Shokugeki no Souma – 24 (Fin)

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Hannah (Braverade): Here we are: the final dish, which after watching I considered deserved a spot among the best of the series, for various reasons, but most notably because it didn’t try to do too much. With only two challengers left, the show could really focus in depth on their two dishes and get down to the delicious culinary details. In effect, this was like an informal Shokugeki: Hayama and Souma going at it with everything they’ve got.

Zane (sesameacrylic): A delicious final ep to be sure, Han! Glad to be contributing for this final episode of a show I handed off to you to to my heavier Summer workload, though I still watched it along with you. And I agree that while it’s no episode 12 or 14, this episode is indeed required watching that gets at the essence of the show: smart culinary commentary backing up a good old-fashioned shonen-style duel with food instead of weapons.

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Hannah (Braverade): In the process of dueling, Souma, and for that manner many other characters, not only developed their characters further through their processes, influences, and innovations, but changed the minds of their peers in the process, or at least gave them a better understanding of who he/they are.

Zane (sesameacrylic): That’s quite a mouthful there, but I think I see what you’re getting at. Take Erina. She’s looked down on Souma all this time—literally, since she’s in the luxury box for this competition, above the fray and all—but this last dish, and the manner in which Souma came upon it, not through perfection but failure, learning from each and every loss, basically forced Erina to, at the very least, kinda-sorta acknowledge him.

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Hannah (Braverade): Exactly. They don’t even meet in this episode, but Erina can’t dismiss the five judges’ reactions to Souma’s dish, nor the final score, which is only one point below spice expert Hayama (who clearly expected to win running away, not by a squeaker) and two points below her own cousin Alice.

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Zane (sesameacrylic): The similar unveiling of the two dishes as “fragrance bombs” was pretty clever, and really expressed the impact that “contained” spiced dishes make on the nose. Even cleverer was the fact the bombs worked in different ways, as did the impact of the two dishes. Hayama’s was like a piercing spear, but Souma’s was more like hit combos from a mixed martial artist.

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Hannah (Braverade): The show wisely avoided letting the hero Win It All. Rather, this is another failure for Souma, who wanted to win but didn’t. But failures have driven him to become a better chef, and this one will be no different. And what a close loss it was. Setting aside the one-point difference, the scoring shows that two judges clearly liked Hayama’s dish more while the other three were firmly in Souma’s corner.

The fact that had this been an official shokugeki, Souma would have won 3-2, and the resulting heated argument among the judges, proves that Souma was even closer to winning that the one-point difference indicates on its face.

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Zane (sesameacrylic): For all the excitement and delectableness of the final two candidates, the episode still manages to save plenty of time for a nice epilogue. I’ve always liked when the show simply lets the characters have fun and blow off steam after a big battle, as they do here with a party congratulating not only Souma and Megumi, but Marui and Takumi. The Aldini brothers are there, and so is Nikumi, showing that those who enter Souma’s orbit don’t easily leave it.

Hannah (Braverade): Hojo admitting she misjudged Megumi was also a nice little moment. Hojo wasn’t the deepest character, but I appreciated that the show didn’t forget about There’s also an interesting tension between those at the Polar Star party and those who aren’t: Alice, Ryo and Hisako aren’t in that social circle, and neither is Hayama, who is content to carry a piss-drunk Jun, his savior, mentor, and muse, to bed.

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Zane (sesameacrylic): The show also smartly ends with some nice Souma/Megumi moments. Souma tells her “I like your cooking” the same way you’d confess to someone, and Megumi reacts appropriately. Then the show closes with a callback to the first episode when Souma subjected Hinako to peanut butter calamari. This time he uses yogurt, which is even dirtier looking when Megumi’s disgust is visualized as softcore tentporn.

Hannah (Braverade): Fortunately, this show had a lot more to offer than hilariously wrong foodgasm visualizations. Like Souma’s curry risotto omelette rice, it leaves me wanting more, like to know who will ultimately win the autumn elections. I suspect this isn’t the last we’ve seen of Food Wars.

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Shokugeki no Souma – 23

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After Group B’s solid showing, it’s Group A’s turn to shine, and shine they do, and every candidate shines through their own unique methods and specific culinary specialty. And while I get how compressing everyone’s evaluation into such a small space increases the tension and excitement, this second straight episode of such an approach still felt rushed and a times, formulaic—like the show was scrambling to get to everyone before the final showdown between Souma and Akira next week.

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This episode also suffered from a slightly weaker field, starting with Ryo, Alice’s aide. Now, I haven’t quite gotten what I believe to be my fair share of Alice this season, so to focus so much on her aide felt like a poorer use of time, despite his need to compete as a candidate. Still, Ryo makes a pretty intense impresson once he slips on his bandanna and his personality becomes a lot more pushy and assertive, essentially daring the judges to “slurp” and “stuff” to best enjoy his cognac lobster curry.

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The candidate I care most about this week, Nikumi, went next, and didn’t embarrass herself, though like her, I thought she’d score in the 90’s like Ryo. Her pork belly curry looked amazing, and her grateful reaction to Souma’s praise was classic Cute Nikumi. While a much lower profile character than Nikumi or Megumi, Ryoko also distinguished herself by tying Nikumi, thanks to a curry that showcases her mastery of fermentation, as well as time and patience. Still, like Nikumi, she’s visibly pissed she didn’t score higher.

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Rounding out the quartet this week were two more Polar Star residents, who end up tying for second place with 88 points each, 2 higher than Nikumi and Ryoko. Marui, whose room has always been commandeered by the rest of his dorm-mates, shows off his knowledge of culinary history by blending curry udon and vichyssoise. The quiet, messy-haired Shun impresses with a curry in which everything, from the eggs and bacon to the salt that seasons everything, is smoked.

This week ends with two pairs of candidates tied for second and third, with perhaps the two toughest candidates yet to present their dishes. So it’s pretty likely, barring any disasters, that Ryoko and Nikumi will be bumped in what the preview declares will be the final episode of Food Wars.

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Shokugeki no Souma – 22

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The group B preliminaries really heat up this week, with most of the best candidates being saved for last. The episode also benefits from involving characters I personally care more about, like Yuki, the Super Mario Aldini brothers, Alice, and of course Megumi. We start with the less well-known but still rootable Hojo Miyoko, who earns an 87 with her sweet-and-sour-esque curry fried rice, followed by a delectable duck curry that only scores one point lower, a surprise for someone I didn’t think would be in the running.

The younger Aldini Isami goes first with a very tasty-looking tomato curry calzone that successfully, stylishly fuses Italian and Japanese cuisine, but it’s immediately followed by Takumi’s cheese-stuffed curry linguine with curry gravy that wows the judges even more, earning the second 90 after Hisako last week. Once again, Isami is bested by his slightly older, slightly more talented brother, and simply has to suck it up.

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For what it’s worth, Takumi is gracious in victory, and has always said that the two of them are better as a pair than separate. Unfortunately, the Autumn Elections are not something in which they can compete as a pair.

That leaves the final two contestants in Group B, who couldn’t be any more different in their approaches, much like Asako and Nao. Alice literally dazzles and confounds the assembled gourmands with her extremely bizarre-looking, futuristic dish that is a melange of all kinds of varying textures and temperatures. Each judge awards her 19 points out of 20 for a total of 95 – a score Souma will have to beat in Group A to earn a measure respect from a Nakiri.

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in their haste to wrap up the competition with a vote to break the tie of Miyoko and Isami, everyone forgets poor Megumi, who, perhaps appropriately, must follow up the most futuristic dish from an alien world with the most down-home traditional dish from her hometown. Nay, the dish, a monkfish curry hot-pot, IS her town, through and through, from the fish to the vegetables to the preparation, it brings the disoriented judges back down to earth and wraps them in warmth and love.

Meg earns 88 points and a spot in the final eight, proving her convictions and technique are no gimmick, and also proving to Miyoko that while you can shut men up with sheer force and fire, you can also earn their respect and admiration with sheer determination and water, as we see from Megumi’s assembled fellow townsfolk.

Thus ends the Group B prelims, with Alice, Hisako, Takumi and Megumi moving on. On to Group A, where the other blonde bombshell judge has yet to award a single point with Alice’s aide Ryo about to present.

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Shokugeki no Souma – 21

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Sleeping Souma was a red herring! He was just nodding off a bit waiting for the perfect time to add his spices and fill the kitchen arena with a tantalizing aroma that even Hayama Akira must acknowledge has promise. But that’s pretty much it for Souma this week, as all eyes are on Megumi in much of the episode’s first half. Just when the “bumpkin” is being chastised for her lack of showmanship and clumsiness, she unveils a giant monkfish hanging from a tripod.

After remembering how hard she trained back home, under the tutelage of a big burly fisherman, she prays for Souma to lend her some of his courage, then butchers the ungainly fish like a pro, impressing everyone, even then very hard to impress Hojo Miyoko. Both girls have had to work that much harder to gain the respect of their elders due to their gender, and in Megumi’s case, her gentleness. But she’s a lot tougher thatn she looks, and proves it again here.

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With that performance, the clock runs out and the cooking is complete. Now all that’s left is for the five judges to grade the students’ dishes on a scale of 0-100 (with each judge having 20 points to award). Even though they heap praise on the first dish, they award a measly 33 points, jaded as they are by years of impeccable culinary excellence, “pretty good for a student” ain’t gonna cut it.

Student after student fails to break 40 points (50 being something to be proud of), and when Sadatsuka Nao unveils her putrid-smelling dish, I figured her to be the first chef to earn precisely zero points. And yet, she not only broke 40 point barrier, but was awarded 84 out of 100 to shoot up to the lead. Once the judges held their noses and tasted her horrifying kusaya-infused jet-black curry, they became enthralled in its bold, assertive flavors. In other words, they all fell under her curse. BDSM also comes into it, as all the judges willfully submit to Nao’s gastronomic punishment.

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With Nao having set the standard for her group thus far in the most unorthodox way possible, her arch-nemesis and rival for Erina’s heart (and verbal abuse) Arato Hisako steps to the plate with a seemingly safe-looking curry bowl made with mutton. But her approach, steeped in her family’s traditional focus on Eastern medicine and medicinal cuisine, has the opposite effect on the judges, purifying and revitalizing them rather than beating them into submission.

Hisako’s dish is essentially the antidote to Nao’s, which is apropos considering their diametrically-opposed personalities. Both are great chefs, but Nao cooks for her own sake, while Arato claims to cook for the sake of others, including Erina. She even gives Nao a bowl, destroying “Dark Nao” in a cascade of medicinal light and giving rise to a much purer “White Nao.” Nao’s defeat is so complete, her masochistic side causes her to shift her fixation from Erina to Hisako. Love is in the air!

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I’m guessing this is how the remainder of the episodes will pan out: episode 22 will cover the judging of the Aldini brothers, Alice, Megumi, and possibly a few others not seen in the preview (like Miyoko and Yuuki); episode 23 be Souma and Akira, and 24 will be the wrap up. That’s assuming this show will end at just 24 episodes…which if you ask me and Hannah, would be a crime.

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Shokugeki no Souma – 20

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With just four episodes left after this one (barring a second 26-episode season, not outside the realm of possibility), Food Wars will likely dedicate them to the Autumn Elections, meaning it no longer has the luxury of spending an episode focusing on one, two, a handful, or a smaller group of students.

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It must focus on all of them, including quite a number of recently-added newbies, all from diverse backgrounds and with diverse goals. One uniting factor is that a lot of them either admire Souma and want to see what he can do, or want to beat him…or both. Still, the character sprawl and the necessity of checking in on everyone both before and during the big preliminary round results in a somewhat breathless, unwieldy affair.

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If, for instance, you like what Alice is up to in her futuristic sci-fi kitchen, or what Nikumi is carving up, that’s kinda too bad, since the episode can only afford occasional peeks at each chef in order to cover all of them. New characters like Hayama, Hojou and Nao (whose late introductions are another hint that this show could keep going after this first round of 24) eat up some of that time.

Everyone’s jockeying for space and attention, and the episode gets a little whiplashed. At the same time, that’s part of the appeal: variety of the spice of life, be it real spices, or characters and methods of cooking, and there’s plenty of it here.

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The main rivalry in this preliminary three-hour curry cookoff seems to be Souma vs. Hayama, and both have been preparing for months, pulling many all-nighters in the process. But while Hayama seems on top of his game and is already attracting the attention of the prestigious judges, when we check in on Souma for the first time, he’s asleep. Looks like he’ll have to come back from behind one more time.

Let’s face it: We know he’s going to be one of those eight finalists to move on to the elections proper, but knowing that is neither as important nor all that detrimental to our present anticipation and future enjoyment in watching how he succeeds, as well as who the other seven will be. There are so many great chefs to root for and choose from.

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Shokugeki no Souma – 19

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The Autumn Election selections have been made, and Groups A and B will duke it out, with the survivors moving on to the tournament proper, where they’ll be observed by some of the finest restauranteurs in the business (no surprise there), and where failure will almost certainly ensure they have to futures in the industry.

The show shifts into overdrive juggling both all the side characters we know (like the Aldinis and Nakiris) while introducing a bunch more (Hojo and Nao) while elevating mostly background characters into contention with the better known chefs (Ryo, Hisako).

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Souma is straight-up fired up, and can’t wait to get into the fray. But when participants receive a vague hint about the nature of the elections—indicating a “curry dish” will be the thing by which they’ll be judged, Souma decides to track down a Totsuki professor who is not only an Alumna but his dad’s former kohai and dormmate at Polar Star.

This turns out to be Shiomi Jun, a P.E. outfit-wearing scientific master of spice who instantly reminded me of Working!!’s Popura due to her size, which misleads many to believe she’s a junior high student or younger (in reality, Jun is 34).

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At first, Jun isn’t pleased to see the son of a senpai who regularly used her as a test subject for his nastier dishes, and expresses that displeasure by giving him a sequence of Olympic-caliber punches. But since Megumi tagged along with Souma, and both she and Jun are experts in circular apologetics, it isn’t long before Jun forgets about her outrage over Souma’s presence and just starts geeking out over her speciality, spices, giving them a full-on lecture during which Megumi takes careful notes.

Megumi and Souma are “saved” by another newcomer, the tan, silver-haired Hayama Akira, Jun’s aide who transforms her scientific theories into real cooking. He’s as dependent on her (and his excellent nose) as she is on him; it’s a symbiotic relationship. And Akira takes the opportunity to show Megumi and Souma what he can do with curry, which he and Jun just happen to be researching, which is also the theme of the elections.

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The show gets into the nitty-gritty of what makes a simply good curry to what makes a transcendentally awesome curry, and it really comes down to little tweaks in the cooking process, combined with impeccable skills and timing. And while Souma didn’t know Akira existed, Akira knows him, and warns him that using inspiration to overcome restrictions won’t be enough to get to the top of Totsuki (which, duh). 

As usual, Souma tries to get the last word in, diplomatically thanking Akira for the food and promising to return the favor by making an even better curry for him, but Jun, upset they ran out on her lecture, interrupts Souma’s monologue by bursting in the door he’s about to exit through, slamming the doorknob into his gut. It’s hilarious, but also appropriate to the task at hand. As usual, Souma will have to speak, and convince all the naysayers, with his cooking in the next four episodes, not with words.

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Shokugeki no Souma – 18

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In part thanks to the efforts of her Totsuki Elite Ten adviser, Nakamozu Kinu was able to occupy a stout castle in a prime location where she can vacuum up the cash of anyone coming on or off the trains, and Mozuya Karaage is a good product, so she’s doing just fine. But she’s also been operating in a vacuum; without legitimate competition. That changes this week, in what is billed as an epic samurai-era battle for dominion over the stomachs—and wallets—of the locals.

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Mozuya is a tough foe, but Souma, Nikumi, Mayumi, and Chairman Tomita work to lay out its strengths and weaknesses. Souma in particular makes the keen observation that Mozuya does not operate on the same turf as the Sumire Shopping District. Its greatest strength is also a weakness, because customers have nowhere to stop and eat. Souma susses out the customers Mozuya isn’t reaching due to their location and the way they serve their product.

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But it’s not enough to find those customers; they must be lured to the district with a sensational product that is “innovate, memorable, and portable” in addition to having an enhanced taste. Nikumi suggests the shift from lean breast meat to heartier, jucier thigh meat, and while Tomita’s karaage onigiri falls flat, the idea of rice going so well with the chicken sparks an idea in Souma’s head: one that’s kept secret from us, the audience, as well as Nakamozu.

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We don’t know exactly what’s going on, but we see a lot of wheels turning, from Tomita waking up the printer, to Nikumi throwing her Mito weight around to get on-the-dot early deliveries of meat, to Mayumi conscripting her little brother to help with package design. There is a great sense of shit going downpreparations for a surprise attack on Mozuya.

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Nakamozu, ensconced in her fortress of success, in her arrogance, never sees it coming. She sees some boys walking past her shop with karaage; then more and more people. By the third day, her sales are down 20%, an unthinkable course of events by her reckoning.

But the fact for those days she’s simply standing there beside her store, not innovating, resting on her laurels, speaks volumes. Souma never announced his siege on her castle, and she doesn’t realize there’s a siege at all until it’s too late.

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What amazes her—and me too, frankly—is how quickly and completely Souma is able to revitalize a shopping district that had been a “ghost town” three days prior. Then again, Souma and Nikumi are elite culinary masterminds supported by hard-working, dependable, passionate people, in an area where multiple disciplines are represented; disciplines that can be utilized to make a lot of progress in a pittance of time.

The genius of Souma’s delectable “Sumire Karaage Roll” is that it contains a little bit of every district business. Mozuya was all about purity, homogeneity, and authoritarianism; The Sumire Roll is culinary democracy in action.

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Once she inevitably tastes the roll, like her rivals tasted her karaage only a few days ago, Nakamozu has no choice but to concede defeat. After all, she tasted the innovation and resourcefulness of pure youth, as well as grossly underestimated the tactical skills of the kids she challenged.

Her downfall is a black mark on her Totsuki adviser’s record, so that advisor, one Eizan Etsuya, ninth seat of the Elite Ten, calls Souma in, not to “beat him up”, but to invite him to join his bullpen of chefs with which he creates empires of success all over Japan and beyond.

Souma, content with his smaller goal to keep his dad’s diner going, refuses the offer, so Eizan informs Souma that he’s been selected for the Autumn Elections, in which he’ll be working towards Souma’s defeat and the end of his meteoric rise. Somehow, I doubt Eizan will succeed.

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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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Shokugeki no Souma – 16

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When she doddered down the steps in search of some nosh, the sleep-deprived Megumi could not have imagined she’d end up as one of three judges, alongside Fumio and Isshiki, who would preside over a face-off between former Elite Ten Second Seat Junichirou and Souma. But the father wants to take the pulse of his son’s culinary growth, or lack thereof, and a tiebreaker was needed, and Megumi was around, so she’s a judge.

Knowing how fierce and formidable Junichirou is and how amazing his dinner was last night, Megumi doesn’t think Souma has the slightest chance of winning. And he doesn’t win, and, there’s never any indication that he would. Furthermore, she and the others learn that Souma’s record against his dad (whom he’s faced off against since grade school) is a truly abysmal 0 wins against 489 losses.

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Souma doesn’t worry about winning or losing in the face-off, though. He focuses on making the best dish he can with the requirements given: something that gives one energy for the morning without being too rich or heavy. His apple risotto, infused with apple flavor from juice with fresh raw apples warmed through, is a refreshingly creative dish, no doubt. It puts Snow White Megumi in the valiant arms of Prince Apple, and spurs another welcome appearance from Sexy Fumio, who dances with Isshiki in the lovely flavors.

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Then Junichirou presents his dish, a seemingly disappointing ramen, that turns out to be not nearly as rich and heavy as it looked. On the contrary, the judges can’t stop putting the ramen away, yet are never overwhelmed by the gorging, because all the immensely complex umami flavors are achieved without any meat or fish products, but various iterations of soy, tempeh, mushrooms, kelp, and sake. The dish is so rejuvenating, Isshiki and Megumi transform into little kids, and Fumio reverted to an earlier stage of human evolution!

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In the end, the vote is unanimous, and it isn’t close; Souma is handed loss #490 (which he and his dad both record in little notebooks containing all their face-offs over the years). Souma learns a lesson: he was conservative, minimizing (the chances of not meeting the needs of the judges), while his dad took more risks and made use of his encyclopedic knowledge of world cuisine to surprise and maximize their satisfaction.

Even so, Souma’s dish showed Junichirou that his son had grown to his satisfaction, and he tells him until he loses to him again, he’d better not lose to anyone else. I think that’s fine with Souma: the only chef he’s okay losing to is his dad. Megumi, Isshiki, and Fumio now understand Souma’s toughness and resilience: all those hundreds of losses were also hundreds of lessons doled out by his dad.

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Most of this episode was the face-off, and I appreciated the show going back to a simple old face-off between two cooks after the chaos of the training camp (that still keeps poor Megumi up at night). The dishes were absolutely mouth-watering, and while I probably couldn’t do the ramen justice, I’m going to try out the apple risotto as soon as I have the ingredients amassed.

What else happened? Well, Erina thought she saw Junichirou on the side of the road (probably because she did), but when she gets out of her beautiful BMW E38, he’s not there. It’s a shame she didn’t learn the truth about Souma, but I guess that’s for another time, if ever.

Also, with Junichirou asking Souma to “air out the diner”, and a cut to his hometown where his cute childhood friend (whom he subjected to his peanut butter squid) gazes longingly at said closed diner, it looks like Souma will finally be heading home next week. Looking forward to it.

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Shokugeki no Souma – 15

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Food Wars is back from its week off with a new OD, and new ED, and a new arc. I daresay I missed it, even with all the interesting new Summer shows starting up. The cold open shows Souma’s dad arriving in Tokyo (passing under Hokusai’s Gaifu Kaisei, which also happens to hang above my TV) only to show up in the least likely of places later on: in a photo from the past Erina cherishes so much, she lets the buses leave without her so she can retrieve it from her hotel room.

As luck would have it, she ends up on a long car ride home alone with Souma of all people. As she shoots down his attempts at conversation, she makes it a point to voice her consternation with his past point about learning through failure, as he did with his omelettes. Erina believes that to be an excuse by a weak loser; failure is not an option, no more than it was for “Him” (i.e. Souma’s dad, presumably). You bring perfection to the table every time, or nothing at all.

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It’s a nice moment to see everyone return home to cozy ol’ Polar Star Dormitory, especially when they’re treated to a nice Welcome Home meal. The shock comes from the chef preparing it: Souma’s dad. But the only one who knew he was Souma’s dad was Souma; everyone else knows him as the former second (only to Doujima) seat of Totsuki’s Elite Ten, Saiba Jouichirou. Upon receiving this news, Souma, who never had an inkling of any of this, actually gets frazzled. It’s a rare sight.

Souma’s dad proceeds to wow his dormmates with exotic dishes that express his worldliness and wealth of experiences cooking abroad as a kind of nomadic culinary mercenary. The girls are all but enslaved by the flavors, and when they see what a manly bearing his dad has, they turn to Souma, his son, with optimistically beaming faces. ‘This is what Souma will become’.

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That night Souma helps his dad clean up and they shoot the breeze, the father and son having been apart for so long, there’s likely much to say. Yet no matter what was said, Souma’s perspective on his father changed completely on this otherwise nondescript night. He now knows he’s walking in a shadow at Totsuki, even if the rest of Totsuki doesn’t know of their relation. Jouichirou even makes it clear he didn’t technically graduate from Totsuki, because “things happened.” ‘Things’, I imagine, that included Souma.

All this time, Souma was walking in his father’s footsteps without knowing it, and without anyone else knowing it, except Jouichirou himself. And possibly Doujima. That brings me to Erina: does she know? (Don’t answer that.) Is the reason she’s so hostile to Souma because Jouichirou, whom she idolized, had to withdraw from the “front line” to raise his kid? Is that the failure she speaks of? Or is she as in the dark as practically everyone else, and will be as shocked as all of the Polars when she learns of her long-standing connection to Souma?

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Whatever the case, I like the new dimension given to both Erina and Souma, as we witnessed her flash a nostalgic smile and him suddenly out-of-sorts and unsure of how to take all the new information he’s had dumped on him. Souma’s reason for enrolling at Totsuki was to get his dad to acknowledge him, but now that he knows what a huge big shot his dad is, that feat must feel even more challenging than when he just thought he was going to make his pop proud.

Now it turns out he must face off against his toughest opponent yet—and Jouichirou doesn’t give him any time to relax.

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Shokugeki no Souma – 14

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SnS delivers its second masterpiece in three episodes both by putting Souma further up against the wall than he’s ever been, as his souffle omelettes are falling before customers take them. Meanwhile, Erina and Takumi have already dished out 200 servings. But there’s no conspiracy or sabotage behind Souma’s plight: it’s his fault; he effed up, and now he’s got to figure out a way out of the hole he’s made for himself, with time dwindling.

Another chef who finishes well before him is “Snow White”, whose name we finally learn is Nakiri Alice, Erina’s cousin and life-long rival. What Erina brings to the table with her talent, ability, and knowledge of the classics, Alice is on the cutting edge of molecular gastronomy. My face lit up in glee like a Christmas tree when it was revealed Alice’s “eggs” weren’t just eggs.

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As viewers we have the luxury of checking in on everyone as they near, or struggle to near, 200 servings, but Souma has no time to lose. Erina is frustrated that her gloating fails to reach his ears, as he works out the calculations to how he’ll get to 200. It involves lots of eggs, lots of cream, lots of pans, and lots of burners, and his mastery of all of those things at lightning speed in order to lure all those customers.

He moves on from his failure and starts over, getting enough people to his stand so he can serve omelettes as soon as they’re ready. Once the people try the jiggly, fluffy, bouncy delicacies, they can’t contain their enthusiasm and praise, which attracts even more attention.

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I’m not sure where Souma got all those burners or eggs (the logistics of this camp would seem to hinge upon an “Unlimited Food Works” skill someone at Totsuki possesses), but he manages to reach his target of 200…with two seconds remaining. He also impresses the alumni brass like Doujima, as well as the backhanded compliments and a formal introduction by Alice, who is really mean and cool and adorable and a great foil to Erina and new rival to Souma. She can clearly back up her big talk (and then some), and I look forward to seeing more of her.

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And as it did with Alice’s molecular eggs, the show gives us one more surprise, with Doujima summoning all 600-some survivors thus far into the hotel lobby for a big pep talk about how the unpredictability of the camp is a microcosm of their impending careers as chefs, and how they must learn how to deal with surprises and how to adapt when things don’t go their way.

Just when we thought another challenge was in store, the alumni burst out of the doors with a wait staff to reveal that the final challenge isn’t a challenge, but a meal, prepared by that same alumni. Not only is this a once-in-a-lifetime experience and the ultimate reward to the survivors of the camp, but another complete surprise. It really was a beautiful, heartfelt way to wrap up the arc.

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Shokugeki no Souma – 13

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Despite the very dreamlike imagery, I was pretty convinced for some reason that the training camp was finished and this thirteenth episode, bridging the gap between the first and second halves of this show, would take it easy. That misunderstanding only lasted until we learn Isshiki really was just having a dream.

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The first years have a long way to go: Chef Doujima has arranged a challenge that will surely thin the already thin herds: having to create an innovative breakfast dish using eggs worthy of acknowledgement by a huge cross-section of diverse customers, from the growers and producers of the Totsuki resorts’ foodstuffs, to the resorts’ service staff, all of whom are extremely keen, experienced food critics. They also have to serve 200 servings of their dish—which they have all night to devise and prepare—in order to complete the challenge.

This episode does a good job rendering an incredibly tense and difficult situation being tackled by people who are already exhausted from the day’s challenges. But the intent is clear: the chefs who pass the training camp have to have ample backbone and endurance to go with their talent, taste, resourcefulness, and speed.

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The episode also branches out, affording us dozens of little mini-stories happening to all of the various characters, none of whom are as simple as enemies or friends anymore. Even Erina has multiple facets, and the personification of one of those is a mysterious new character I’ll call “Snow White,” whose looks and air of confidence suggests she’s quite a chef to be reckoned with. Naturally, Souma treats her like he’d treat anyone else: with courtesy, friendliness, and respect, irregardless of her hidden motives for him.

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For the second straight episode, Food Wars doesn’t simply focus on Souma. Everyone gets a chance to show off their breakfast-innovation skillz: there’s Takumi’s “Insalata Frittata” (which is almost so corny it almost comes all the way around to being cool); Megumi’s delectable looking “bite-size oden” (which capitalizes on her nurturing cuisine); Nikumi’s “loco moco donburi” (I loved her look of nervous anticipation as the judges tasted), all the way to Erina’s exquisite Eggs Benedict (made with a dried mullet roe-infused muffin that shimmers like gold and tastes like million bucks).

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Erina is the first to pass, with Takumi right on her heels, and Megumi doing particularly well, still flush with confidence after her near-as-makes-no-difference win against Shino. But Snow White has an odd dish made up of various plain-looking eggs, which doesn’t seem to be popular. And that brings us to Souma, who by episode’s end has served less than ten of his “souffle omelette”, which showed promise but may have fizzled out, as some of his ideas sometimes do (peanut butter squid, anyone?).

Could the pressure of wanting to get better be negatively effecting Souma’s focus and ability to power through the challenges? Is that constant worry he’s not yet good enough stifling his creativity rather than stoking it? It looks like he’s in a very bad way, and he’s on his own. While I’m sure he’ll pull out of it next week, it isn’t the “whether” but the “how” that I’m most interested in; along with what Snow White’s game is.

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Shokugeki no Souma – 12

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Hannah: You know Zane, there wasn’t even a battle in this episode, but I was still bowled over by how much power lay in the deliberations, judgement and, aftermath, along with the surprise resolution that actually served both parties, thus transcending the typical Good Guys Win, Bad Guys Lose formula. A Food Wars episode without a Food War might sound transitory, but it sure didn’t feel that way. Instead, what it felt like was a masterpiece.

Zane: I’m inclined to agree, Han, that was an emotional spin cycle right there! Even with the cookoff concluded, it still had all the elements I’ve loved from previous previous showdowns, what with the highly-detailed analysis of the dish and its unique, metaphorical effect on the alumni-judges. At least in this Shokugeki, 7 > 9!

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Hannah: I like that; and I’m no math whiz, as you know. I also liked how the warm, earthy, nurturing flavor of Megumi’s terrine each evoked a different benevolent deity forthe judges. It spoke to them in different ways, but it spoke to them all, touching their hearts in a way Shinomiya’s simply didn’t.

Zane: Yeah, those Megumi gods were the best! I also appreciated how Megumi decided her best option was to try to put forth the best damn veggie terrine she could, freed of the limitations of Shino’s recette. Her Mature-vs.-Fresh treatment impressed the judges, and also laid the groundwork for the excellent character work to follow.

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Hannah: Was your heart, just warmed by the effect of her food when she’s on her game, suddenly cleaved in two upon the sight of those three coins on Shinomiya’s plate, indicating our heroine’s defeat? Even though I knew this wouldn’t be the end for her or Souma, mine certainly was.

Zane: Absolutely. I also knew Shino’s far more technically proficient, real-world-tested, award-winning cuisine was going to blow Megumi’s earnest but sloppy effort out of the water. I mean, the guy has the Pluspol. The PLUSPOL, fer cryin’ out loud! And yet, the suddenness of the judgement, and the look on Megumi’s face as she realizes she’s done, still had impact.

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Hannah: That brings us to the Deus Ex Doujima [Gin], which turned out not to be what I thought. When he put his coin on Megumi’s plate, breaking the rules of the Shokugeki, I thought we were in for a predictable-ish 12 Angry Men scenario in which he convinces the other judges to change their votes one by one. What happened instead was…much better.

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Zane: It was…it so was! Last week Doujima opined that Shino was holding back against a student, and now we see why: he graduated from Totsuki, moved to France, and became the chef-owner of a restaurant, i.e. got to the top so frikkin’ quickly, he finds himself at the top of a precipice, unsure of his next move.

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Hannah: You gotta stop agreeing with me…it’s kinda freaking me out. Anyway. His stagnation is regression. He’s moved forward so forcefully by sheer will and talent, he’s left the heart behind…a heart he finds when he finally takes a bite of Megumi’s cooking.

I’m glad to see the tripartite Megumi-deities show up again, but I’m even more impressed that rather than a goofy ridiculous fantasy played for laughs, which is often how people react to Souma’s food, Megumi’s food creates a pang of nostalgia for Shinomiya, transporting him back to a simpler, safer time, before he was on a “knife’s edge.”

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Zane: It’s a beautiful memory, to be sure. And as you say, the other judges don’t change their votes. Doujima puts his coin on Megumi’s plate, followed by Shino himself. He scoffed at Doujima’s apparent “pity vote” for the loser, but now sees that the power of Megumi’s food must be acknowledged. …Then Hinako, who isn’t even a judge, puts a 500-yen piece (these guys are rich, after all!) on the plate, making the Shokugeki a tie. The rules are bent, but Shino not only approves of the bending, but is a dang part of it.

Hannah: The flashback of Shinomiya with Hinako and the others gives us a glimpse into how far back these guys go, and how they continue to want to look out for him. Doujima allows this shokugeki because he sensed Shinomiya was in a rut and crafted an opportunity to show, not tell, him what he was missing; what he lost sight of: caring for the customers. Showing hospitality, of which Megumi is apparently the goddess, at least in her class. Shinomiya found a way forward, while Megumi found her strength.

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Zane: Well said. I also enjoyed the little scene between Megumi and Souma on their way back to the hotel room. Free from the oppressive concrete and stainless steel of the basement kitchen, they now walk in a cool, soothing night, a great weight lifted. Megumi no knows without a doubt that Souma is a good person, someone she wants to keep cooking with for a long time yet, and thanks him for helping her get that opportunity.

Hannah: Yes, if it weren’t for his reckless gambit, she’d be packing her bags for home. But to his credit, Souma doesn’t take credit; he only provided a nudge—breaking through the light mesh of Shinomiya’s unfairness—in order to bust through the brick wall and inspire both the judges and the chef who would’ve expelled her, Megumi herself had to rise to the occasion and show what she’s made of…and she did.

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Zane: So, all’s well that ends well! Except when Megumi goes ahead, Souma expresses his intense displeasure with losing, smacking his fist against a wall so hard his friends notice it when he returns to the hotel room. However well things ended, he still drew, rather than beat, Shino, and Doujima saved both their asses. Even as the sous chef, he takes responsibility, and will likely take the draw as a bitter pill of wisdom: as we saw from Shino’s rise, you don’t always win.

Hannah: And that brings us to the midpoint of this awesome show that blends your love of cooking with my love of intense battles. I’m really looking forward to the second half, which I’m sure will be just as entertaining a watch.

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