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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Shokugeki no Souma – 14

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SnS delivers its second masterpiece in three episodes both by putting Souma further up against the wall than he’s ever been, as his souffle omelettes are falling before customers take them. Meanwhile, Erina and Takumi have already dished out 200 servings. But there’s no conspiracy or sabotage behind Souma’s plight: it’s his fault; he effed up, and now he’s got to figure out a way out of the hole he’s made for himself, with time dwindling.

Another chef who finishes well before him is “Snow White”, whose name we finally learn is Nakiri Alice, Erina’s cousin and life-long rival. What Erina brings to the table with her talent, ability, and knowledge of the classics, Alice is on the cutting edge of molecular gastronomy. My face lit up in glee like a Christmas tree when it was revealed Alice’s “eggs” weren’t just eggs.

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As viewers we have the luxury of checking in on everyone as they near, or struggle to near, 200 servings, but Souma has no time to lose. Erina is frustrated that her gloating fails to reach his ears, as he works out the calculations to how he’ll get to 200. It involves lots of eggs, lots of cream, lots of pans, and lots of burners, and his mastery of all of those things at lightning speed in order to lure all those customers.

He moves on from his failure and starts over, getting enough people to his stand so he can serve omelettes as soon as they’re ready. Once the people try the jiggly, fluffy, bouncy delicacies, they can’t contain their enthusiasm and praise, which attracts even more attention.

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I’m not sure where Souma got all those burners or eggs (the logistics of this camp would seem to hinge upon an “Unlimited Food Works” skill someone at Totsuki possesses), but he manages to reach his target of 200…with two seconds remaining. He also impresses the alumni brass like Doujima, as well as the backhanded compliments and a formal introduction by Alice, who is really mean and cool and adorable and a great foil to Erina and new rival to Souma. She can clearly back up her big talk (and then some), and I look forward to seeing more of her.

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And as it did with Alice’s molecular eggs, the show gives us one more surprise, with Doujima summoning all 600-some survivors thus far into the hotel lobby for a big pep talk about how the unpredictability of the camp is a microcosm of their impending careers as chefs, and how they must learn how to deal with surprises and how to adapt when things don’t go their way.

Just when we thought another challenge was in store, the alumni burst out of the doors with a wait staff to reveal that the final challenge isn’t a challenge, but a meal, prepared by that same alumni. Not only is this a once-in-a-lifetime experience and the ultimate reward to the survivors of the camp, but another complete surprise. It really was a beautiful, heartfelt way to wrap up the arc.

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Shokugeki no Souma – 13

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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.

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