We are back again with another question that needs an answer within the vast universe that is anime. In almost every single anime, there is a running trope concerning the main character’s eating habits. Indeed, we are going to traverse the timeline of anime history to see where a common trope, in anime as well as other media, came from. The “Big Eater” trope is, simply put, the running gag of having the main character of a series have a voracious appetite. These characters chow down on portions big enough to feed whole football teams and never seem to be satisfied. Notable examples include the iconic spikey-haired legend, Son Goku, who is often seen tucking away incredible amounts of food throughout the Dragon Ball franchise. So we ask the question: why is the main character a black hole for food?
What kind of Character is the Big Eater?
The Big Eater trope can be applied to any character. Heroes, villains, protagonists and supporting characters can all be Big Eaters, and while it will vary from character to character, the main idea is that the characters have insatiable appetites that are quite frankly abnormal. It is a trope often used in order to add a little bit of light-hearted humour to any type of show. Big Eaters can be featured in anime as light-hearted as Dragon Ball Z, or as dark, thrilling and calculating as Darker than Black. Therefore it isn’t at all possible to pin this personality quirk onto a specific kind of character because it can work for all types of characters.
Be that as it may, there are certain character archetypes that seem to have this particular trait manifest itself quite often – to the point where when encountering these types of characters, any assumption that they are Big Eaters may prove to be true. In Shounen titles, where this trope is used extensively, the trope could apply to high energy character archetypes. Characters’ strengths and abilities within context make fairly good use of the Big Eater trope as the trope is used to make a character’s special abilities a lot more believable, or traced back to a particular trait or quirk the character may possess. So many different character archetypes have used the Big Eater trope and that is proof of its versatility.
What’s so good about food?
When asking the question about anime protagonists being bottomless pits where food is concerned, another question arises: why food? Okay, we understand that food is essential for survival and most anime characters are human beings who need to eat in order to survive, but why do Big Eaters love food so much? There are a few ideas that make a lot of sense. Firstly, in several cultures around the world, food is a really important part of culture. On the whole, food forms part of the overall human culture and our lives and it is met with general positivity from people. Some believe that perhaps our favourite main characters’ gluttony is an extension of that positivity – anime protagonists gleefully gulping down all types of food can be seen as an indication of health and prosperity; something the generally straight-laced protagonists would quite possibly represent fairly appropriately.
Other theories involve seeing the Big Eater trope as a simple mirroring of society and the times. Television and popular culture influence the development and use of this character trope. In Japan, the sport of competitive eating has seen quite a lot of popularity in recent years, with the most famous competitive eater, Kobayashi Takeru, hailing from the Land of the Rising Sun himself. It is thought that the Big Eater trope is thus inspired by real life popular culture and can be seen as a form of social commentary.
Another fairly likely reason behind this long-running anime trope is the story of Benkei, a character of Japanese folklore who was a warrior said to have accomplished incredible displays of strength. Benkei was said to have held a bridge – by doing so, he ended the lives of nearly 1000 soldiers sent to kill him. He was said to have had the strength of a hundred men, but wrapping this all together is the fact that Benkei has quite the appetite, having completely emptied a certain temple’s larder and cellar. All this taken into consideration, it is quite possible that the story of Benkei could be the mythological inspiration behind the Big Eater trope, and additionally, the reason why so many Shounen protagonists, in addition to their strength, have appetites to match.
The Trope in Action
Aside from the Big Eater trope itself, there are a few other tropes that have come into existence as a result and can be considered “sub-tropes”, for lack of a better name. In addition to being voracious eaters, characters also tend to consume copious amounts of food in an instant, using a speed-eating technique, often without so much as taking a break to chew their food. In addition to the speed-eating, Big Eater characters are often seen having several extremely tall piles of plates and bowls stack up as they tear through each meal, or even having to pay exorbitant amounts because they got too excited and ate too much at a restaurant.
A common “sub-trope” within the Big Eater is the common trend of having incredibly petite characters eat amounts that are not congruous with the size of the body they inhabit. Put simply, these characters are thin characters with appetites that put most animals to shame. A well-used plot device often sees these characters being the subject of other characters’ envy. Examples include Hei from Darker than Black, Fuu from Samurai Champloo, and of course, Monkey D. Luffy from One Piece. Some of these characters are capable and willing to eat anything and everything in order to satisfy their massive appetites.
These characters even have fairly generic trope-related dialogue. More often than not, Big Eater characters are the ones who will complain about being hungry not long after a meal, or even lose sight of everything at the simple mentioning of food. Big Eaters react badly to any mistreatment of food and even worse yet, if anything happens to their food, they become absolutely terrifying opponents.
To sum things up as concisely as possible: the reasons behind our favourite anime characters’ incredible appetites vary – it all depends on their personalities, abilities and other in-universe influences that determine parts of their personality. As intimate and, seemingly irrelevant given how exciting their lives can be, this extends to things as mundane as their appetites. Be that as it may; however, the Big Eater trope has become one of the many reasons why we love these characters and in many cases, it has given characters the depth that they needed. The trope’s history is one that seems like it could be up for interpretation; however, its use in anime and in most forms of media is widespread and unmistakeable. In some ways, we reflect the nature of the characters we observe in anime, with each passing episode; in manga, with each turning page; in western animation and comics; the Big Eater trope exists in them all – we consume these media with the same voracious appetite as our favourite characters.