Shokugeki no Souma – 01 (First Impressions)

sns11

Whoa, what the hell did I just watch? I’ll tell you: something novel, bizarre and ludicrously entertaining from start to finish. Food Wars wastes no time showing us the kind of depraved wackiness it can stir up by giving us this indelible image of Souma’s classmate being ensnared by a giant squid in a sea of peanut butter.

It is a visualization of the grossness and wrongness of the flavor of those two foods when combined; an assault on poor Megumi’s palate in all its metaphoric glory.

sns12

For all the ecchi mischief this episode gets up to, it uses every minute of its running time giving the main hero Souma a complete arc that propels him from his father’s quiet little eatery to the steps of the most elite culinary academy in Japan, blending shonen themes like tradition, moderation, and the comfort of nostalgia butting heads against modernity, excess, progress, and individual growth.

sns13

Early in the episode, Souma’s goals are clear as he nears middle school graduation: continue training in his dad’s restaurant until he’s good enough to inherit it…The End. It’s a simple dream, and not a bad one, either; but it lacks ambition, and it’s indicated that dream doesn’t utilize his full potential.

sns14

That dream also can’t stand up against duel threats coming from both within and without. Let’s get to without first, with the haughty urban life planner, who looks down on Souma, throws her weight around, threatens him, brazenly sabotages his pantry, and laughs maniacally—everything a shonen villain should do.

The traversal of these well-worn storytelling roads is refreshed by the setting of a restaurant and the weapon of food.

sns15

Contrary to the easy, safe dream the developer seeks to stamp out, the challenge she poses brings out the qualities of a shonen hero who might always talk about simple dreams for his future, but will always ultimately be swept up by grander destinies.

Those qualities include pluck, daring, confidence, and resourcefulness, best demonstrated when he fulfills the developers wish for juicy meat by making a “fake pork roast” with bacon wrapped potatoes.

Both the rendering of the food and the animation of its preparation is suitably over-the-top, as if a great battle were being fought, because in Souma’s head, it is.

sns16

Like Koufuku Graffiti, people eating delicious food react in a very overtly, er, amorous way. But like a foe defeated by the hero’s superior skill (or clever trick), the developer’s practical land shark mind can’t compete with her palate, which been set ablaze by the peerless umami-ness.

If she wants to eat more than her first glorious bite, she must give in to his demand she stop going after the restaurant.

sns17

She does, and then both she and her three goons tuck in, resulting in a meat juice-saturated mental orgy of epicurean ecstacy. If I didn’t know any better, I’d have suspected Souma slipped some powerful hallucinogenic drugs in the roast, but no…it’s just really really good.

Again it’s somewhat like Koufuku, bumped up to 11 and rated R. Souma’s food doesn’t just knock socks off, it tears everyone’s clothes away and rummages around in their naughty-bits.

sns18

But Souma can’t enjoy his victory long, as just when he’s cleaning off the defaced sign of the restaurant, his dad announces he’s moving away to work with an old friend, and will be selling the restaurant in two to three years.

Souma, like me, is initially quite wounded by this news, but it didn’t take long for both of us to get it: this isn’t where Souma should settle. He’s bound for bigger, better things.

sns19

He’ll succeed and fail and cause more flavor orgies at the prodigious Engetsu Teahouse Culinary Academy, which has a grad rate of under 10%, he’ll have his work cut out for him, just as a shonen hero should. He’ll also meet friends and enemies and frenemies and enemends whose naked bodies I’m sure we’ll see in due course.

I look forward to watching more of this hilarious, creative…whatever it is, and also to more outstanding metaphors like standing under a waterfall meditating until being hit in the head by a jukebox. It’s pretty Brilliant. Amaburi Brilliant…only raunchier! Moreover, it doesn’t compromise. It gets a weird idea and it commits; no half-measures.

9_ses

Shokugeki no Souma – 02

sns21

SnS keeps the energy pot at a rolling boil this week, delivering another gemstone to be played with by a dog such as myself. I can’t remember the last time I had this much fun staring at a glowing screen. Probably because I stare at glowing screens too much. But one thing’s for sure, SnS has got it goin’ on.

sns22

Souma’s dad ships him off to transfer at Totsuki Teahouse Culinary Academy, telling him from the dining room of a swanky hotel in Manhattan (where everyone from congressmen to monks would give their left nut to eat his food) that if he can’t get in and graduate, he has no business harboring dreams of surpassing his dad.

Souma doesn’t question any of that, but he knows it will be an uphill battle, as he sticks out like a sore thumb on a campus full of pompous, entitled asses, all of them with some kind of elite pedigree in the food industry.

sns23

The most pompous of them all has been chosen to evaluate the transfer applicants, including Souma: the arrogant, imperious Nakiri Erina-sama (Taneda Risa), whose superhuman palate has earned her the nickname “God Tongue,” which if ever taken out of context, could really give some people the wrong idea…especially when you consider she has no problem using her power to melt the hearts of smitten subordinates like Arato Hisako.

Erina has been rejecting food since her first words decried a dearth of flavor…in her mother’s milk. Her whole life story is probably embellished, but the point is, she knows food, and she’s at the top of the food chain. And Souma’s at the bottom.

sns24

Even though all the other applicants, dozens of them, flee upon being given permission to do so from Erina (so as to spare themselves being finished in the food world forever if she were to shoot down their food), Souma stays, because he’s got a job to do: surpass his dad. That means he needs to get in, so he mostly ignores the eccentric behavior of all these rich dummies, remains calm, and starts cooking.

sns25

The exam revolves around the use of the egg, which is simultaneously the easiest food to prepare and the easiest to mess up royally. You want to know if someone can cook? Ask them to make a simple fried egg or omelette. This is essentially what Erina does, and while she maintains a strict dubiousness that this shaved gorilla from the muck will ever hope to excite her royal palate, his white rice seasoned with chicken wing/bonito aspic and egg does just that.

sns26

Erina is the queen of bizarre flavor metaphors, from being hit with a jukebox under a waterfall, to baithing in a hot spring with a gorilla, to being tickled by angel feathers in heaven. But when those angels in her “ha-food-cination” start to bear the commoner Souma’s visage and they start to get all grabby with her sheet, she’s suddenly turned off.

sns27

In this case, Souma’s food really did excite her palate, and indeed her whole body, but it’s interesting to see that everything is relative in SnS. It was far easier to tear the evil developer and her goons’ clothes off than those of one of the most refined palates in the world. On top of that, no matter how phenomenal Souma’s food is, Erina is simply too prejudiced against his bottom-feeder background and his tendency to, uh, treat her as an equal human being (how dare he!).

sns28

Simply put, she doesn’t like him, so she fails him. While certainly a setback for our hero, there’s zero doubt he’ll find his way into the academy with or without Erina’s approval…probably without, which will mean the beginning of a tense rivalry between them. Still, for at least a time, Souma has to stew in the gross injustice of being rejected despite not only facing a formidable foe with unblinking eyes, but actually impressing her. What’s a bloke gotta do to get some respect around here?

sns29

Fortunately for Souma (and us), Erina doesn’t run the academy; her grandfather does. And he happened to eavesdrop on Souma’s exam, and sneaks a taste of his rice. And because he’s not a stuck-up brat, he’s able to dive fully into the flavor and let it wash over him, leading him to shed a bit of his clothing in clear approval. Souma’s back in!

9_ses

Shokugeki no Souma – 03

sns31

Food Wars episode 3 opens with a quick profile of the third main character, after Souma and Erina: Tadokoro Megumi, who isn’t much like either of them other than the fact she loves cooking. But she just barely eked into the high school division, and if she receives one more “E” or failing grade, she’ll be expelled, and have to return to her home village in shame.

sns32

During the opening ceremony, Megumi and everyone else learns what kind of person Yukihira Souma is, when he’s given the stage to state that he’ll be one of the students one can count on one’s hand who will remain from the thousand first-years presently assembled. It’s cocky, but in reality TV parlance he’s not there to make friends, but win. It’s up to them to answer that challenge and beat him back…if they can. Whining and steaming over his audacity won’t do any good.

Erina doesn’t understand this, because she’s an entitled garbage person who is insulted when Souma talks to her like a fellow human being and classmate rather than the goddess-on-earth she believes herself to be. I wouldn’t be surprised if her gramps didn’t just let Souma into his school because he deserved to get it, but also to give his granddaughter, who is way to comfortable and haughty, a worthy challenger to her primacy.

sns33

Megumi is confident she’ll be okay if she simply keeps her head down and doesn’t make herself conspicuous, but fate chooses a different path, as she’s paired up with Souma, the last person someone who wants to blend into the background wants to have for a partner. This means a lot of the splashback of the very strong hate directed at Souma inevitably lands on Megumi, simply due to her proximity to their object of loathing.

Even so, Souma simply engages her like a normal person would, introducing himself and stating he’s looking forward to working with her. He’s able to tease the reason for her anxiety without any trouble, but from where he’s standing, as long as Megumi’s on his team, she won’t have to worry about expulsion, because failure isn’t even in his mind.

sns34

Even so, Megumi is not optimistic, as by foul luck she and Souma also landed one of the academy’s toughest instructors, Chapelle, who only grades pass/fail. The class has two make boeuf bourguignon, which like eggs, is a very good test of a budding chef’s skills and instincts.

sns35

Things don’t go well at first: Souma’s never made the dish before, and a rival pair resorts to sabotage to knock Souma out (with Megumi presumably a reasonable collateral victim) by dousing their pot with salt, ruining the meat.

Souma detects the sabotage, but with only 30 minutes, there isn’t time to start over and make the dish the prescribed way. So he doesn’t: he massages the meat with honey, which not only contains protease, an enzyme that breaks down proteins to achieve the desired tenderness, but also has a long shelf life (properly-sealed honey can last centuries).

sns36

Thanks to this innovation that Souma had once read about and studied on his own, without any fancypants instruction, saves the day, just when it looked like Game Over for Megumi. The boeuf bourguignon not only transports Megumi and Chapelle to a sylvan paradise where they’re enrobed in and swim naked in lakes of pure honey, but also makes the “chef who never smiles” smile. They get an “A”, but Chapelle mentions he’d rate them even higher if he could.

sns37

Also, this is a show about justice, and the saboteurs get their comeuppance by burning their sauce and then accidentally dropping salt into their own pot, resulting in an “E” grade and possible expulsion.

Souma is Megumi’s uber-confident knight, which is fine, though I wish she hadn’t been presented as such a helpless damsel in distress. I wonder what her beef would have faired had those goons not sabotaged her. I also think sticking around Souma will help her gain confidence in her own skills, which combined with moral support from her home village, should be able to sustain her through these tough three years.

Of course, just when Megumi is thinking Souma isn’t so bad, he goes and shoves honey-pickled squid into her mouth, resulting in a very similar food-fantasy to that other ill-fated classmate Souma fed peanut butter squid to. Almost too similar, really.

sns38

When Erina hears from her lieutenant Arato that Chapelle aced Souma, she doubles down on her shitty attitude, forbidding Souma’s name from being spoken in her presence, and so forth. She’s not interested in acknowledging his resourceful, innovative gastronomic mind, to say nothing of entertaining collaboration, which may enrich both young chefs.

No, she just wants to CRUSH him like the insignificant bug she regards him as. Here’s hoping she fails spectacularly, and someday learns how to properly treat others. And here’s hoping Megumi is able to stand on her own two feet in future battles.

8_ses

Shokugeki no Souma – 04

sns41

Souma is assigned a room at the Polar Star Dormitory, which he hopes will be as swanky as the rest of the academy’s facilities. As it’s a stately neoclassical manor,  it is quite swanky…but the crows give Souma a cold welcome.

sns42

The creepy aura continues inside, where a strange girl chases game through the shadows while an old glowing woman greets him. Turns out they’re just all about energy conservation, as in conserving it for top-notch kitchen facilities, where Souma is to make something for the aged caretaker, Daimido Fumio, in order to be admitted to the dorm.

It’s yet again an opportunity for Souma to showcase his particular specialty thus far: cooking something spectacular out of whatever he happens to have on hand. He has a keen enough grasp of the fundamentals and enough experience in the kitchen cooking for real people to properly harness his creativity and resourcefulness.

sns43

And in the best and most hilarious “food-llucination” yet, Souma’s mackerel hamburg steak and squid egg soup are powerful enough flavors to transport Fumio to the past, specifically, to the moonlit night she lost her virginity. Yowza, she was quite the catch in her day!

sns44

Thus admitted, Fumio immediately has a little fun with Souma by refraining from warning him it’s the girls’ turn to bathe, so he accidentally walks in on a naked Megumi, who, coming from a small conservative town, now believes she’ll never be able to marry. Or she could look at the incident as a transaction: he saved her, he saw her; now they’re square!

sns45

I thought this episode of Souma really captured that unique blend of loneliness, excitement, and anticipation of that first night in a new place; a place that doesn’t feel like home yet—look how sparse that room is—but definitely feels right, like it could feel like home, and will, before he knows it.

sns46

That poignant moment is interrupted by the sudden intrusion of a dorm-mate looking down on Souma from the ceiling tiles, and all of a sudden the creepy aura is back. Not only is this a beautifully composed shot that came out of nowhere, it also had me LMAO.

sns47

The ceiling weirdo is second-year Isshiki Satoshi, fetching Souma for his welcoming party. What do you know, not everyone at Totsuki is a stuck-up asshole! Well, we knew Megumi wasn’t, but now we have a whole dorm full of friendly, colorful, weird creative-types. That warm feeling of home and family missing from Souma’s empty room is here in abundance.

sns48a

The Castle In the Sky-style speaking tubes in every dorm are a nice touch…especially when used by Satoshi to invite Megumi to his room the creepiest way possible so he can share food with her.

sns48

It’s cute how Souma and Megmi are seated next to each other and chat together before fully joining in the fun, like a veritable dipping of one’s toe in the water. Everyone else in that room are strangers now, and it’s probably more overwhelming than Souma lets on (we didn’t see any of his friends back home), so the fact Megumi, also his next-door neighbor is beside him is probably a nice thing.

sns49

After generous consumption of “rice juice” (Fumio isn’t nearly as strict as I thought, allowing the students to have drinking parties for new residents), the group goes increasingly friendly and eventually break out the food, showing off their own unique specialties, and also go on about how Polar Star was once essentially the headquarters for the Elite Ten, of whom we learn Nakiri Erina is ranked tenth.

The post-credits surprise is that friendly, goofy, nothing-but-an-apron wearing Isshiki Satoshi is actually better than Erina…he’s seventh-seat, something he reveals to Souma when everyone else is passed out. But unlike Erina, he wants Souma to show him what he can do, and whether he has the potential to rise to the top as he did. In other words, the perfect senpai…even if he’s a little creepy at times.

9_ses

Shokugeki no Souma – 05

sns51

Isshiki Satoshi is as mercurial and competitive as he is friendly and welcome, so even though it’s the middle of the night and the rest of Polar Star is out cold, he’s too restless to go to bed. He heard Souma at the opening ceremony go on about how he wants the top spot. Time to put up or shut up.

sns52

Naturally, Souma’s just fine with that, and appreciates the chance to show off his mad cooking skillz to Satoshi and the others. His basted mackerel rice ball in kelp tea tears the proverbial clothes off everyone who tastes it.

Souma isn’t afraid to punctuate the deliciousness of its dishes with ample, unisex nudity. It’s also a surefire way of knowing when Souma’s hit the mark.

sns53

Then you have Megumi, who totally missed the cook-off and wakes up to a baffling scene that freaks her out. The humor on this show isn’t subtle, but it is effective.

sns54

The next morning (I also like how differently everyone wakes up), Souma is eager to hit Satoshi with a challenge of his own, gunning to take over Satoshi’s seventh seat on the Elite Ten. But obviously it’s not as simple as that. That being said, I like how everyone except Souma and Megumi were totally apathetic about Souma’s Big Bold Challenge because they knew it wouldn’t be happening then and there.

sns55

There’s procedures to be followed, and people to assemble: a adjudicator to certify the challenge, an odd number of judges, and an agreement between contestants about the conditions. Souma also needs to stake something of equal value to Satoshi’s seventh seat, and even staking expulsion if he lost wouldn’t be enough, not to mention Satoshi doesn’t want Souma expelled.

sn56

Still, despite the fact Souma isn’t ready to take on Satoshi, he’s still eager to take on somebody, and once he starts racking up wins, he can start going after bigger fish like Satoshi…or Erina. While Satoshi and the others are explaining the particulars of the formal challenges, called Shokugeki. They go down a lot like Iron Chef, but with more dire consequences for the loser, in this case the hot pot society’s entire clubhouse is demolished so Erina can build another kitchen for her personal use. Dayum, dis bitch is COLD!

sns57

But the hot pot guy wasn’t anything resembling a challenge to her, only “trash.” Not only that, a dark-skinned girl with an American flag bra is itching to face the other challengers not worth Erina’s time. She apparently specializes in meat, and Souma will surely have to get through her before he can challenge Erina.

8_ses

Shokugeki no Souma – 06

sns61

Souma’s sixth episode is notable for having no big cooking challenge, an omission that was felt in terms of keeping up the momentum and tension the previous five episodes had built up. But while there were no Wars, there was plenty of delectable Food, starting with a tour of Polar Star’s impressive vegetable garden and other on-side ingredient facilities. Also, Isshiki has no qualms about gardening in a loincloth.

sns62

I liked the camaraderie of the Polar Star tenants all working together to ensure the dorm has the best ingredients possible. Megumi also gets to shine for once by providing a lunch of delicious-sounding onigiri. Megumi is interesting because while she’s a great chef she’s prone to stage fright and is terrible in high-pressure situations…like Shokugeki. Here’s hoping being around Souma will help her confidence on the big stage. She already adopted his honey-tenderizing method.

sns63

There’s more exposition explaining how the school works, in that there are “research socieities” rather than conventional clubs that focus on particular kinds of cuisine. As a self-professed proud “diner brat”, Souma gravitates toward the Donmono Research Society, or “Don RS,” which seeks to discover innovate ways of elevating the versatile, quick, affordable meals served in bowls. And Megumi, caught in his orbit, tags along.

sns64

This kind of cooking is right up Souma’s alley. Unfortunately, the Don RS is down to just one member, who is surrounded by an aura of doom and gloom, thanks to it being the latest target in Nakiri Erina’s quest to consolidate power by eliminating what she deems to be societies undeserving of existence.

sns65

Mind you, she’s not going to be the Don RS’s opponent. That role falls to her eager and fiercely loyal henchwoman, Mito Ikumi, whose pun-filled name and bodacious bod clues you into her specialty: MEAT. Souma doesn’t like how quick the snobbish “Nikumi” is to call the most expensive meat the best, and decides he’ll be the one to face her as the representative of the Don RS in the Shokugeki.

sns66

With three days to prepare and not much money, Souma gets cooking, scouring the shelves of Don RS recipes and dishing out bowl after bowl of deliciousness. Every dish has its strength—I certainly wouldn’t mind tucking into one or all of them—but lack the punch that will be needed to have a chance against Nikumi and the vaunted A5 beef her family corporation is famed for.

sns67

In an otherwise evenly matched culinary battle, it’s ingredients, resourcefulness, and creativity that determine the victor. Nikumi has the ingredients, so Souma will go after her in the other areas. Reminded by Megumi of his honey breakthrough, he decides he’ll make a don with Chaliapin steak, a unique, some would say obscure Japanese technique using onions and butter that makes even cheap meat melt in your mouth. Budget A5!

Will it be enough? Well, yes, it most certainly will. How do I know? Simple: I just don’t see Souma getting expelled seven episodes into the series, just when he’s settled into a nice living situation with some great peers.

7_ses

Shokugeki no Souma – 07

sns71

Let’s face it: We all knew exactly how this would end. For all her bluster, trash-talking, attempts at mind games, and peerless A5 Wagyu Beef, Nikumi was going to loooooose. Souma wasn’t getting expelled, and the club he stood for wasn’t going to be shut down. The haters were going to hate. Souma just cooked; and outcooked Nikumi on the only field that matters: the field of a don battle.

sns72

Her precious meat may be singular, and she may have formidable skill, flair, and grace in butchering, searing, roasting and slicing said meat (Erina compares her to a pianist, equal parts strength and delicacy). To the show’s credit, Nikumi IS a phenomenal chef, especially with meat.

But while here meat is fresh and beautiful and marbled six ways from Sunday, she’s been spoiled by it. Her arrogance and refusal to take Souma seriously cost her dearly, though you can’t blame her when Souma whips out discount half-off discount sirloin from the supermarket, seemingly spitting on the entire Shokugeki institution.

sns73

Her meat is so lovely, laid out like a flower atop garlic rice, Nikumi tries to make it the star of the don, litterally sitting on top like oil on top of water. The rice is just okay, but the dish suffers in its essential don-ness, or cohesiveness, because the meat clobbers everything else in that bowl. The judges are impressed by the ingredients and preparation, as they should be, and are highly skeptical Souma’s dish is even worth trying.

sns74

But this is Souma we’re talking about: not only is he sneaky as all hell when it comes to how he’s going to make something out of nothing, but that particular talent works far more in his favor than Nikumi’s mad eat skillz. From the pickled ginger in the rice to the onions sauteed in juices and wine, to the thick yet delicate sauce tickled with burnt soy, all the components of the dish work together to elevate one another out of the supermarket and into the stomachs of the venerable judges, who literally can’t stop eating it and are sad when it’s gone.

sns75

And that’s why Souma wins the don battle: his don beat Nikumi because it didn’t put on airs and intimidate you with its pedigree, it merely welcomed you to eat as much of it as you wanted. The judges didn’t even finish Nikumi’s rice, nor could she have bumped it up with beef, because she’s already maxed out with the A5 on top, and would have been left with competing flavors. Her ingredient saved her from total embarrassment, but she was clearly out of her element here.

sns76

Souma’s other knack is for neither looking up or down at people, but looking straight at them as an equal. To this end, he prepared a bowl for Nikumi as well (something she didn’t do for him), and one bite of the welcoming don transports her to the day her dad ripped her teddy and told her as a Mika woman she could not be ladylike, but must be strong and aggressive to succeed in life. Nikumi hadn’t thought of that day in years, or the pain of leaving her girly side behind, but Souma’s don took her there.

sns77

Far from a sore winner or a gloater, Souma not only fed her after a tough battle, but complimented her nickname when spelled in hiragana. A combination of the shock of a defeat she didn’t think possible (and all the consequences that come with it), and Souma’s basic kindness and friendliness—matching the personality of his don—leads to her becoming all flustered and smitten with him.

Whether Souma intended for her to assume he was joining the Don RS to burn her, the point is you don’t run out of the arena until you figure out what’s really going to happen: She’s to report to the Don RS, which she dutifully does, trying to look cute for Souma, only to find that he never had any intention of joining himself; it’s just her and the hair guy.

Nikumi is thus humanized, and thankfully, their battle didn’t have any lame sabotage or cheating. Both played by the rules, and Souma beat Nikumi fair and square. Watching Erina, Megumi and the other Polars watch and react to the battle added to the stakes. Even the cute, two-faced MC was a nice touch. All in all, great first Shokugeki. I look forward to more.

9_brav2

P.S. Yup, That’s Christina next to that 9, indicating yours truly will be handling most Shokugeki no Souma reviews henceforth. Now I just wished he’d cook some of this stuff for me. —Hannah

Shokugeki no Souma – 08

sns81

This week’s Food Wars leaves the confines of the school for an elaborate “training camp”, held on the premises of Totsuki’s famed (and very highly-priced) resorts. Isshiki warns his juniors that the purpose of the camp is to thin the herd; in some cases half of the students who participate end up on the expulsion block.

sns82

Predictably, Megumi’s a nervous wreck, while Souma is perfectly relaxed, as he even calls out to “Nikumi” (a nickname he’s decided to use and she’ll just have to accept it) fresh off his victory over her. While I hope not every girl he beats gets the hots for him, I do like how nicely her haughtiness has been neutralized.

sns83

Once at the resort, the students learn their various camp tasks will be judged by Totsuki alumni, all of whom went through this themselves and survived to graduation, and celebrity restaurateurs, who will be treating the students no differently than they treat their staff. If they’re no up to snuff, boom expelled. One judge makes their meaning plain by kicking out a kid just for having scented hair product.

sns84

She’s paired with Souma again, to her sweet relief this time. The first time she thought she’d paired with a troublemaker who was all talk; but now she and many others know differently: he’s a troublemaker who is more than all talk. In fact, most of the talk is directed at him from one Takumi Aldini, who along with his fraternal twin bro Isumi, work at their family trattoria in Italy. Like Souma, he’s already a pro who’s served and satisfied thousands of customers.

sns85

On top of their alumni judge Inui Hinako (a bubbly yet ruthless Noto Mamiko)’s challenge that they forage the resort grounds for the ingredients needed to create a Japanese-style dish, Takumi makes it a battle between him and Souma, with Inui deciding who’s best. In a nice character moment, Inui refuses, leaving Takumi stranded on his high horse, with even his own bro laughing at him. I like how everyone on the show is aware of Takumi’s overzealousness, as if he knows he’s in a shounen battle anime.

sns86

He may be fiery, but he and Asumi are also one hell of a team, being the only students to find a duck, then perfectly timing their work to finish first with a Japanese-Italian fusion dish that makes Inui imagine herself in a Pavarotti-like opera singer’s arms as he serenades her while wearing a duck hat of sorts, in another bizarre foodgasm.

sns87

Nikumi fell into a trap of “the best ingredients always win, period” and got clobbered by Souma, but these Aldini boys are a lot sharper and scrappier. The more limits you impose on them, the more creative and amazing the food they dish out. They’re a lot more on Souma’s level. On top of that, the brothers operate like a well-oiled machine, an efficiency we haven’t yet seen with Souma and Megumi.

Not only does Souma have to use river fish—the same thing everyone else is using—but he also has to properly coordinate its preparation with Megumi in the time remaining. Hopefully they Aldinis don’t try to sabotage them on top of all that, because their hill is steep enough as it is. Will Souma be able to turn Takumi’s loathing into grudging respect? I suspect so. What I look forward to is watching how.

8_brav2

Shokugeki no Souma – 09

sns91

Aldini Takumi and his bro made a pretty bangin’ dish for Chef Hinako, but when pondering his response, Souma shows that two can tango. As soon as he asked Hinako to repeat the condition of the test about using anything inside the confines of the hotel grounds, I knew he was going for her beloved rice crackers, which means unlike all of the other students who are grilling the char, he’s now got a coating with which to deep fry it.

Now that’s resourcefulness; hinging one’s entire dish on a snack the judge just happened to have on her. I also like the cut from students wondering why Hinako was known as the “Empress of Mist”, to the “mists” of tea steam emanating from her, explaining the nickname.

sns92

I also like SnS‘s insitence, at least at this point in the game, to have rivals, not villains or antagonists, face off against Souma. Takumi is a rival. He left home to attend this academy specifically because he wants to go toe-to-toe with worthy rivals like Souma. He’s even worried and apologetic when he accidentally crushes Souma’s crackers, afraid he may have inadvertently sabotaged Souma’s dish. Luckily, he needs those crackers pulverized.

sns93

Also heartening: as down to the wire and in the dark as she initially was for this test, Megumi doesn’t just shrink before the task at hand. Once it’s Go Time, she’s fighting right beside Souma, delicately preparing the mountain veggies she has experience foraging for back home as he bones, coats, and fries the fish.

sns94

The final dish that’s served is, like every other one he’s made (except the peanut butter squid) looks tantalizingly scrumptious, especialy that airy egg, oil, and herb dipping sauce.

sns95

We knew this dish was going to be a hit with Hinako, it was just a matter of what spit-take-inducing fantasy she’d have in her taste-ecstasy. SnS doesn’t dissapoint here, either, with a mermaid Hinako (with an embellished bust) being taken into the muscular arms of an anthropomorphized rice cracker. You gotta love the creativity of  SnS‘s visual symbolism.

sns96

Hinako passes Souma and Megumi, but contrary to her agreement with Takumi, never determines whose dish is superior. This is either because she’s a bit of an airhead (another reason for her “Empress of Mist nom de guerre”) or because she’s deliberately toying with the overeager guys. Probably a bit of both.

sns97

And in the end, it doesn’t matter whose dish was better: both Souma and Takumi learned that the other is the real deal, and more importantly, someone they’d never have met if they both stayed in their family restaurants. Only by putting your skills up against others and being exposed to their methods can these two find their true passion; the passion that will take them beyond merely surpassing their elders.

sns98

And that’s a wrap….oh wait, no it isn’t. We get Bonus SnS this week, which underlines how strenuous the training camp truly is. Poor Yuuki thinks they can kick back with extravagant meals prepared for them by the hotel staff, a nice hot bath, and a sumptuous hotel room. But she and the other students are the hotel kitchen staff, and they have to make 50 servings of a steak set each before they can feed themselves, to say nothing of the other comforts of the hotel.

Yuuki is crestfallen, but it’s not long before the intense situation puts her into Battle Mode, feeding an endless horde of ravenous bodybuilders, wrestlers, and football players. It’s good training for those who wish to run a restaruant, no matter what kind it is.

sns99

Unsurprisingly, “Short-Order” Souma is the first to finish, and doesn’t even break a sweat. He heads cheerfully to the communal bath, certain he’ll have it all to himself. But as an extended version of the lovely ED plays and he sings along to it, an equally cheerful and relaxed Erina is singing the same song. It ends with the lyric “Fate is the spice of life” as the two bump into each other, as if by fate. Be it cordial or hostile, I look forward to seeing how this encounter pans out.

8_brav2

Shokugeki no Souma – 10

sns101

Somewhat predictably based on how we’ve seen her act around Souma before, Erina is not particularly prepared to bump into Souma in the hallway after taking her bath. To whit: she denies she was humming the ED (she was, like Souma) and claims she’s not interested in playing cards later (which she is, as Hisako procured cards from the front desk). Still, it was nice to see a slightly more vulnerable side of her, even if she tried her darnedest to keep up a hostile front.

sns101a

Souma, who is perfectly comfortable expressing his happiness at being through the day’s trials, maintains his “whatever” attitude, and is surprised to find Doujima Gin already in the bath, stretching and making manly noises. While Gin oozes super-manliness, Souma isn’t intimidated, and the two actually bond, with Gin telling him more about Erina and her “God Tongue.”

Souma, not the sharpest tack with non-cooking-related things, realizes Erina beat him to the baths. He also learns Isshiki was the first back last year. He’s among greatness everywhere he looks, and fulfilling his wish to graduate at the top of his class will be no small feat.

sns102

Thankfully, Souma’s whole dorm of first-years are able to survive the first day, and while many of them are all gung-ho about enjoying their fancy digs and playing through the night, those same people fall asleep quickly. Megumi doesn’t, though: fighting alongside Souma and rising to the occasion both with the first challenge and with dinner, she’s so full of confidence, she’s wide awake even though she’s exhausted.

sns103

So naturally, the second day consists of a challenge that immediately puts that newfound confidence to the test by taking away her security blanket (Souma) in an every-person-for-themselves battle to prepare the best nine vegetable terrine for one Shinomiya Koujirou, who washed out 30 students in the first day.

Megumi initially freezes up at the sight of the bedlam before her, but clenches her fists and joins the fray, grabbing all the vegetables she needs…save one: the only cauliflower left when she gets to them are discolored due to oxidation. And in a dish where looks are as important as flavor, discolored cauli will sink her.

sns104

I liked how Shinomiya gave Souma’s dish one bite, pondered it, and said “Pass.” No foodgasm, no elaborate fantasy; this guy is all business, and you don’t get any extra fanfare or praise for doing your job. Even Souma seems surprised by the lack of reaction.

But this isn’t Souma’s show this week; it’s Megumi’s. The A-part ended with a portentious scene of Megumi’s dish failing and Shinomiya expelling her, and that’s exactly what happens here. Yet even though we were fairly warned it would happen, when he brings the hammer down my heart sinks right along with Megumi’s.

The kicker: Shinomiya, while a dick, has a pretty ironclad reason for washing her out: she changed the chef’s recipe without his leave. Sure, the resulting dish was a success, but the point of the exercise was to show whether one was quick and tough enough to secure the freshest ingredients the fastest, and in this Megumi failed.

sns105

But again, Shinomiya IS a dick, because there was no reason to include unfresh vegetables other than to increase the number of students who failed. Had she gotten a good cauli, she would have surely passed. Basically, Shinomiya’s logic is flawed, because in a restaurant situation, with a hungry customer waiting for a terrine, you’d probably do what Megumi did…though not necessarily in haute cuisine

At the end of the day, I’m siding with Megumi because I like her and don’t want her to go away, even if it’s unrealistic to expect everyone Souma knows to make it past the training camp, let alone graduate. It’s a bullshit reason to expel someone, and I’m glad Souma is standing up for her, even though the last thing she wants is for someone else to get expelled on her behalf—by challenging Shinomiya to a shokugeki. 

Shinomiya is by far the toughest foe he’s ever gone up against, so it should be a hell of a fight.

9_brav2

Shokugeki no Souma – 11

sns111

Shinomiya concedes that shokugekis of the type Souma proposes aren’t unprecidented, but like any other shokugeki, they requite the consent of both parties; consent he’s not willing to provide. That would be that, but Doujima Gin, who is running this show and its venue, and Inui decide otherwise.

Gin authorizes an unofficial or “street” shokugeki in the basement kitchen of the resort annex. If Souma and Megumi wins, they’re both still in Totsuki. If they lose, they’re both expelled.

sns112

Not suprisingly, Megumi feels responsible for putting Souma in this predicament, but he won’t have her blaming herself for a choice he made. He says he made it because it’s not time for her to drop out yet, but the unspoken reason is, of course, she’s a dear friend who he couldn’t stand by and watch get unfairly washed out. They’re in this together now, because that’s what he wanted.

sns113

When the contestants, Gin, and four other alumai judges assemble in the basement kitchen, Gin sets the rules: two hours, veggies leftover from the day’s training sessions, and most importantly, Megumi is the head chef who will be going up against Shinomiya. Souma will be a sous chef, nothing more, who must follow Megumi’s vision without alteration.

The reason for this is both plain and very welcome: if Souma is in charge and wins the shokugeki for Megumi, she’ll remain a tagalong, and continue to need to be saved by him. By putting her in the chef’s seat, Gin is hoping this shokugeki is the crucible through which they’ll finally see what Megumi’s made of, and whether Souma is justified in believing it’s worth un-expelling her.

sns114

I loved the playful banter and horseplay between Gin, Shino, and the judges; all of whom are old classmates, if not friends who’ve known each other a long time. They also keep each other in check, the same way Aldini’s more reasonable brother kept him in check as his character was built, so not even Shino can become a full-blown villain.

Of course, the fact she’s going up against a seasoned, up-and-coming French chef-owner straight up freezes Megumi, until Souma slaps her hands together with his, a trick that always stops his hands from shaking, but require two people to do it. The message is clear: he’s here for her, only this time he’s behind her rather than the other way around.

She needn’t be concerned about her opponent or what he’s making, all she can do is put everything she has into her dish, using the skills she’s honed since she used to watch her mom cook as a young girl. Watching her stride proudly into battle with Souma as her trusty sidekick was a great image.

sns115

Also a great image? DAT CHOU FARCI. Honestly, I’ve had cabbage rolls before, some delicious, some gross, but never anything like Chef Shino prepares. The judges put on a clinic in gastronomic know-how in analyzing his dish, and the animators do a great job whetting my own appetite by showing us the intricate step-by-step of its preparation.

sns116

The foodgasm fantasy of the week is the four judges playing off of the fact it tastes like Shino put a spell on his dish, turning them into a magical girl team, complete with Gin in drag. I’ll admit, I’d probably watch a couple episodes of that show!

sns117

Alas, this battle is not settled this week; in fact, we only catch a passing glimpse of the fruits of Chef Tadokoro’s labors, though we saw that she and Souma are like a well-oiled machine, with him supporting her in everything without making his own tasks suffer or taking over. You can literally see Megumi’s confidence surge as they cook, but she gets nervous again when it’s time to present.

Again, Souma gives her the push she needs to approach the alumni with her dish: an elaborate and delectable-looking terrine, this time not limited by Shino’s recette. We won’t know how they feel about it until next week, but we do know one thing: Shino held back, believing he could beat Megumi without breaking out his signature dish (or food bankai, if you will.) While Gin doesn’t think it likely Shino will lose, he does wonder if Shino’s arrogance is his Achilles Heel.

My take? It probably is. If Megumi really put everything she is and has into that terrine, while Shino just kinda half-assed things (at least by his standards), I believe the judges will be able to taste the difference.

9_ses

Shokugeki no Souma – 12

sns121

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!

sns122

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.

sns123

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.

sns124

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.

sns125

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.

sns126

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.”

sns127

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.

sns128

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.

sns129

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.

10_brav210_ses

Shokugeki no Souma – 13

sns131

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.

sns132

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.

sns133

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.

sns134

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).

sns135

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.

9_brav2