Shokugeki no Souma – 19

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Shokugeki no Souma – 18

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Shokugeki no Souma – 17

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Zane reviews this week’s Food Wars.

I should have known Souma’s homecoming wouldn’t consist of kicking back and relaxing…or rather kicking back and relaxing the way normal people do on vacation. Though he only intends to “air out” the diner, when classmates and townsfolk see the shop open, they swarm to him, and he’s more than happy to feed them.

Then a nexus of elements conspire to put him in the middle of a shopping district-saving karaage challenge, and he can’t help but put every effort into it. The kid simply doesn’t turn off. Nor does the show’s hunger for heightened tension through competition, no matter what the challenge is.

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His return home also marks the return of his adorable classmate Kurase Mayumi, on the surface one of the show’s plainest and least charismatic characters. Yet in a show replete with colorful, eccentric personalities, Mayu actually stands out due to her relative normal-ness.

She couldn’t be more different than the glamorous, scantily-clad buxom, low-voiced meat-expert Nikumi, who enthusiastically accepts Souma’s call to pay him a visit without question or complaint (and whose T&A have their own proprietary sound effects). I take that back: they’re similar in one very important way: they both like Souma.

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More to the point, they both feel threatened by one another. Nikumi fears the chipmunk-like Mayu is the type of gal Souma goes for; Mayu fears Nikumi is actually Souma’s girlfriend, and is so blown away by her sexiness she forgets they’re in the same grade. Truth be told, I’m a Souma x Megumi shipper and thus not really in this particular fight, but the two make for a fun duo flanking a predictably oblivious Souma.

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The three stop by the wildly popular Mozuya specialty karaage shop that is cleaning up from its primo location in the newly renovated train station shopping arcade. The lady in charge is the volatile, venomously competitive (and hilarious!) Nakamozu Kinu, who isn’t content to just clean up, but also dance on the corpses of the shopping district losers she’s stealing business from. When she learns Souma & Co. are there to scout, she isn’t the slightest bit intimidated, because Mozuya is an award-winning, financially burgeoning karaage giant.

Mozuya reminds me of Chik-Fil-A, a local fast food chain in America that also specializes in chicken. Every store is a well-oiled machine, whether it’s in a mall or a standalone. Every time I go, I’m met with uncommon (to American fast food at least) courtesy and hospitality from an obviously highly-trained and motivated staff, regardless of how busy it is…and it’s always busy.  I’ve made complicated orders for large groups during the lunch rush, and always get the order within a minute or so of placing it. It’s uncanny.

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Chik-Fil-As are, in fact, run so well, it’s almost suspicious, like there’s something sinister at work. And that’s the same vibe I got from Mozuya. Nakamozu certainly has her merciless, sinister side, which thoroughly unsettles foodnorm Mayumi well after they depart. Souma and Nikumi, on the other hand, are used to that kind of tension, and have been through culinary hell together; this is just another challenge to overcome.

But it’s not going to be easy. Mozuya has been perfecting its recipe for years, and though Mayu is a game taste tester, Souma isn’t able to create any test batches of karaage remotely good enough to topple the giant. The ultra-rich and thus out of touch with the real world Nikumi suggests fighting fire with a tactical nuke, AKA her family’s vaunted A5 beef, but her idea of “affordable” is over three times Souma’s price ceiling.

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Even if profits aren’t as important as victory to Nikumi, Souma isn’t just trying to win; he’s trying to revitalize the shopping district. So it’s interesting that it’s Mayumi, a native of the town like Souma, gives him the spark he needs to move forward by suggesting playing to the strengths of the district rather than playing on Mozuya’s turf.

As he works out what he’s going to do, Nakamozu has a call with her restaurant advisor, who happens to be one of the Elite Ten along with Isshiki and Erina. That means if Souma can somehow defeat Mozuya, that will speak volumes to his ability to take on said Elite Ten. Not a bad feat to pull off while on vacation!

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Shokugeki no Souma – 16

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Shokugeki no Souma – 15

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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