The Promised Neverland – 12 (Fin) – A Nameless Song

As the kids begin their ascent up the wall, Emma informs Ray of a change in her plans: rather than rescue everyone tonight, she’s leaving all the little ones four and under behind, and is committed to coming back for them, and everyone else in the other plants, before their various shipping dates arrive. It’s a tough choice, but one that had to be made to ensure that the group of fifteen older kids survive the escape.

That’s why little Phil is with Mama as the house burns: turns out Phil is in on it, and even though he’s only four, he now understands what it means that Norman, Connie and the others were “harvested.” Emma leaves him in charge of training the next “wave”, his fellow younger kids, and getting him ready for when she returns.

But first things first, getting across that great yawning cliff. There’s another wrinkle in the plan for which Ray was kept in the dark, which meant Mama was kept in the dark: they don’t use the very obvious bridge to cross the cliff. Instead, Don heaves a stone across a narrower portion of the cliff, and the rope wraps successfully across a tree. He ziplines across, secures the other end of the rope, and secures the second and third ropes two of the kids use water rockets to launch across.

It’s a wonderful use of ingenuity and intense training, and the kids pull it off with aplomb. Phil also succeeds in distracting Mama just long enough so when she sounds the alarm the monsters go to the bridge, and when she realizes they’re not at the bridge, she doesn’t get to their location until Emma is the last person who hasn’t made the crossing. Emma flashes one last defiant look at her former Mama, and says goodbye before ziplining across. The lines are cut; Mama is beaten.

In her moment of defeat, we learn more about who Mama—who Isabella—was, thanks to a supremely affecting flashback that really humanizes her despite the monstrous things she’s done for her superiors. Isabella had a “Norman” of her own in Leslie, who played a beautiful lute and wrote a nameless song she loved. But Leslie’s shipping date came, and he said goodbye, and Isabella was devastated.

She used her ingenuity and athleticism to climb the wall, only to find the cliff and despair as Norman must have done when he first saw it. Her Mama comes to bring her back home, and eventually Isabella is given the same offer she’d later give Emma.

Only while Emma refused, Isabella accepted. She was trained to be a Sister, then a Mama, and even gave birth…to Ray. A younger Ray hums the same nameless song Leslie used to play, because Isabella hummed it when he was in the womb. Ray realizes Mama is his birth mother, asks why she gave birth to him (survival, plain and simple), and their “collaboration” continued from there.

If Leslie’s song were to ever have a title, one possibility could be “The Path Not Traveled,” as it’s the song Isabella held close and never forgot from her time as one of the same kind of kids Ray, Norman and Emma turned out to be, but it’s a song that reminds her that she chose to survive by joining the system rather than rebelling. In the end, Mama seems more proud than anything else that her beloved children outwitted her. Now that they’re beyond the wall and cliff, she wishes them good fortune.

Another title could be “The First Morning”, such as the one Emma and Ray encounter. The sun rises out of the horizon for the first time since they gained their hard-earned freedom. Seeing them silhouetted against the dawn’s light is one hell of a beautiful parting shot.

While I’m terribly worried for what might come next, or what dangers await them in the wilderness beyond, there simply wasn’t time to explore that in twelve episodes. But just the fact they managed to get out of the farm that was going to ship them off to be demon food is more than enough.

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The Promised Neverland – 11 – All Or Nothing, Now Or Never

It’s heartening to learn neither Ray nor Emma had ever truly given up on escaping, but they’re out of time, so they have to implement whatever plan they have immediately. The key is to distract and misdirect Mama so all of the kids can escape, and the best way to do that is by setting the house on fire.

But Ray knows that won’t be enough, which is why he’s been planning and working his ass off to be the most valuable pieces of meat Mama has ever raised. He’ll set himself on fire so that Mama will stay fixed on trying to save him. And while he brooks no argument from Emma, we never see him actually drop the match into the fire.

Nevertheless, Mama comes out of her office smelling burnt flesh, and finds Emma kneeling before the conflagration in the dining hall, telling her Ray’s in there. She orders an evacuation while she desperately tries to save what she can of her great prize.

She also urges Emma to get out of there, but when she turns around, Emma is already gone. When she tracks her with her watch, she discovers Emma has cut off the ear containing her tracking device. She’s off the grid, and has a huge head start.

When she meets up with the others, Ray is with them, to our surprise. Turns out Emma caught the lit match in her bare hands before it could fall on the oil. She has an alternate plan for Ray that doesn’t require his sacrifice. It’s a plan Norman gave to her, and which she distributed to everyone else bit by bit.

Norman told Emma exactly what Ray would do and how to stop him, including with a pile of meats and human hair that will smell like someone burning. The whole time Emma appeared to have lost all hope and was being comforted by the little ones, she was actually muttering to them the plan that will spring them.

When Emma reaches the wall with the others and prepares to climb, the specter of a smiling Norman pats her on the back, urging her to keep going. But Ray senses somebody is missing…and somebody is. Mama manages to escape the burning house with her radio but nothing else, but she’s determined to retrieve her beloved Emma and Ray. To her surprise, she still has a hostage—with which to lure one or both of them back—in little Phil.

After so much preparation and time-biding, the escape is finally on, and there is no going back, as the home where they used to live has been destroyed. But if I know Emma, she’s not about to leave anyone behind, and that could well lead to her ruin.

The Promised Neverland – 10 – Never Give Up, Never Surrender

With the bombshell discovery of the cliff last week, it looked like checkmate for the kids, and especially Norman, who after all was going to be shipped out the next day. That schedule is not changed, and Norman accepts his fate, much to the despair of Emma and Ray.

Norman offers them a ray of hope by noting that the complex of farms or “plants” form a hexagon, one side of which is the HQ where there’s a bridge across the cliff. But he won’t be joining them, and his mind won’t be changed. That doesn’t stop the other two from trying.

While packing for his “departure”, Norman puts only one item in his suitcase: the string telephone Ray helped Emma make years ago so she could communicate with Norman when he was sick and quarantined. Mind you, his being sick never kept Emma away, and Mama had to shoo her off more than once.

In a microcosm of the trio’s dynamic in the present, Ray’s technical know-how and Emma’s stubborn refusal to give up leads to the two ensuring Norman isn’t lonely. Norman isn’t just a friend, he’s family. Emma and Ray love the hell out of the guy. But this time there’s no string long enough to reach where he’s going.

The scene of Norman’s goodbyes is…is rough. All of the other kids are either in tears or just barely holding back, but no one is suffering his impending departure more than Emma, and she makes no attempt to hide that suffering, or to pretend she’s not going to do everything she can to stop Norman from leaving, including trying to slip him the tracking device breaker.

It takes the most explicit death threat from Mama yet (delivered chillingly quietly so only Emma can hear) for Emma to calm down and accept Norman leaving. Before they part, Norman hands her back the tracker breaker and tells her not to give up. As for Ray, he’s not even there; Norman has to come to him, and even then, Ray says nothing. They only share a parting look.

Norman and Mama’s solemn walk to the gate is another standout scene, steeped with doom, but also an odd kind of peace. Mama seems to hold Norman in genuine esteem, as the two seem to have an understanding that Emma and Ray will be treated well until the “end of the time that was decided.”

He momentarily throws Mama off when he asks her if she’s happy, but she replies that she is because she met someone like him. They reach the gate, and Mama directs him to enter a well-lit room to wait…and that’s the last we see of him. Who knows what he saw, or if it was the last thing he saw. Maybe Mama has bigger plans for him than mere food?

Emma and Ray are gutted by Norman’s loss. The three of them were inseparable, almost symbiotic, but Norman was their center; their heart; the bridge between them. The two of them don’t seem able to continue on, even with support from Don and Gilda. Ray tells them he’s “tired” and doesn’t care anymore; they can do what they like, but he’s resigned to dying there.

Emma was then the last of the trio to hold out hope and not give up, but she’s too overcome by grief to accomplish anything. Both the little kids and Mama take note of her constantly morose state, and Mama visits her in her dorm to urge her to give up, and life will be much easier. She even offers Emma a path that will allow her to become the next Mama of the house, rather than be shipped away.

Of course, Emma is never going to go back on what she promised Norman, no matter how many perks she offers (or bones she breaks). So Mama tells her fine, keep dreaming of the impossible, “writhe in agony”, and be damned.

Time passes, and the eve of Ray’s shipment date arrives. Emma wakes up and finds him singing to himself in the chapel. It’s there where both of them reveal that at least part of the way they’ve been acting around Mama, Gilda, Don, and the little ones was merely a performance; a means of lulling Mama into thinking they really did give up.

But they haven’t, as the fire in their eyes at the end of the episode proves. They seem as determined as ever, and thanks to Norman’s reconnoitering of the wall, a path to escape remains. What a fool I was to believe it was time to give up when they hadn’t; to doubt the strength of their spirit and defiance!

Mama, the demons, the system has taken so much away from these kids. It’s time to take something back from them for a change. I am here for it.

The Promised Neverland – 09 – Let’s Get Cracking

By the end of last week, four episodes of The Promised Neverland remained for the kids to escape the farm and survive the aftermath of casting aside their old lives, and all the protections and amenities therein. Even if their lives wouldn’t last much longer than if they’d  stayed put, at least they’d die free.

Alas, for all of the kids’ careful preparation up to this point, the situation has never been more dire. Any hope of Emma escaping on her own two feet has been dashed thanks to Mama’s act of appalling brutality (“clean break” indeed) while Norman is due to be shipped out in a day’s time.

Norman puts on a brave face for Emma, but when he fetches water he betrays a look of paralyzing fear and despair. And yet, once that moment has passed, there’s a decidedly defiant look on his face, like he’s decided and committed to his next move.

When he returns, Ray is with Emma, and they’ve already decided something as well. When Norman proposes they proceed with the escape plan without him once he’s gone and Emma is healed, they reject him in unison. Their counter-proposal: Norman will deactivate his tracker with the device Ray has just completed (using parts from all the various discreet rewards he got over the years), and hide out until Emma heals. Then they’ll all escape together.

Norman is fine with this plan, except for the fact that if he goes missing, they may ship Ray out in his stead. In that case, Ray says he’s willing to have his arm broken so, like Emma, he won’t be suitable for shipping. When Norman asks how Ray found out about the truth of the House, he says he’s always known, since he has memories of his life going back to when he was still in the womb.

Norman agrees to the plan, and the next morning, Norman executes his escape, running to the wall with the backup rope Don and Gilda made, while Emma and Ray stick close to Mama. The music that plays while Norman is running to freedom is epic, hopeful and triumphant.

After he attaches the rope, he holds it taut as he runs up the wall, and manages to grab hold of the top ledge and hoist himself up. A vast forest unfolds in all directions on the other side; a forest full of possibility. If they could get everyone into that forest, the adults would be hard-pressed to find them.

When Mama finally notices Norman is not around, she checks his tracking device, and her expression makes it clear it’s not working. But to Emma and Ray’s horror, she smiles and closes the device, and Norman emerges from the forest, looking like he’d just been drugged or hypnotized.

Turns out it was neither, but simply the look of utter, complete defeat. Only while atop the wall and looking over the other side could he discover the truth: there is a vast, yawning, sheer CLIFF between the wall and the forested land, of a distance they can’t hope to surmount.

Just when the kids’ spirits were at their highest, everything is cruelly snatched away, and their doom feels more inescapable than ever. What an emotional roller coaster; a symphony sorrow; a triptych of tribulation. Those poor damn kids…what are they going to do now?

The Promised Neverland – 08 – Things Never Go Smoothly

More than once, Don hopes out loud that the inspection plan goes smoothly, and whenever a character hopes something like that, chances are it won’t come to pass. Things certainly don’t go smoothly for Sister Krone! Turns out she’s not fired, she’s just been named the new Mom of Plant Four. Only there’s one thing more important to Krone than becoming a Mom, and that’s ruining Isabella.

That turns out to be her downfall, as had Krone left quietly for her new assignment, it’s possible she would have been fine. Or maybe not; when she presents her evidence to Grandma of the high-quality kids’ escape plan, it’s utterly shrugged off because the kids are still “under control.” As for Krone ever having a chance of replacing Isabella, that was never in the cards.

And so, as Krone’s life in the farm and training to become a sister flashes before her eyes, Grandma sics a demon on her, and plants the flower that causes instant death. Rest in peace, Sister Krone: you certainly never had any in life. Her last thoughts are of her hope that the kids are successful in escaping—something she could never do.

Ray isn’t aware that Krone is no longer in the picture until it’s too late and the inspection mission is already underway. Isabella, calling out his treachery, suddenly and unexpectedly terminates their arrangement, locks him in a room, and uses her tracking device to detect Norman and Emma.

When Don and Gilda see Isabella leave the house, but no sign of Ray, Don races into the house, busts down the door and frees Ray, and the three of them head to Norman and Emma’s location as quickly as they can. But as has ever been the case since even Ray first thought of resisting this system, Mama is simply too many steps ahead.

She encounters Norman and Emma and rejects their fake smiles, dropping the pretense that she’s maintained for ten years. She also makes a seemingly heartfelt (though one questions if she has a heart to feel) plea for them to stop resisting and simply accept their fates. They can live happy, full lives until their shipment days, at which time their deaths will be instant.

Even if Isabella empathizes with her livestock in knowing that the worst kind of suffering for them would be to take her up on her offer and give up, they’re too valuable to her as meat for her to ever consider entertaining their desire for freedom. One wonders if Isabella, like Krone, was once in their position, and thus has already concluded resistance is pointless.

Whatever the case, when Emma and Norman reject Isabella’s ultimatum,  Emma rushes Mama and hugs her tight so Norman can get to the rope…and Emma pays for it, big time. Mama snaps her knee like a twig, then lovingly applies a splint and carries her back to the house.

No matter how spunky and determined Emma might be, there’s no way she’ll be able to escape now; at least not on her own two legs. Oh, and just to twist the knife, Isabella informs a horrified Norman that his shipment date has been set. Far from smooth, things have gone just about as awfully as possible for our pee-wee heroes. I honestly don’t know where they go from here.

The Promised Neverland – 07 – An Uneasy Ally With One Hell Of A Creepy Doll

When Sister Krone asked the kids if they wanted to join forces, it didn’t sound much like a request…more like a threat, which the kids should imply is followed by an unspoken “…or else.” We’ve seen how crazy Sister is, so I can’t trust her as far as I can throw her, and I’m glad Emma feels the same way—both the reveal of what and where they are and Ray’s quasi-betrayal have helped her develop a healthy skepticism.

What’s interesting to learn is that Sister has a number on her neck. 12-year-old girls who meet certain criteria apparently get a choice: get shipped off with the boys, or train to become “Mamas” themselves. In exchange for not being eaten, they are given implants that stop their hearts if they ever leave the farm. In a way, they are given less freedom; some would rather be dead than never be allowed to leave.

Sister makes no bones about it: she’s willing to help them only so she can advance her career by becoming the new Mama. If the kids escape, Isabella is responsible, so helping them escape makes sense. During a late night visit, Norman and Emma get to see the tracking device monitor up close (it’s not that precise), but there’s a lot of questions Sister claims to be unable to answer. All she can say is there are humans out there not being eaten, and if they successfully escape, they’ll have to “mix in” with them.

Sister arguably gets more usable intel from the kids then they get from her; she learns that they knew about the tracking devices, where they were, and how to break them. Cut to Ray, receiving a Polaroid camera just like one I once got for Christmas, as a gift for his good service to Mama. He puts on an act about being fascinated by photography, but pointedly leaves behind the photo he took of her.

At this point I’m wondering how much Isabella suspects Ray of spying for her simply to lift any suspicion from himself, or whether she knows the camera contains parts he can use to defeat the devices. I would think so, although perhaps Ray, Norman, and Emma are the first ever truly significant threats to her control over the farm. Maybe she’s overconfident. Surely Ray knows, and will use whatever he can on that front.

As for Sister, it doesn’t take long for her to test her suspicions by searching Ray’s sleeping area. Instead of finding the camera or any other contraband, she finds a folded up note; one it would seem Ray left for her on purpose. We don’t get to read its contents, but they may be irrelevant, as Mama shows up right after she reads it with a second letter. Mama’s sayonara strongly implies it’s a letter dismissing Sister from the plant.

Did Ray play her? Will she really be gone and one less thing for the kids to worry about next week? Are there still other tactics in this chess game of their lives Isabella has yet to reveal, even to Ray? As their escape day gets moved up once again, the tension continues to mount.

The Promised Neverland – 06 – The Sting of Omission

Don and Gilda are extremely lucky it’s just Lil’ Phil who comes through that door, quickly defusing the cliffhanger from last week. But Don persists in creating increasingly tense situations for himself and Gilda, and is obsessed with learning the truth the other three won’t tell them, so he steals Mama’s key.

Meanwhile Norman, Gilda, and “Two-Face” Ray agree that in order to escape and survive they’ll have to gather as much info as possible about the outside world, and how they’ll be able to live out there. Emma “introduces” the guys to a potential ally on the outside, discovered by chance by Phil—that squirt’s dropping mad dimes! 

Within many books in the library there are bookplates bearing the name “William Minerva” and various words in morse code. If they can figure out the order of those words, they may be able to glean some kind of useful information Bill is trying to secretly relay to them. It gives the kids hope there might be other humans out there, resisting the demon hegemony.

As for Don and Gilda, they explore deeper and deeper into Mama’s secret chambers, finding all of the stuffed animals and toys (including Little Bunny) that not only confirm that what Norman said about the adults being bad was true, but make them suspect something far worse is going on. Again, a little kid ends up saving them by distracting Mama, who is this close to catching them red-handed.

Norman and Ray scold Don and Gilda, but they know they haven’t gotten the whole story. Norman decides to tell them the truth, and as expected, it’s a lot to take. Don takes out his frustration by slugging both Norman and Ray—the most violent exchange we’ve yet seen between the orphans.

But Don doesn’t hate them, he hates that he was so weak and useless they felt they had to shield him from the truth. After he cools off with Gilda’s help, the other three go outside to properly apologize for lying, and asking if they’re still with them even if failure means death. Without hesitating, Don and Gilda say they are.

Emma feels like a weight has been lifted, but it’s not as if their job has gotten any easier. It only means now there’s no further tension between the five orphans “in the know.” Don and Gilda help steal certain materials that Ray mentions in his report to Mama, detailing Norman’s plot to kill her.

But Norman tells Emma he’s having Ray feed Mama false intel, no doubt so she’ll ultimately be misdirected or otherwise distracted when they make their escape. During his report, Ray also learns that when the monthly shipment occurs in January, he will be the one being shipped out. His time grows short.

Only a week remains until the agreed-upon date of the escape, but the kids get a bit too careless in their open conspiring, and Sister Krone suddenly pops out from behind a tree to announce that she knows everything about what the five of them are plotting.

However, she isn’t angry, nor does she threaten them (not that she has to); instead, she suggests they “join forces” against Mama. I don’t know about the orphans, but I wouldn’t want to legitimately ally myself with any of the adults, particularly Sister, who’s kind of nuts. Then again, if they don’t play ball with her, she could rat them out to Mama. It’s quite the predicament. Where’s William Minerva—or hell, Lil’ Phil—when you need him?

The Promised Neverland – 05 – The Sheepdog

When Norman confronts Ray about being Mama’s spy, Norman stays calm. In fact, he’s even a bit amused he was found out, like he knew this time would come one day. Norman’s just too smart for his own good. For his part, Ray doesn’t deny anything, but he does explain that he did it because it had to be done.

If we’re to believe his explanations (and for now, at least, I do) Ray has been playing a very long game with Isabella, which has netted him information that would be vital to any possible escape plan. He knew someone would have to be in Mama’s pocket in order to learn what needed to be learned and gain her trust (as much as anyone can gain her trust).

Taking a page from Emma’s Book of Compassion, Norman agrees to forgive Ray as long as he agrees to be his spy as well. Ray agrees, but only if Norman tricks Emma into thinking they’re taking everyone. Other than Gilda and Don, the little ones will be a burden, both during and after the escape, and Ray didn’t spend years being Mama’s informant for everyone to get killed in a futile attempt to get everyone out.

Immediately his meeting with Norman, Ray meets with Isabella, telling her the others continue to use tag as practice, but focuses Mama on Sister Krone as the primary threat. Ray is well aware Krone was brought in as an insurance policy on Ray, but if she’s not watched closely and her ambitions stamped out, Isabella may be in big trouble. For her part, she doesn’t seem to consider Krone that much of a threat. Ray might be able to use that.

As for Norman, Ray’s insistence not everyone can be saved triggers a nightmare for Norman, in which everyone, including Ray and Emma, are killed and have flowers sprout when they attempt the escape. Not the most confidence-building dream!

Still, Norman plays ball, even as Ray just comes right out and admits to Emma that he’s Mama’s informant. Rather than get mad at Ray, Emma is sympathetic to the burden he’s had to bear, allowing child after child to be shipped off as he played his role.

It’s notable that while Ray has “endured” six years of shipments, Conny alone was enough for Emma and Norman. She doesn’t ask Ray for details of exactly how many he allowed to be sacrificed to learn how to disable the tracking devices, but takes firm hold of his hand and tells (warns?) him not to do it again.

Gilda and Don feel left out of most of the private convos between the other three, but Gilda and Emma start observing Mama more closely, and Emma discovers there’s a secret room where she does…something (Ray suggests it’s where she contacts HQ). Don is itching to get in there, but Ray urges caution, and Norman agrees.

But Don doesn’t feel like caution. He doesn’t know Conny is actually demon food, and so he wants to escape and save her ASAP. To that end, he and Gilda enters Mama’s room, and Gilda slides a bookshelf aside to reveal a locked door…just as someone else is about to enter the room and catch them red-handed. Too rash by half, Donny!

The Promised Neverland – 04 – The Merit in Betrayal

If there was any doubt that Isabella also considers this a game of chess against the smartest of her stock, she makes sure Sister Krone understands that her role doesn’t extend beyond that of her pawn. Informing her that she’s well aware of her behind-the-back plotting, Isabella  promises Krone that if she cooperates, she’ll be a Mama of her own. Predictably, Krone privately fumes and resolves to unseat Isabella rather than wait to be promoted. No doubt Isabella knows she could still be betrayed.

Meanwhile, Emma, Norman and Ray continue escape practice thinly disguised as tag, only this time in teams led by older kids rather than everyone on their own. There’s a lot of attention paid to the hierarchy of the teams and the patterns of their movement; Ray insists Emma memorize all 100 formations he’s devised, and while Emma seems initially reluctant, she responds with “Easy Peasy,” because it most certainly will be easy peasy compared to escaping the farm for real.

It’s not lost on the trio that there’s a traitor in their midst, and they’ve already cast most of their suspicions on Gilda and Don. When Ray tells Emma to go against her kinder nature and suspect them, it isn’t long before everything they do looks suspicious to her. How will the escape ever succeed if they can’t trust everyone escaping?

It’s for this reason that Norman uses one card only they can play: the element of surprise, not in that they’re escaping, but when. With the pattern of the schedule, Mama has basically dared them to use all of the month-plus they have left until the next shipment. But Norman knows they can’t go by the schedule they’ve been handed; they have to escape sooner…much sooner, in just ten days.

To achieve that, they need to start filling in the other older kids, starting with Gilda and Don. The POV animation of the three slowly climbing the stairs to the library really transported me into their shoes and added to the tension and stress with each creaky footstep.

At first Don thinks it’s a big joke, but Gilda knows Emma well enough to know she’d never joke or lie about such things. Norman lies that the kids who left were victims of human trafficking, since the cold reality might just be too much. Gilda and Don ultimately both agree that an escape attempt is the only choice.

Ray doesn’t like how Norman left out the truth to Gilda and Don about all the kids dying and being eaten, but for Norman the escape must come first; he’ll deal with the backlash from bending the truth once that objective has been completed. He’s also set traps for Gilda and Don by giving them different locations for their escape rope.

That night, Emma pretends to sleep and watches Gilda sneak out of the bedroom. What Emma can’t see through the door is that someone I initially believed to be Gilda slips a piece of paper under Isabella’s door with the location of the rope: under Norman’s bed. It must be noted that Norman told Ray that he’d tell Don it was under the bed, not Gilda.

After the paper is delivered, Gilda visits Krone’s room, and Emma listens in from behind that door. Things get a little tense in there, with evidence wavering between Gilda being Krone’s informant and not, but in the end, Gilda does what Emma hoped for and refuses to give up any information.

The next day, Norman wonders out loud why someone would betray their family; Ray tell him there must be some kind of incentive, like being promised they’ll be allowed to live and grow up to become an adult.

Later, Norman asks Emma if she’d let the traitor escape with them even if they betrayed them; Emma predictably and quickly answers that of course she would. She wouldn’t consider the traitor a bad person, because none of them are bad people. Again Emma proves she’s the emotional and moral heart of this show.

But when Norman and Ray search the two spots where the rope was hidden, Norman says there’s nothing under the bed, and Ray says that must mean Don is the traitor. Only now Norman is convinced that Ray has been the real traitor all along. There’s certainly already a wealth of evidence to support that, but we’ll see if Norman’s right, and if so, how Ray will explain himself. Until then, things just got a lot more complicated.

Shokugeki no Souma – 07

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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 – 06

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Ryuugajou Nanana no Maizoukin – 05

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Aside from having his space invaded by Tensai and Daruku, Juugo is also starting to feel the financial pain of living with Nanana: since she plays video games constantly, the monthly electric bill is a formidable ¥15,765, in addition to more than ¥6,000 in gas and water.

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That’s more than $217 in American, no small sum for a high schooler, even if his father hadn’t cut him off through Yukihime, who insists he return into the fold. When he refuses, she bounces, warning him his face will be an unwelcome sight in the future. With a sense of obligation to remain by Nanana’s side (and a landlady who will happily toss him out onto the street if he doesn’t pay up), Juugo must find a job.

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Whatever Matsuri was up to, he seems quite determined to make it on his own without involving himself with it, though he seems a bit sad to have to turn from Yukihime. While we don’t yet know the whole story, you have to respect his sticking to his guns, even if that’s the more treacherous path. I also liked how the episode managed to slip in a little scene of Juugo admiring Tensai’s fetching disguise, as well as having him reveal a little jealousy toward Daruku’s…proximity to her.

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Hardly a rolling boil of a romance, but there’s definitely something there. When he chooses a job that pays handsomely but is sketchy as shit, he ends up on the wrong side of the apparent utopia, delivering a suitcase of drugs fancy flour to the stylish don of a lawless district who also collects treasures. Juugo ultimately fails to collect his payment (he has to escape a sudden raid), but unless Shiki was just joking (I doubt it), he’d better find another job…or another treasure.

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