipes prepared as part of the plot, something was reminiscent of Sweetness and Lightning. Another neat aspect is the show’s timeline, which covers a full year and sees the characters in different seasons, along with corresponding activities. The food prepared also changes seasonally, and for a Western audience, it’s interesting to see different Japanese fare. The character mini-stories each episode provides are also well worth the brief investment, and it all leads to an easily bingeable, comfortable watch.
Animation: Modern, 2-D animation- all with a lighter touch than the main series works. The characters are all a bit more “cartoony” than the more serious mainline works, and the colors, shading and lines are softer. All of this contributes nicely to the aesthetic Today’s Menu is trying to evoke, which does very well.
Characters: The cast largely reprises their roles from any variant of Fate/stay night, although now in the capacity of friends and neighbors rather than competing Masters and Servants. (If you haven’t at least watched Unlimited Blade Works, I’d advise doing so.)
Shirou Emiya once again is cast as the lead hero, though in a very different role: as a very skilled home cook! The Emiya household never fails to have a delicious meal on his watch, and through the show he demonstrates his creativity, skill and proficiency in the kitchen, along with a selfless nature to do things for other people.
His role does not preclude that other do not cook in this show; notably Sakura Matou, Rin Tohsaka and Archer all take up the apron at various point in the episodes. Much longer though, may be the list of satisfied diners who wind up eating the meals, not the least of which is Saber, always faithfully waiting at the house for Shirou, or Fuji-nee and her ever-spirited demeanor.
The series also does a nice job of framing various characters in a light that the more serious main series may have not, from Lancer as a man with many odd jobs, to Illya showing a side more reminiscent of her younger self in Fate/Zero. These interactions tend to be delightful and are a major draw in this production.
Story: Episodic “slice of life” that also has an undercurrent of an arching plot, given that it moves forward in time. Designed to give us a look into every day life for the cast in an ideal post-Grail War Fuyuki City, the story is more the vehicle for the characters here. But…it’s very structurally sound, gets around to focus episodes on most everyone, and lets the viewer see aspects of characters they might not have thought of before. Finally, there’s delicious-looking (and real!) recipes. What’s not to love?
Themes: It’s always difficult to pin down exactly what great thematic statements a SOL gives us, but it was rather effective in this case to give us a look into a more human side of a lot of these larger-than-life legendary Servants, as well as the Masters they served. It made the show relatable in a way it wouldn’t normally be- and in turn, did something that’s fairly important in the genre, humor and coziness aside.
Don’t Insult the Viewer: This show has great intangibles, from an enjoyable opening and ending that feature some neat details, to being a clean and relatively easy watch to just relax and enjoy, which is ideal. As a show from a major franchise, it manages to differentiate itself from other offerings decisively, and excels in what it sets out to do.
Total: 22.25/25 (89%): This Fate spinoff proves to be a superb short-format SOL series, though most fully appreciated with a solid background in the classic Fate/stay night and to some extent, Zero (or hollow atraxia, a certain VN! Someone mentioned it.) The references are smart and enjoyable, but context is important and I’d rec this provided at least some adaptation of the original VN is seen (i.e. UBW).