Shokugeki no Souma 3 – 22 – Family Matters

Souma, Erina, Megumi and Takumi’s recently expelled friends arrive on Rebun Island, granted permission by Azami to watch what he believes will be the decisive crushing of the rebellion with one swift stroke. It’s at the shokugeki arena when we’re reminded just how large a portion of Totsuki is totally in the bag with Azami, from the demented idol Urara to the plebs in the stands, to the extremely quality collection of Elite Ten chefs he’s installed.

The crowd is firmly against the rebels, and at moments, I must admit that even I felt occasional pangs of doubt just from the sheer charisma of the majority. Central is making the rank-and-file students’ lives easier, but at the cost of stifling unsolicited creativity and innovation. Meanwhile, the expelled are treated like literal convicts and must watch the shokugeki from a giant cage with iron bars, which is a bit much if you ask me!

In order to match the Elite Ten’s eight current members in numbers, the rebel quartet recruited the most elite chefs available: former third-seat Megishima (whom we’ve seen very little of, but if he was third-seat he must be something), Isshiki (whose first loyalty is to his kohais), Kuga-senpai, who wants to stick it to the Installed Eight, and our favorite stalker chef, Mimasaka Subaru. That’s a damn good team!

Team leaders Azami and Erina agree to start with three duels, and the fixtures are Isshiki vs. eighth-seat Shiratsu Jurio; Megishima vs. fifth-seat Kaburagi Shouko, and Souma vs. … sixth-seat Kinokuni Nene. While what we get about who she is is a rapid-fire affair, the show has proven adept and quickly making characters people we can care about, even if they’re not on the right side. They also saved Hanazawa Kana, employing her huskier voice, for the role of Nene; an elite seiyu for an elite character.

Despite her participation in the Azami regime, Nene is a woman of honor and propriety, well-bred in traditional Japanese cooking, dance, music, calligraphy…and soba making. Her family owns the final word in soba restaurants, and if she comes off as a bit aloof, well, she’s earned it. She hasn’t glided her way to where she is on the backs of her family name; she’s worked her own ass off.

When Souma, in his infinite bad luck at the worst times, manages to pick “soba” from the random battle themes, Nene is justified in declaring she’ll mop the floor with him. It’s calm, cool confidence, not cockiness. Her textbook handmade noodlemaking skills are unparalleled, having been honed over years. Souma can’t compete with them, so he doesn’t try.

Instead, he makes the best soba noodles he can possibly make, which in his case, means using a machine. What’s worse than machine-made noodles? Badly-handmade noodles. Juichirou warned his son that his usual seat-of-the-pants, bold-for-bold’s-sake improv act won’t cut it against such highly-specialized talents as Nene. He has to know when to make a strategic pivot, not take the bait, and wait for an opportunity.

At the same time, his win over Hayama due having made something that best represented the chef he is, Souma isn’t doing a rarified-air flavor only a paltry few can comprehend, let alone enjoy. The “time and history” from which he’ll draw power is in his diner upbringing: creating flavors with wide appeal, yet elevated to gourmet status for the shokugeki.

We then pivot to the second of the three first duels, an eel battle between Isshiki and the never-before (by me at least) seen or noticed Shiratsu Jurio. Like Nene, he has a lofty pedigree; as his family has served the Italian consulate in Japan for years and is highly regarded in both countries’ culinary circles. He’s also a master of stagecraft with his various “rondos.”

Where Nene trash-talked Souma with mostly quantifiable facts and logic, Jurio tries to get under the almost eternally-cheerful Isshiki’s skin by castigating him for betraying his own bigshot family. When that doesn’t work, Jurio insults the Polar Star expellees, and immediately wishes he hadn’t.

Leave it to Isshiki to let all insults directed at him and his biological family slide off like raindrops off a fireman’s helmet, but hearing his beloved dormmates dragged lights in him a fire and energy that wasn’t there earlier in the match. Isshiki resolves to crush Jurio simply for running his mouth.

The third match is barely mentioned, but I’m sure we’ll learn more about the rarely-seen Megishima and virtually never-seen Kaburagi next week. As for who will win, well…I can’t see Souma ever achieving the goal of becoming first-seat if he can’t beat a sixth at her specialty. He’s gotta win, somehow.

Cardcaptor Sakura: Clear Card – 22 (Fin) – A Duel that Never Happened

Cardcaptor Sakura: Clear Card ends with some fireworks, danger, and a much-awaited reveal to Sakura that her new friend Akiho is the cloaked figure who has been haunting her for months—only for that reveal to be undone by Yuna D. Kaito’s time reversal magic, the use of which fatigues him.

It just underscores what a contemptuous cad Yuna D. Kaito is to not only make Akiho do these things, but not even have the courtesy to let her remember. Akiho has been in the “Clock Land” of her dreams so often, the lines between dreams and reality are starting to blur, as she feels she’s somehow being a bother to Sakura in real life.

One night, while reminiscing about meeting Kero-chan for the first time, and how she’s glad she met everyone she’s met on her Cardcaptor adventures, she’s interrupted in mid-thought by yet another waking dream, only this time Cloaky is really there, balanced on an electrical pole.

Sakura releases her staff, activates Flight, and flies out to meet the figure, but Kero is blocked from leaving the same window by some kind of magical boundary he can’t break even in Big Mode. It’s clear Cloaky wants this confrontation to be one-on-one.

What follows are the aforementioned fireworks, with Akiho sending a giant ball of broken glass (which Sakura destroys with Blaze), a curtain of flame (she dissipates with Aqua), and a barrage of glowing projectiles (she gathers up with Spiral). Then Cloaky re-seals Sakura’s staff and begins to draw her key towards her.

When Sakura tries to re-release an grab her key back, Akiho dumps out all of Sakura’s Clear Cards, and even deactivates Flight, sending her careening to the earth from hundreds of feet in the air. It’s the tightest of tight spots Sakura’s ever been in, and as she falls, the cloak is pulled back and she catches an unmistakable look at a very out-of-it Akiho.

That would’ve been a fine cliffhanger on which to end things, but if Yuna was going to swoop in and undo it all, I’m glad it happened now and not in the next season, lest I get my hopes up for too long that the reveal would stick.

While inspecting the frozen Akiho and Sakura, Momo is of the mind Akiho will simply think this was all a dream as usual (she’s been “sleep-acting” as Cloaky all this time, after all), but Sakura will remember, spuring Yuna to use more taboo time magic to undo the duel.

I can’t help but feel terrible for poor Akiho, who is little more than a tool doing Yuna’s bidding while he hangs back, observes, and intervenes when necessary. In the season that follows I’d love to see her somehow break free of his hold on her, though that would require an awareness of her situation she still doesn’t have.

As for Sakura, she has no recollection of her big fight with Cloaky and losing all her cards and nearly her life, and simply continues on with what she was saying to Kero-chan after he dried her hair: with all of the wonderful people she’s met by her side, she’s confident she’ll be just fine, come what may. After that close call, I can’t yet share her confidence.