Shokugeki no Souma – 17

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Zane reviews this week’s Food Wars.

I should have known Souma’s homecoming wouldn’t consist of kicking back and relaxing…or rather kicking back and relaxing the way normal people do on vacation. Though he only intends to “air out” the diner, when classmates and townsfolk see the shop open, they swarm to him, and he’s more than happy to feed them.

Then a nexus of elements conspire to put him in the middle of a shopping district-saving karaage challenge, and he can’t help but put every effort into it. The kid simply doesn’t turn off. Nor does the show’s hunger for heightened tension through competition, no matter what the challenge is.

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His return home also marks the return of his adorable classmate Kurase Mayumi, on the surface one of the show’s plainest and least charismatic characters. Yet in a show replete with colorful, eccentric personalities, Mayu actually stands out due to her relative normal-ness.

She couldn’t be more different than the glamorous, scantily-clad buxom, low-voiced meat-expert Nikumi, who enthusiastically accepts Souma’s call to pay him a visit without question or complaint (and whose T&A have their own proprietary sound effects). I take that back: they’re similar in one very important way: they both like Souma.

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More to the point, they both feel threatened by one another. Nikumi fears the chipmunk-like Mayu is the type of gal Souma goes for; Mayu fears Nikumi is actually Souma’s girlfriend, and is so blown away by her sexiness she forgets they’re in the same grade. Truth be told, I’m a Souma x Megumi shipper and thus not really in this particular fight, but the two make for a fun duo flanking a predictably oblivious Souma.

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The three stop by the wildly popular Mozuya specialty karaage shop that is cleaning up from its primo location in the newly renovated train station shopping arcade. The lady in charge is the volatile, venomously competitive (and hilarious!) Nakamozu Kinu, who isn’t content to just clean up, but also dance on the corpses of the shopping district losers she’s stealing business from. When she learns Souma & Co. are there to scout, she isn’t the slightest bit intimidated, because Mozuya is an award-winning, financially burgeoning karaage giant.

Mozuya reminds me of Chik-Fil-A, a local fast food chain in America that also specializes in chicken. Every store is a well-oiled machine, whether it’s in a mall or a standalone. Every time I go, I’m met with uncommon (to American fast food at least) courtesy and hospitality from an obviously highly-trained and motivated staff, regardless of how busy it is…and it’s always busy.  I’ve made complicated orders for large groups during the lunch rush, and always get the order within a minute or so of placing it. It’s uncanny.

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Chik-Fil-As are, in fact, run so well, it’s almost suspicious, like there’s something sinister at work. And that’s the same vibe I got from Mozuya. Nakamozu certainly has her merciless, sinister side, which thoroughly unsettles foodnorm Mayumi well after they depart. Souma and Nikumi, on the other hand, are used to that kind of tension, and have been through culinary hell together; this is just another challenge to overcome.

But it’s not going to be easy. Mozuya has been perfecting its recipe for years, and though Mayu is a game taste tester, Souma isn’t able to create any test batches of karaage remotely good enough to topple the giant. The ultra-rich and thus out of touch with the real world Nikumi suggests fighting fire with a tactical nuke, AKA her family’s vaunted A5 beef, but her idea of “affordable” is over three times Souma’s price ceiling.

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Even if profits aren’t as important as victory to Nikumi, Souma isn’t just trying to win; he’s trying to revitalize the shopping district. So it’s interesting that it’s Mayumi, a native of the town like Souma, gives him the spark he needs to move forward by suggesting playing to the strengths of the district rather than playing on Mozuya’s turf.

As he works out what he’s going to do, Nakamozu has a call with her restaurant advisor, who happens to be one of the Elite Ten along with Isshiki and Erina. That means if Souma can somehow defeat Mozuya, that will speak volumes to his ability to take on said Elite Ten. Not a bad feat to pull off while on vacation!

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Ushio to Tora – 05

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It was only a matter of time before one of the characters from the OP we haven’t seen yet comes out of the woodwork, drawn out by Ushio and Tora’s very highly-televised appearance a couple weeks back, the fallout for which I’d been waiting for. This new character, Hyou the Exorcist, is probably the most interesting “monster”-of-the-week thus far, because he’s not merely pure evil, nor does he immediately target Ushio’s girlfriends. He’s a breath of horribly-scarred fresh air.

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Hyou gave up his name and his old life after his family, most of that life, was viciously murdered by a demon, so he trained his mind and body towards avenging them. Hyou could only have gotten the slightest glimpse of the demon in the dark that tragic night years ago (with his one non-blood-filled eye), but the fuzzy image on the TV is enough to convince him that Tora is the culprit.

When he comes to Japan to kill Tora, he inevitably meets Ushio, whom he trusts is not his enemy because he wields the Beast Spear. That being said, Ushio is immediately conflicted by the situation before him. He can either tell Hyou the truth—Tora has been locked in a cellar for 500 years and couldn’t possibly have killed his wife and daughter—or simply let Hyou kill him, so he doesn’t have to do it.

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Ushio decides on the latter, and Hyou begins to battle Tora fiercely while Ushio…washes dishes, not at all confident that the choice he made was the right one. At school the next day the girls immediately pick up on his quandary and the fact he’s not acting like himself. Mayuko imagining an imminent shouting match that doesn’t pan out is a nice way of showing how off he is.

Asako, showing how deep and strong their friendship goes, isn’t about to let him be. While Hyou is a great new introduction and his history is a sad one, but it’s the deepening of Asako’s character, who might feign dislike for Ushio most days but won’t hesitate to leap out and try to pull him out of his funk, that forms the emotional heart of the episode.

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That heart is fully bared as Asako follows Ushio home at sundown, keeping her distance at first, then rushing and attacking him, hoping he’ll lash out and snap out of whatever is going on with him. Ushio isn’t about to hit her, funk or no, but Asako’s passion, concern, love, and physical blows do shift Ushio from his stasis, and inspire him to right the wrong he made. Komatsu Mikako really pulls out all of the stops for the multi-dimensional Asako.

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Meanwhile, Hyou has been battling Tora for two days and two nights, and he’s on the brink of victory, which he believes will quell his boiling rage and give him peace. And it would have, had Ushio kept his mouth shut. But that ain’t how Ushio works. If it’s within his power to correct an injustice, he must act, much like the Road Runner must run on the road.

Tora may be an evil jackass sometimes, but he didn’t kill Hyou’s family, and killing him, or rather killing Ushio, who decides to protect him, will make Hyou a murderer, not an avenger. And that isn’t even the only reason Ushio is doing this. Not only did Tora save his life (and the lives of his friends), but if anyone is going to ultimately defeat Tora, it has to be Ushio. Just as Tora fights off others to preserve his prey for himself, Ushio fights off Hyou to preserve his.

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In keeping with shonen-style romances, Ushio doesn’t thank Asako face-to-face (meaning no blushing or near-kissing; though it’s a long show; who knows what the future holds). Instead, he thanks her by delivering a gigantic beauty of a watermelon that puts a big smile on Asako’s face, not just because she knows Ushio is feeling better and got over whatever was bothering him, but because she was the one able to help him out.

Ushio likely didn’t want to freak Asako out by appearing before her anyway, as his face is a swollen, scarred mess and he’s recovering from multiple stab wounds at home, all the marks of defending Tora. Tora performs his usual stalking maneuvers over the snoring Ushio (calling to mind Hobbes’ pouncing routine), but seeing those marks stays his paw, as does remembering how good Mayuko’s cheeseburgers tasted.

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GATE – 05

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This week, we learn that Princess Pina Co Lada’s Rose Knight Order was something she herself created in her youth out of a desire to be a knight and a hero to her people. She gathered other children of the court, mostly girls, and with the help of her knight and protector Grey, whipped them into shape. Seven years later, the order was officially established, but only as a ceremonial honor guard, to Pina’s consternation.

But with so much of the conventional military lost to the JSDF, Pina’s father finally deployed her unit. But her first battle, defending Italica from hordes of bandits (made up of former allied soldiers who fled the JSDF slaughter), doesn’t go so well, as most of the bravest and most skilled town conscripts are killed, leaving her handful of trained knights and a bunch of scared townsfolk. I’d want to stay in my dreams too, as she tries to do until doused with water by the maid.

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She awakes to learn that some people have arrived. She knows not whether they’re friend or foe, but once she gets a look at them, assumes any force with Rory Mercury on their side would have already taken the city, and let them in. Her first interaction with Lt. Itami is slamming the doors of the gate right in his face, but things improve a bit from there, as Pina can’t afford to turn down help in defending the city.

While Pina may not know it, she and Itami are of like mind: protecting the people is the primary concern, even if the JSDF recently killed thousands of her father’s soldiers. Itami defers to Pina’s command, and she places him and his men at the South gate to serve as decoys, where they proceed to simply stand around, waiting for the enemy to return.

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When the battle begins at 3 in the morning, the enemy attacks the East gate, not the South, and the gate falls almost immediately due to their superior numbers, tactics, and a “spirit wielder” on their side deflecting arrows. Pina looks upon the besieged walls as they breach and the bandits pour in with a stunned look on her face, trembling in fear.

It turns out Pina is a lot more green than I’d originally thought. In honorable one-on-one combat I’m sure she’d do quite well, but this is war, something she’s never experienced, and when her carefully-laid plans go awry, she stands frozen, like an honor guard, with the only force that can turn this around all the way on the other side of the city. I’d call for them if I were her.

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