(This review has been adapted from my blog/reddit thread. Spoilers ahead!)
Much like the patrons of Isekai Shokudou, I treat eating at a restaurant as a treat in and of itself.
The chatter of the other guests immersed in their own conversations. The services that leave everything up to the establishment. The memories made. Restaurants offer me so much that I can’t help but look forward to that next planned visit.
The biggest reason, of course, is the food. Chicken, steak, hamburger. Appetizers, salads, desserts. The delectable foods found on those menus are already making my mouth salivate just thinking and typing about them here.
While I will never be able to partake in the meals made within Isekai Shokudou, it at least crafts an anime that any restaurant-going person like myself can no doubt appreciate.
Isekai Shokudou caters to its audience through simple yet effective means. It plates such a feasible and digestible course using three key ingredients: atmosphere, diversity, and theme.
First, the show blankets its content with a warm, relaxing atmosphere. At its core, Isekai Shokudou is all about how this restaurant from another world invites its guests (and thus the audience) with incredible ease. To make that situation possible, the anime invests a lot of time in the well-being and focus of said guests.
It starts when a character or set of characters enter through the magic door, the bell ringing out to signal their arrival at Restaurant Nekoya. Aletta greets them, giving them a menu, perhaps some water, and a wholesome smile. Master never forgets a face, too, so he makes sure to catch up with them like old friends would.
The relaxed mood does not stop there. Any earlier drama waits outside as the guest or guests in question happily scarf down their prepared meal. Reactions and explanations give the content a personal feel for an extra edge of relatability. Then, after getting their fill, they depart with kind words and thanks, already anticipating that next Day of Satur where the cycle begins anew.
Truth be told, such a cycle induces unwanted repetition alongside its vital atmosphere since the events almost always boil down to the same happenings over and over save for the different characters. This approach provides Isekai Shokudou with a clear structure and a tangible rhythm, though. Better yet, the anime tenderizes its repetitiveness through its second ingredient: diversity.
Before getting to that restaurant, the show builds up each trek through the cat-sign door with vignettes of the characters themselves. What they encounter and deal with varies quite a bit as well. One episode may entail a knight running desperately to reach nearby aid. Another episode may follow a skeptical elf. And another still charts a sea captain abandoned on an island infested with chimeras.
These non-restaurant portions technically do not make up the focus of the show, but they set the table for the next menu item up for order. In fact, in serving up these slice-of-tales tales sliced from many corners of the other side, the anime goes about building a fantastical yet familiar world. A world that reflects or juxtaposes the inner coziness of the restaurant.
It takes on quite a few forms. Descriptions on separate territories such as the Land of Sand and the Duchy highlight some of the known differences. Cultural details like the use of magic and the mistreatment of those from demonic descent also find refuge among the talking points. Isekai Shokudou even goes so far as to showcase their own version of the Big Bang, complete with a giant chaos monster, elemental dragons, and the origin of man.
Are these nuances towards the world building huge let alone important? No, not really. But they give the anime another aspect to work with beyond the restaurant’s appeal (despite how appealing it happens to be). Moreover, they grill into the final ingredient: a connected theme.
Where does this theme come from? Well, it derives from the structure and the motifs of the narrative. As the show constantly points out, the door to this restaurant pops up at random wherever it so chooses. A setup that leads to a stream of customers not from one location but from several. However, despite their disconnected lives, many of them find that their paths also cross or crossed already.
From a princess’s relatives to a treasure hunter’s job ad, Isekai Shokudou creates such crosses through small subplots of a linked nature. They layer the events of the anime, upholding what took root previously. To the show, it declares that fate finds a way. Or, as Disney would put it, “it’s a small world after all.”
None of these three distinct ingredients – atmosphere, diversity, and theme – impress the palate to the point of awe. Meaning, while they give the dish its strength, they do not leave a lasting impression when the visit finishes. But that does not stop the anime from baking a flavorful meal worth chomping into.
ART & ANIMATION
When it comes to its visuals, Isekai Shokudou cooks some parts well and dries out others.
On the tasty side, the show avoids charring its mainstay setting: Restaurant Nekoya. The wooden décor, the soft lighting, the roomy seating layout, the various amenities. Just as the story aims for a relaxed atmosphere, the restaurant itself likewise relaxes the mood through its modern, inviting construction.
The anime also features many a character design thanks chiefly to the many separate guests that find their way to this unbelievable place. Ethnicities, species, builds, ages, and races reach across the board in terms of detail and direction, giving the anime a wide selection of people to highlight. From the lion man of the arena to the dignified half-elf witch in the secluded tower, they each have their own distinct look. Looks that tie back to the anime’s world building through a collective offering of different designs.
Similarly, variance exists to some degree when the show moves onto those uncommon glimpses into the other side. Sandy deserts, lush greenery, and dense cities paint their nations as impressive areas to see if one had the opportunity. However, because these areas (understandably) do not take precedence when compared to the restaurant, they do not always receive a lot of focus or detail. After all, the anime must make sure that its core set of events – what goes down at and within the restaurant – comes first.
Nevertheless, certain shots of glossy, colorful seas demonstrate that these places can stand on their own artistically. Plus, with the extra focus, dual-rooster reactions become possible despite their absurdity, and the scrumptious-looking meals turn into mouth-watering creations that the audience only wishes they could reach through the screen to grab a bite of for themselves.
Unfortunately, these qualities cannot quell many of the misgivings in the artistry Isekai Shokudou encounters the further along the season progresses. While the anime does not have any egregious art errors, it does succumb to low levels of animation and poor presentation. Episode eight takes the hardest hit with a ton of problems: reused scenes, odd cuts, too many still frames, and only mouth movements.
The drop in the art’s integrity impacts the visuals enough to not only be noticeable but also be a detriment to the overall execution of the show. Thankfully, this blemish does not override the setting, the designs, and the focus at hand, so it still tastes okay, dryness or otherwise.
With every episode of Isekai Shokudou, at least one new character makes an appearance. Moreover, before they arrive or stumble upon the fated door, their backstories commence.
Naturally, this situation leads to many of (if not all of) the cast members not having a whole lot going for them. Yes, the audience learns about Thomas and his popularity as a culinary “genius” and about the lizard man Gaganpo and his charge as the toughest warrior. But these backstories arguably do not give them much to latch onto in terms of intrigue.
But that’s okay, for the anime is not about crafting elaborate characters. Indeed, their varied upbringings and stations in life strike at a thematic element similar to how they did with the story and its small-world ideology. For, despite having these differences, they all demonstrate the same thought: tasty food brings people together.
Once the plates hit the table, nothing else matters but the succulent grub and the familiar company of likeminded individuals. Granted, they often keep to themselves and argue vehemently over which dish reigns supreme. Yet when a demon, a dragon, and a dude not only exist within the same space but also befriend each other over some yummy eats, the power of food cannot go denied.
Speaking of that dude, Master surprisingly receives some small tangential info about him. His major lack of character writing, though, actually makes some sense on a motif level. Normal restaurant goers wouldn’t learn much about the chef that makes his or her food, so it follows that they (and the audience) do not learn much about him anyway. In a way, he’s their guardian angel, delivering them food (with the help of Alleta and Kuro of course) to satisfy their appetites and keeping himself out of sight to let his expertise do the talking.
Unfortunately, Master cannot guard against Isekai Shokudou and its amnesia. Looking at every character involved, several disappear after their introduction or hardly have a presence from then on. Both Thomas and Gaganpo from earlier fall prey to this outcome. Others do as well: the dwarves Gilem and Gard, the sailor Roukei and the mermaid Arute, the harpy guy Arius and the harpy girl Iris.
These listed characters appear later in the series, meaning they justifiably have little time to come back into the fold. Even so, the anime doesn’t do right by them when it goes without any follow-ups to their inclusion and doesn’t do right by itself when they also do not obtain the same interconnected feeling that the story likes to tout.
Again, though, the cast members are not truly the point of Isekai Shokudou. Rather, their varied backstories and their common thread on food matter most. So, despite their lackluster individualism and their potential disappearances, the characters serve their purpose well enough within this simple story.
MUSIC & SOUND
Isekai Shokudou finds further success with a hefty amount of execution in its musical offerings and sound direction.
“One In A Billion,” the anime’s opening track, kicks off each episode in perhaps an unlikely way. The high energy and the fast-paced composition contrast with the laidback, relaxing mood that the show meticulously forms. Through this dichotomy, the multiple vocalists and the catchiness of the piece overall make for a lot of fun and liveliness that prep the listener for the same traits that Isekai Shokudou touches on when its comes to chowing down on some good grub.
Swinging towards the complete opposite side, the ending track “Chiisana Hitotsubu” takes on the familiar tone set by the show. Gentle piano keys and a soft orchestral arrangement capture the sincerity and the gratefulness with which the characters (especially Aletta) hold towards this lovely restaurant. A strong vocal performance refines the emotions, too. Altogether, this track guides the audience gracefully out the door with an earful of a wonderful song, outdoing the bellyful of an anime that preceded it.
Between the OP and the ED, the clattering of utensils on plates and the bustling sounds of the kitchen ring out within the restaurant. This standard audio design, though, doesn’t speak of its grander and lesser attempts.
For instance, in episode nine, the royalty half-siblings from the Land of Sand gain a slight echoing effect to their voices as they pass under an enclosed space as a cool little detail during their conversation. Conversely, in episode ten, the leader of the fairies has what can only be described as a weird audio clip where she seems to get abruptly cut off for no other reason than poor editing.
The voice-acting performances also fall under the standard category but, unlike the sound design, do not have any notable examples one way or the other. However, the original soundtrack of Isekai Shokudou is all positives with its calm pieces and more orchestral melodies that boost the relaxing, mellow vibes. Of special note, its signature (albeit overused) piano-and-cello ensembles that play before and during the eating segments dance in the air with a welcome aroma.
To put everything as a metaphor, the OP and the ED are two slices of white bread that contain the cheese and the salami that is the OST. That makes for a nice sandwich. And, if the audio design and VA performances were a sweeter type of honey-mustard sauce as the side, it would have made the whole lunch here as great as it could have been.
Funnily enough, I see myself in these food-crazed characters. To reiterate my beginning anecdote, I love going to restaurants. But, believe it or not, I too have the same habits when it comes to menu choices and eating guidelines.
I’ll find one, maybe two items that I become very fond of. Then I always order them on subsequent visits. Sure, that makes me unadventurous in a sense, but I cannot pass up that tender filet or that multi-ingredient mac ‘n’ cheese if they are there for the taking. Basically, my nickname would most certainly be Mr. Chicken Tender.
While I related pretty heavily to what the show showed, I wasn’t invested in much else. Almost nothing very exciting or very interesting caught my attention in the events portrayed, and the characters themselves weren’t the most engaging. Specifically, I wished that Kuro could have had more screen time. I liked her design and her backstory and her telepathy. So, her halfway-through-the-season arrival and subsequent low presence was not to my liking when it seemed as though she could’ve sparked new life into the show.
Nonetheless, the anime had an aura of simplicity that I can appreciate. And, after watching it and writing about it, I find myself quite hungry now – so it deserves at least some props for that.
Isekai Shokudou serves a dish brimming with mild success. A straightforward yet well-structured story, a solid artistic direction, a big set of cast members, a handful of swell audio tracks, and a relatable premise. Definitely enough flavor to treat its patrons.
Story: Good, three ingredients in a warm atmosphere, a helping of diversity, and a theme on this “small” world support the narrative even if these individual items do not impress outright
Art & Animation: Fine, a cozy restaurant setting, a wide range of character designs, and glossier focus cook up the order, but noticeable artistic troubles dry out the visuals
Characters: Fine, while some guests sadly go forgotten or hardly reappear again after their introduction, their varied backgrounds demonstrate that food has a way of bringing people together
Music & Sound: Good, a lively OP, a sincere ED, and a mellow OST make for a nice sandwich, but the grander and lesser audio design decisions as well as the average VA performances make for a less-than-ideal honey-mustard sauce
Enjoyment: Fine, Mr. Chicken Tender can totally relate
Final Score: 6/10