Shokugeki no Souma – 03

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Shokugeki no Souma – 02

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!).

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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?

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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!

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Shokugeki no Souma – 01 (First Impressions)

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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