Shokugeki no Souma 3 – 04

It’s Day 4, and Kuga and his bald mapo legion still don’t fear Souma and Megumi in the least. Ryouko and Yuuki agree that things look pretty bleak; but Megumi assures them that she and Souma have a plan. That plan, which required a great deal of networking and preparation, finally starts to come together, and not a moment too soon.

That plan aims to exploit the weaknesses of Kuga’s Sichuan stall: the increased patronage on Saturday means longer lines. The very old, the very young, and everyone who came with them are all waiting to be plucked from the endless lines. But first, Souma needs a place to seat them; enter Tomita-san, his neighbor from his home shopping district, with a set of benches.

He’s got seats, but he needs one more push to poach those people waiting in Kuga’s line, and has it in an innovative twist on mapo tofu. Not only does he add his noodles, but a pork meatball with a heavenly center of gelatinous curry-seasoned broth that melts through the dish and sends waves of wonderful aromas straight into the line.

With both seats and a means to put people in them, Souma quickly swipes half of Kuga’s hungry line, and Kuga realizes he’s not dealing with a docile housecat. That cat has been watching his stall for three days, and he’s grown into a ferocious lion.

And yet Kuga doesn’t panic, because Souma has just Megumi helping him. The increased workload is sure to cause both of them to break, but Souma pulls one secret weapon after another out of his arsenal. First, the scene where his diner appeared open is explained: it wasn’t Souma, but Mimasaka Subaru working there, training to become exactly like Souma in food stall speed and skill.

In a way, Mimasaka inspired Souma to truly observe and profile his opponent (Kuga) before formulating a plan to defeat him. With Mimasaka by his side manning the stoves, Souma doubles his productivity, while Megumi’s innkeeping experience at the Staigaire has made her formidable at customer service.

When it gets dark, Megumi’s colleagues at the Cultural Research Club arrive with gorgeous lanterns that draw even more customers. When the three again start to feel the strain of the increased workload, Nikumi arrives, having delegated her spot at the Don RS booth, to help Souma out. She helped develop his buns, so takes over that task from Megumi.

Then the Aldini brothers join in. Takumi won’t allow his rival Souma to be defeated without “accomplishing something.” Now numbering six, all of them elites within their class, Souma’s restaurant has finally come together.

Once the day’s takings are tallied, Souma & Co’s stall beats Kuga and his army of baldies with first place in the central area, all but assuring an expulsion-preventing profit with one day left. It’s a thrilling come-from-behind victory, with Souma relying on the friendships he’s formed far and wide, quite a contrast to Kuga running his stall like a despot.

In other Moon Festival news, Alice & Co. finally get their act together, as she combines Akira’s excellent curry with a special kind of 3D-printed chocolate ribbon that slowly melts into the dish, enhancing it. Looks like they’ll escape expulsion too. Akira even smiles, impressed by Alice’s clutch idea, which pleases Jun to no end. Up in Yamanote, Erina keeps a good table open just in case Souma’s dad shows up, while Tsukasa Eishi quietly chops veggies in a kitchen…what’s he planning?

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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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