My spoils from New York Comic Con didn’t stop at Welcome to Showside. I continued to purchase from the vendors and picked up Natalie Reiss’s Space Battle Lunchtime Volume One: Lights, Camera, Snacktion!, which can be quickly described as Iron Chef in space with shonen/shoujo elements, from the Oni Press booth. With this premise and adorable artwork, I knew I had to give it a shot, and I was not disappointed.
Space Battle Lunchtime does not waste much time getting to the plot: our protagonist, Peony, works at a coffee/pastry shop on Earth. She deviates from the company’s recipes from time to time to get a bit more inventive. In the intro scene, her cute pastries catch the eye of a frog woman who is actually a producer on a galactic cooking competition. This is the titular Space Battle Lunchtime. Zonda, the frog woman, immediately has Peony and herself beamed up to her space station. Peony is understandably shocked, as she thought “galactic” was the theme, rather than the location, of the show. In a short time, she is given brief directions and some TV-ready clothes and is thrown into the action.
This is one of Space Battle’s strengths; the pace is fast and doesn’t waste time explaining things that don’t need to be explained. There are many unique species running around, the technology is completely foreign, and the food is obviously alien. We don’t have to be told how any of this works, as it doesn’t contribute to the plot. Additionally, it is slated to be an eight-issue miniseries, so time is definitely at a premium. However, some readers may find the straightforward plot to be a bit boring. In this volume, the plot doesn’t get any deeper than some contestants being eliminated, some sabotage going on, a sinister contestant, and a potential romantic subplot at the very end. Again, how much this matters is up to the reader.
That said, I personally found the plot to be light and refreshing. I didn’t feel pressured to understand a lot of worldbuilding or remember too many character names. The plot is light in the sense that you won’t feel bogged down reading it, though it does have a bit of a darker plot as it progresses. There is a “vulgar derivative” (in Zonda’s words) of Space Battle Lunchtime called Cannibal Coliseum in which the contestants of that program fight and cook each other. While we don’t get much insight into what else that show consists of, we find out that the player Peony is replacing mysteriously disappeared and ended up cooked on that show—not exactly flowery subject matter. It’s strongly hinted that the person behind this relocation is also the cause behind other problems in the competition. So there is some intrigue and the story is interesting, it just isn’t all that deep.
Aside from the plot, the art is very cute and quite pretty throughout, and even the more sinister events are given a nice splash of color and life. Despite being a static artform, movement is shown in so many panels and everything feels alive and vibrant. The aliens look distinct from each other and are various degrees of humanoid: some are pretty much just green people, and some are shrimp piloting battle mechs, so there’s no shortage of creativity. Lastly, the titles and chapter headers use a font that is reminiscent of pixel art—another personal favorite of mine.
Accompanying the diversity in alien types, the cast is pretty diverse, too. Peony seems to be a woman of color, which is great for a protagonist. There aren’t too many other humans so far, so the representation is pretty high. She isn’t needlessly sexualized either, but does embrace cute aesthetics (by her own admission as well as other contestants’ opinions). So her character design is really cool without taking her agency away. Further, of the cast of alien chefs, half are women. The producers and host seem to be a bit more ambiguous across gender lines, but some are coded with feminine traits, and some with masculine ones. And it’s too early to tell, but I think the author may be building to a queer relationship—Peony seems to have grabbed the attention of both a male and female alien, but an outing was scheduled with the female alien, so we may see something happen there.
Overall, I have to recommend Space Battle Lunchtime for its fun tone and cute presentation. It’s a quick read with a lot of attention given to the food prep scenes the way you would normally see for fight scenes. It’s a page-turner for sure, and you can pick up the trade starting October 25, 2016!
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