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Cover art for the first volume of the Chūka Ichiban! manga released by Kodansha
|Genre||Adventure, Comedy, Culinary|
|Written by||Etsushi Ogawa|
|Magazine||Weekly Shōnen Magazine|
|Original run||1995 – 1999|
|Anime television series|
|Directed by||Masami Anno|
|Original run||27 April 1997 – 13 September 1998|
Chūka Ichiban! (中華一番!?, lit. The best in Chinese (food)) is a manga created by Etsushi Ogawa. In 1997, it was adapted into an anime series directed by Masami Anno of the same name. The story is centered on a boy whose aim is to become the best chef he could be.
In 1995, Kodansha published the manga. From 1995 to 1997, it was serialized in Weekly Shōnen Magazine. However, during serialization, the character '真' was added, so from 1997 to 1999, it was serialized as Shin Chūka Ichiban! (真・中華一番!?, True ver. - The best in Chinese (food)!).
In some other countries, the anime adaptation was also called Cooking Master Boy.
The story takes place in 19th century China during the Qing Dynasty, where the Emperor was weakened and the country was close to chaos. It is also during a fictitious era called "The Era of the Cooking Wars". It was an era in which top chefs with different cooking styles tried their best to improve their skills and to become the best chef in China. It is a country where insulting a high-grade chef or fooling around with cooking could land a person in a jail, and impersonating a top-chef is as good as usurpation of authority. Chefs compete with each other in order to gain respect and even power, but also with the risks of losing everything.
The beginning of the story takes place in Szechuan, Mao's birthplace.
After the death of Mao's mother, Pai, who was called the 'Fairy of Cuisine', Mao becomes a Super Chef in order to take the title as Master Chef of his mother's restaurant. However, before he takes his mother's place as Master Chef, he continues to travel China in order to learn more of the many ways of cooking, in the hopes of becoming a legendary chef, just like his mother. During his journey, he meets great friends and fierce rivals who wish to challenge him in the field of cooking.
Underground Cooking Society
The Underground Cooking Society, also called the Dark Cooking Society, is an organized group which aims to control all of China through the cooking field. Even though they already have a strong influence all over the country, they still search for all eight of the Legendary Cooking Utensils in order to gain absolute power. They do anything to win and exterminate those who get in their way. When they see a great chef who may become a threat to their master plan or if a chef beats one of them, they'll continue to send chefs to challenge that person until they lose. Their training is very strict, and cruel, and most trainees don't survive and often kidnap young children and forcibly disconnect them from their family through murder. To initiate a chef whose survived the training, they would sometimes scar that person's face and/or body. Once inducted into the organization, there's no turning back and trying to escape is suicidal. Those who fail a task for the organization meet with a terrible end.
Members of the Underground are branded with the mark of the organization. They also have powerful skills called the Dark Cooking Techniques, known only by members of the organization or those that they challenge. They are the most feared organization in all of China.
Legendary Cooking Utensils
In ancient times, a meteorite fell from the sky and was first found by Master Chef Shui Lei. Shui crafted eight cooking utensils from the meteorite. Not only were those eight high-class cooking tools, they also had mystical effects on the food they were used on. The eight cooking utensils were so powerful that Master Chef Shui Lei had to store them in eight separate locations of China, so people wouldn't have to fight over them.
The Legendary Cooking Utensils have immense power, whether they are being used by good or evil. If they are used by good, they can bring about great results that would make people happy. If they are used by evil, they can have destructive powers that could devastate all of China. Also, if a Legendary Cooking Utensil is used on something other than cooking (i.e. killing), its mystical powers would diminish.
Mentioned Legendary Cooking Utensils:
- Ever-Soul Knife
- Stored within the Big Angelic Temple for several generations until Mao became the worthy successor. Not only Mao, but also Leon was found out to be worthy as well. Even though it was stored in a temple for so long, without anyone touching it, there was no sign of rust on the knife when it was brought out. When choosing its successor, the mark of a dragon would appear on the blade when it is held by the chosen chef. It has the ability to make every food it cuts, fresh, even if it has passed its expiration date. Unfortunately, after a failed attempt in stealing it, a member of the Underground, stabbed himself with it causing the knife to lose its abilities. After Mao's final battle against Fei, the knife regained its powers in order to save Fei.
- Coiled Dragon Pot
- The first to be found by Mao and his group after going on their journey to find the Legendary Cooking Utensils. After putting together two pieces of a map, they figured out that it was hidden near the outskirts of Shanghai. Unlike the Ever-Soul Knife, the Coiled Dragon Pot was found in a place with no caretakers or even a temple. It was found inside a secret compartment behind a Kitchen God statue. At first, it seemed to be a rusted pot until Mao touched it. Being the chosen successor, Mao was able to turn it back into its original form. The Coiled Dragon Pot has the power to hasten the fermentation process to an amazing speed.
- Holy Copperware
- Found in Jiu Hua Mountains. Originally it was dug up from the farmlands of Jiu Hua many years ago. Not knowing of the mystical powers it possessed, the merchants decided to melt it down so it could turn into spare tools. However, before it could be melted down, a con artist, Wong Seiyo, bought it from them. Since he saved it from being melted down, the Holy Copperware decided to let him be able to use the mystical powers even though he wasn't a worthy successor. Using its powers, Seiyo decided to take advantage of the people of Jiu Hua by using the land's legends to make the people believe he was a god. When Mao arrived, he stopped Seiyo's scheme, made the people believe in their homeland again, and found another Legendary Cooking Utensil. The Holy Copperware has the power to instantly soften dried ingredients, such as dried abalone (which would usually take three or more days to do).
- Liu Mao Xing
- The 13-year-old protagonist of the story. Mao basically grew up in the kitchen watching his mother cook in her restaurant. Due to this, he grew up learning his mother's cooking skills and also ended up with the same love for cooking his mother had. Although, even though he had that kind of knowledge, Mao didn't cook much and everyone just thought of him as a kid who just played around and who didn't even know how to cook. It wasn't until his mother's restaurant was in jeopardy that he decided to cook. To everyone's surprise, Mao was a genius chef. Seeing his talent, General Lee sends him on a journey to become a Super Chef. Eventually, Mao becomes the youngest Super Chef in history and decides to travel the country even more, so he can learn more about cooking techniques.
- Even though he doesn't have much experience, Mao has the pride of a truly experienced chef and having learned from his mother that a chef's purpose is to create a dish that makes people happy, he always put his customers' needs first and is always able to make a creative dish that greatly satisfies them. Along with his curiosity in wanting to learn more about cooking, Mao also has unique taste buds; having the ability to remember every single food he's eaten and its ingredients, he could even identify or name all of the ingredients in the food he's currently eating. These traits make Mao a strong contender in the battlefield of cooking.
- Mei Li
- The 16-year-old daughter of Chouyu. Originally, she was a helper at the Yang Spring Restaurant. She fell in love with Mao after seeing how much he loves cooking and how he also cares about others. She only knows a little about the cooking field, but she's useful when it comes to little facts and often tries to help Mao with various other things. After finding out that Mao was leaving the Yang Spring Restaurant to travel China, she was heartbroken since she thought that she could live a life with him. She eventually made up her mind and decided to also leave the restaurant, in order to travel with him (In the manga, she did not accompany Mao in his journey around China). Mei often gets into arguments with Shirou and always ends up slapping or hitting him. She also gets very jealous every time another woman gets near Mao. An example of her animosity towards women that gets close to Mao is when his sister, Karin, visits him to bring their mother's cooking materials; she says that Karin will never be good for Mao, that is until she finds out that she is his sister. In another occasion, when the female chef, Anzu, finally realized the way of making singe cuisine, she kissed Mao as a sign of gratitude, but Mei Li became angry and began to express her anger by hitting Shirou. Although, she says that her number one rival for Mao's heart is his love for cooking. She's a spitting image of her deceased mother, Meika.
- Zhi Lao (Shirou)
- A 12-year-old mischievous travelling companion. His mother is Japanese, making him half Japanese and half Chinese. He first met Mei Li and Mao when they found him passed out, due to hunger, in the forest (In the manga, he bumped into Mao after stealing food from people). He left his village when he was 10 so he can fulfill his promise of becoming a Super Chef. Although, during his two-year travel, he didn't become one, so he pretended to be one when he returned to his village (which was moments before meeting Mao and Mei Li). He was soon found out when a cooking official said his Super Chef badge was fake. After finding out that Mao was a Super Chef, he made himself Mao's apprentice and decided to travel with him. He often teases Mei Li and constantly grabs her breasts, resulting in him being constantly hit by her. He may not be a cooking genius, but he knows more about cooking than Mei Li and is only somewhat average in cooking. Shirou often gets into trouble and also causes trouble for the other group members. He later becomes a chef-in-training at Yang Spring Restaurant.
- Xi Er (Shell)
- A Dim Sum master from San Sei. He is also called "Steel Staff Shell". He is in his twenties and is considered to be the youngest Dim Sum Master. He always carries with him a heavy steel staff, which he uses as both a weapon and a cooking utensil. Several yellow stars are engraved on the end of the staff, signifying the number of Super Chefs he has defeated. After challenging Mao to a cooking battle, he engraved a black star on his staff because he had lost. He one day hopes to replace that black star with a yellow one.
- Shell is considered to be a nomad; he often encounters Mao and his friends during their travel. Starting at a young age, he has travelled around China in order to learn more about cooking. He has a very optimistic view on life and often scolds Shirou (He's had a bad impression of Shirou ever since Shirou unknowingly made him a bad plate of food).
- Shell is very athletic and also happens to be good at math. He later travels with Mao and the others in search for the Legendary Cooking Utensils. His fookien name is Ji Long.
- Li Wen (Leon)
- Leon initially introduced himself as a member of the Dark Cooking Society; he is known for using seafood as primary ingredients for his dishes and can prepare them to their utmost potential thanks to his superior knives and the skills to wield them. He first appeared at the Yang Spring Restaurant demanding that Ruoh give him one of the Legendary Cooking Utensils that he says he is entitled. Ruoh then said that he had to battle Mao in order to find out the utensil's true successor. The battle was won by Mao and Leon soon revealed everything to him after realizing that he still loves cooking, and like Mao, Leon is also the successor to the Ever-Soul knife. Leon revealed that he betrayed and escaped the Dark Cooking Society after realizing the kind of organization they are.
- It turns out that a young Leon was a cook for the Yang Spring Restaurant a few years ago. Like Mao, Leon was a natural genius in the field of cooking, having learned and comprehended just about everything Chouryuu had to teach him in just one month. He was also a kind child; not wanting to kill animals, but when he does, he places a red paper talisman on the dead animal and prays for it. Since he wanted to learn more about cooking, he left the restaurant and ventured around China. During his travels, he began to grow a strong urge to become a better cook, but when he couldn't find anymore suitable things to learn, he decided to join the Dark Cooking Society in order to learn their Dark Cooking Techniques. While in the Underground, his knife skills evolved to an unreachable level. Corrupted by the organization, he became even more obsessed in becoming the best chef. He sought out Luo Xie, the best knife forger in China, and had him forge the best knives. Luo Xie called his creation the Seven-Star Knives, the best knife set in all of China. On a cliff top, when Luo Xie said that he will one day create a better set, Leon was enraged, and in a fit of anger, stabbed him in the abdomen, causing him to fall off. This traumatized Leon and began to make things right from that point. He is the only person who possesses the coveted Seven-Star knives. Although, on the episode "The True Owner of the Seven-Star Knives", he encounters an Underground female chef, Shan An, who possesses duplicates.
- He travels with Mao retrieving the Legendary Cooking Utensils, in order to prevent the Dark Cooking Society from possessing them.
- A 14-year-old chef from Shanghai who used to be a 4th level chef at Yang Spring Restaurant. Initially, he didn't like Mao because he knew that Mao would eventually take his spot at the restaurant and then he would have to leave. He wasn't liked much in the restaurant since everyone thought that he was a lazy cook who didn't even like cooking in the first place. It wasn't until Mao found him practicing his cooking skills, late at night, that Mao realized that he likes to cook. Sanche revealed to him that his father was a great chef, but he had extremely strict teaching methods. Due to the stress, Sanche ended up cutting his hand and instead of being worried, his father scolded him even more causing his mother to interfere. Since she interfered, she ended up getting the blame. Not being able to stand it anymore, Sanche ran away from home and started working in the Yang Spring Restaurant. He ended up getting a scar from when he cut his hand and he says that he has difficulty cutting ingredients because every time he sees his scar, he's reminded of all those terrible events. After talking Sanche into not giving up as a chef, they worked all night to come up with an idea that would convince Chouyu, the Vice Chef at Yang Spring, to not kick Sanche out of the restaurant. Though they succeeded in doing so, Sanche decided that he would go back home to make up with his father, since he still loves him, and to also take up his father's strict training again, so he can hone his skills even more.
- When Sanche encountered Mao and his group in Shanghai, he was already a Head Chef at his father's restaurant and had greatly improved his cooking skills, especially his knife skills.
- Lan Fei Hong
- A handsome 16-year-old genius chef. Although he is considered to be a more knowledgeable chef than Mao, he is the one chef that could be considered as Mao's true rival in cooking. Unlike Mao, Fei is a calm and collected chef who can always do things in an organized manner. He was first introduced as one of Mao's opponents during the Super Chef tournament. Even though he was an opponent who seemed to have a cold personality, he helped Mao a few times during the competition. He, along with Mao, made history when they both passed the Super Chef test at the same time. It turned out that he knows about Mao's mother, and that he sees her as his savior.
- When he was young, his entire family was killed by the Underground Cooking Society that also kidnapped him. He was brought to them and went through strict training in order to create perfect dishes and see who has the greatest potential to become a member of the Underground Cooking Society. He was forced to go through torturous training everyday or face death or torture. When he escaped, he passed out in front of Kikkaro Restaurant. Pai found him, treated his wounds, and fed him herbal soup that rejuvenated his body. Before meeting her, Fei thought of cooking as this horrible thing that caused him so much pain. When he met her, he realized that cooking was something where you create dishes that would make people happy. After learning from her he went to travel around China.
- When Mao encountered Fei again, Fei was a chef working for the Dark Cooking Society and was about to become the Head Chef of the Imperial Kitchen. Mao couldn't believe that Fei was a bad guy and challenged him to a cooking battle that would be judged by the Emperor himself. Mao ended up winning the battle and found out that Fei was being manipulated by the Underground. After being healed by the Legendary Cooking Utensils, Fei revealed that he was drugged by the Dark Cooking Society, so he would turn evil and become one of their pawns in taking over China. When he found out that the organization that killed his parents and kidnapped him was the Dark Cooking Society, he wanted to seek revenge and infiltrated their headquarters. Unfortunately, that was when he was captured and drugged. Even though he was being manipulated, his actions were still bad. General Lee ordered Fei to protect Mao as he looks for the Legendary Cooking Utensils (not to make it obvious that he was being lenient to Fei). So, Fei ended up travelling with the rest of the group.
- The legendary chef from Szechuan and Mao's deceased mother. She was the former Master Chef of Kikkaro Restaurant. Pai was called the 'Szechuan Fairy', or the 'Fairy of Cuisine', and was one of the most respected chefs in all of China. Even though she didn't directly teach Mao her cooking techniques, she did teach him her ideals. She taught him how to use cooking to make people happy and healthy.
- Pai was such a great chef that she was considered a threat to the Underground Cooking Society. In her early years as a chef, the Underground would always send chefs to battle her, which she always won. She even made a notebook compiling all the information she gained from battling chefs from the Dark Cooking Society, which would include the Dark Cooking Techniques that they used against her. Mao would eventually come to have possession of this book.
- In the manga, it is revealed that she died from exhaustion. After her former pupil, Shouan, became a Super Chef, he stole all the chefs that were cooking in her restaurant, making her do all the work on her own. Though she died, her teachings would live on in her son, Mao.
- The Vice Chef of Yang Spring Restaurant. Chouyu is known to be one of the best chefs in Guangzhou. He's usually the main chef in the restaurant since Ruoh rarely cooks anymore. He has strict rules for the chefs-in-training in the kitchen. Many say he has a steel heart and barely changes his expressions, but they still respect him greatly. Ruoh seems to be the only person that he listens to and is also the only person that can irritate him. He becomes Mao's Master and is also Mei's father. Even though he is very skilled in cooking, he is a bad fisherman. He tried to challenge Ruoh in fishing, but just ended up irritated by Ruoh's win.
- The Master Chef of Yang Spring Restaurant. A skilled, experienced, and very well respected Chef in Guangzhou. He may not seem like it at first glance, but he is an extremely well-built man with amazing power. He has the nickname of 'Superman Chef' in Guangzhou. He uses the Devil Cow Knife (which is used to chop cows' heads in one swing, and butcher it in another) to display his skill, 'The Skill of God', which uses his extreme strength (though, he no longer uses it too often due to his old age). Ruoh is often seen drinking alcohol. He is also Chouyu's Master and is one of the four Cooking Elders of Guangzhou.
- Mao's first cooking rival. He used to be Pai's best apprentice until an accident left him scarred and unable to cook properly. After quitting, he turned rotten and returned to take over Kikkaro Restaurant. He ended up being the major contributor to Pai's death. Although, after losing a cooking battle, judged by General Lee, against Mao, he was forced to permanently quit as a chef, which was the consequence of losing. Although, he didn't stay gone for too long, later showing up to challenge Mao once again, but this time as a chef for the Underground. After once again losing to Mao, he was prepared to sacrifice himself, along with everyone else, by blowing up the boat they were on. When he was about to fall to his death, Mao grabbed his arm and tried to save him. After a few words by Mao, Shouan understood his love for cooking and was able to let go of his hatred for Mao and Pai. Unfortunately, it was too late, and if Mao didn't let go of Shouan's hand, Mao would fall with him. Having turned good again, he saved Mao from falling with him by cutting his own hand off and falling to his death (In the anime, Shouan simply slipped from Mao's hand and fell to his death). Before he died, he gave Mao the other half of Pai's book, which had detailed information on the Underground.
- Admiral Lee Hong Yue
- An Admiral for the Imperial Army of China. He is the Master Chef of the Emperor's Imperial Kitchen which makes him a highly skilled chef and basically the number one ranked chef in China. He's the one who sent Mao on his journey in becoming a Super Chef after seeing his natural talent and infinite potential. Lee often bumps into Mao during their journey and usually gives him other tasks, in the hopes of making Mao a great chef.
- Mao's older sister. She works at the Kikkaro Restaurant as a waitress. When her mother died, she was the one left to take care of the restaurant.
Anime theme songs
- Opening Themes
- "Sora" (空?, Sky) by Maki Ohguro (episodes 1-18)
- "Iki mo Dekinai" (息もできない?, I Can't Even Breathe) by Zard (episodes 19-36)
- "Kimi Sae Ireba" (君さえいれば?, If Only You Were Here) by Deen (episodes 37-52)
- Ending Themes
- "Aoi Sora ni Deaeta" (青い空に出逢えた?, Met in the blue sky) by Arisa Tsujio (episodes 1-20)
- "Mineral" (ミネラル Mineraru?) by Kaori Nanao (episodes 21-36)
- "Kaze no You ni Jiyuu" (風のように自由?, Free as the Wind) by Keiko Utoku (episodes 37-52)
Unlike most manga and anime with far-fetched ideas and concepts, the resulting dishes of Chūka Ichiban are mostly realistic. Though, the cooking techniques are highly exaggerated (e.g. lightspeed cutting of ingredients in mid-air), along with the character reactions and the final results of prepared dishes (e.g. dishes emitting glowing dragons or blinding bright light). Even though the process is flashy, anyone can actually follow and reproduce the dishes (similar to Yakitate!! Japan).