Vinland Saga – 16 – End of His Rope

Askeladd’s luck ran out the moment Anne was found by Thorkell’s men. The weight of his army steadily bearing down on Askeladd’s comparatively paltry band fills this episode with increasing tension. While there are warriors like Bjorn and Thorfinn who will never betray him, those two aren’t nearly enough to counter the precipitous drop in morale, and thus loyalty, among the majority of his men.

When I think of how much fun Askeladd and his men once had earlier in the series when his luck was riding high, it only puts his current predicament into greater focus. By episode’s end he can count on one hand the number of men he can truly count on, with fingers to spare. When an English captain simply won’t talk no matter how many fingers Askeladd snips off, it’s almost the final nail in the coffin for him; a sign that he’s lost his power.

When your men are all either worshipers of older gods or of no god at all, they put their trust in a leader with luck and strength, and Askeladd’s is almost totally out. His side plan to force Prince Canute to toughen up pretty much takes a back seat to the far more pressing matters of how long it will be before Askeladd’s men turn against him, and when Thorkell will finally catch up to them.

Thorkell’s name invokes far more fear than Askeladd’s at this point, which means Askeladd’s time is almost out. However, it’s not yet certain whether his longer-term plan to “reform” Canute will fail. All we see is that after he leaves Ragnar behind without any kind of funeral and slaps Canute across the face, Canute starts adopting a far more Thorfinnian visage.

Askeladd is nothing if not perceptive, and has no illusions about how things will go down once the men who are done with him gather enough allies within their ranks to pull something off. That’s why when Thorkell finally appears on that horizon—the glinting from the tips of his mens’ spears portending dread, while his own thrown spear impales three men and beheads a fourth—Askeladd has the best possible defensive position he can have.

Bjorn is at the reins of the lead sled with Thorfinn, Canute, the priest, and two horses when the rest of the men surround Askeladd, calling for an end to his leadership. It is without doubt the most precarious position he’s ever been in, but one should never underestimate Thorfinn’s desire to have at least one more duel with Askeladd—which means keeping him alive…maybe.

Vinland Saga – 15 – Every Father Loves His Child

In the aftermath of Askeladd’s cruel slaughter of the villagers, Prince Canute, Ragnar, and the priest pray to God the Father before the mass grave. When the drunken priest voices his doubt of that father’s love, Canute erupts in outrage, saying all fathers love their children.

But if the priest’s faith was shaken by the massacre, it should be buoyed somewhat by the fact a survivor—Anne, from last week’s masterpiece—managed to get away without anyone noticing. She makes it to Gloucester, where as luck would have it, Thorkell’s army is encamped. Eager both to see Canute and fight Thorfinn again, he immediately prepares to head Askeladd’s way.

The foundation for Canute’s outburst at the priest was no doubt laid by his first outburst, which was in response to Thorfinn’s disrespect. In other words, the kid is finally growing a bit of a spine, at least insomuch he’s less weary of speaking his mind. In the same way, Finn’s “domestication” continues thanks to being around Canute, who secretly cooks as a hobby despite his father’s deep disapproval with his son “acting like a slave.”

Ultimately, Canute will probably have to rely on his frenemy Thorfinn after the events of the episode’s final act, in which Ragnar is killed and Askeladd assumes Canute’s guardianship.

Askeladd believes it’s for his own good, and considering how much Ragnar had coddled Canute to that point, it’s hard to argue that point. Still, Askeladd makes this move unaware of a truth Ragnar ironically would only tell him with his dying breath: King Sweyn always intended for Canute to die in battle so his other son Harald would assume the throne.

Despite how badly his father has treated him, Canute still believes his earthly father loves him, but that’s not the case; he was fine with discarding him. Thankfully, the father upstairs may still love Canute, because Canute still has Thorfinn by his side.

Fruits Basket – 25 (First Season Fin) – Fighting Their Way Forward

Kyou quickly came to love Kazuma not just as a foster parent or guardian or shishou, but as a father, but because of the stigma carried by his status as the Cat, he always felt he didn’t have the right to call him one. Kazuma took Kyou in in part as an act of penance after even he treated his kind grandfather with cruelty and revulsion, only to be forgiven with a smile.

Then Kazuma began to love Kyou like a son, but found himself never quite able to say so. Matters weren’t helped when Kyou would forcefully insist he was no son of his when he (often) got into trouble. Kazuma also feels it would be too selfish to continue to see Kyou as a son after forcing him to reveal his true form to Tooru, so he leaves without saying goodbye.

But Kyou is glad what happened last week happened, and it could not have happened without Kazuma…or Tooru. After years of sparring with his shishou, the two finally connect on an emotional level and acknowledge that they are, in every way that matters, father and son. Tooru is the bridge that makes that possible…and in a neat touch, that connection happens on a bridge!

While everything is peaches in Kyou-land, and he is committed to becoming more independent and tempering his fiery nature when needed, the rancor between him and Yuki has not ceased. Judging from Yuki’s body language, part of that may be due to Kyou’s recent “monopolization” of Tooru.

In this regard he’s going through something similar to Saki, who had to fight back the notion of Tooru spending less time with her and more with the Souma’s as something bad, since constant possession isn’t love. Heck, Kagura is experiencing the same thing, only with Kyou.

While Tooru’s attention—and her heart—is split among many different parties, she’s not alone in worrying about Yuki. Haruhatsu, one of the more emotionally intelligent Soumas, also notices something’s off, and so makes sure to remind Yuki that just because Tooru’s been busy with Kyou of late doesn’t mean she’s forgotten about him or worries about him any less.

Yuki then seeks Tooru out on the stairs, thanks her for her continued worrying, and commits to spend more time outside doing things with people this summer…and with Tooru in particular, even breaking out a modified wall slam in semi-jest!

It’s clear the second season will likely involve the continued push-pull of Tooru between Yuki and Kyou, but both have become categorically better people with her in their world, so it’s all good in the Soumahood.

While the show makes it clear that it will be far from smooth sailing all the time in the second season, those hoping for the first season to end on a hopeful positive note can breathe a sigh of relief. One after another Soumas gather at Shigure’s for a big celebratory meal with Tooru; the only major players missing being the two yet-to-be-introduced Zodiac animals, and Shigure, who is meeting with Akito.

Before joining the others, Hiro meets with Rin, perhaps one of those two  animals, while the other could be the faceless guy with the faceless female friend who spots Yuki at school. But there’s no devastating cliffhanger that upends everyone’s lives or threatens Tooru’s marvelous little world.

Instead, she’s looking forward to a fun-filled Summer with everyone. I hope, after all she and the Soumas have been through, they’ll be allowed at least some of such a Summer before the next storm(s) arrive. With quite a bit of source material yet to be adapted, we can reasonably expect plenty more of this wonderful show well into 2020 and beyond. I can’t wait!

Shokugeki no Souma 3 – 23 – The Natural

I was a little out of the loop regarding Isshiki’s pedigree, but that’s cleared up early this week: the Isshiki family has been, along with the Kinokuni family to which Nene belongs, one of the two pillars of Japanese cuisine in Kyoto. Not only that, when he turned four, Isshiki moved in with the Kinokunis to train away from home.

As such, he and Nene have known each other since they were little kids…though Nene resists the assertion that they’re “childhood friends.” When Satoshi asks why she’s always so opposed to his existence, she says “you know why.”

The judges are also introduced as belonging to the revered book of restaurant ratings known as the WGO Guide, led by their marshal Anne. The WGO is akin to the real-life Michelin Guide, giving one to three stars to gourmet restaurants which propels them to the apex of the culinary world. They’re kingmakers and kingbreakers.

Taking stars away can lead to a restaurant’s ruin, as well as the end of that chef’s confidence. Anne notes quite blatantly that Yukihira Diner isn’t even in “The Book”, but makes it clear that this fact has nothing to do with the Shokugeki at hand, and that she and her two colleagues will judge the dishes put before them with fairness and impartiality.

Shiratsu Jurio presents his dish: the quintessentially Italian capitone in umido. With a rich San Marzano tomato sauce and crispy-creamy polenta perfectly complementing the fatty umami of the eel, the judges feel like they’re being cradled in a large bosom of flavor. It’s a masterpiece of by-the-book Italian cooking, and a testament to Jurio’s tireless hard work trying to reach Isshiki’s level.

Isshiki’s dish is not traditional Japanese or anything else, except in its very basic structure, that of Hitsumabushi. However, this is “Polar Star Style”, which integrates a number of ingredients developed (and in some cases not yet perfected) by his beloved Polar Star juniors, which he admits he just flat-out stole from them in order to showcase their skill in their individual specializations.

It really is the best dish someone fighting for the rebellion could present: one that doesn’t just show the judges what a good chef he is, but the potential of chefs below him, as well as his own judgment and confidence in their skills, even if they don’t have the same confidence in themselves.

Satoshi wins the match with Jurio running away, but after curt congratulations, Nene tells him she’ll defeat him in the second bout. She sees this as yet another example of Satoshi, whom she’s known longer than anyone else present, excelling at things with minimal effort, as he did with everything she threw at him when they were kids.

Things that took her endless effort came frustratingly easily to Satoshi, but what has always angered her more than anything is that is was so clearly she felt he wasn’t putting in 100% of his effort. If he did, he’d surely have been above her in the Elite Ten rankings. Really, she’s not disputing his greatness, but lamenting that he isn’t as great as he could be if he, say, worked as hard as she has.

That distinction in her long-standing grievance with him makes all the difference; this isn’t petty jealousy, but disappointment. However, Satoshi tells her they won’t be facing off in the second bout, because Souma is going to defeat her. With one episode until the 24-ep mark, we’re potentially looking at tresults of the remaining two matches in this first bout.

Will Souma beat Nene with his “instant soba”, or will Nene crush his “desperate improvisation” with her Elite soba knowhow? Can Megishima make it a clean rebel sweep by defeating Kaburagi? Or will one of the remaining two rebels fall to Central, making the other win the clincher? We shall see.

Shokugeki no Souma 3 – 22 – Family Matters

Souma, Erina, Megumi and Takumi’s recently expelled friends arrive on Rebun Island, granted permission by Azami to watch what he believes will be the decisive crushing of the rebellion with one swift stroke. It’s at the shokugeki arena when we’re reminded just how large a portion of Totsuki is totally in the bag with Azami, from the demented idol Urara to the plebs in the stands, to the extremely quality collection of Elite Ten chefs he’s installed.

The crowd is firmly against the rebels, and at moments, I must admit that even I felt occasional pangs of doubt just from the sheer charisma of the majority. Central is making the rank-and-file students’ lives easier, but at the cost of stifling unsolicited creativity and innovation. Meanwhile, the expelled are treated like literal convicts and must watch the shokugeki from a giant cage with iron bars, which is a bit much if you ask me!

In order to match the Elite Ten’s eight current members in numbers, the rebel quartet recruited the most elite chefs available: former third-seat Megishima (whom we’ve seen very little of, but if he was third-seat he must be something), Isshiki (whose first loyalty is to his kohais), Kuga-senpai, who wants to stick it to the Installed Eight, and our favorite stalker chef, Mimasaka Subaru. That’s a damn good team!

Team leaders Azami and Erina agree to start with three duels, and the fixtures are Isshiki vs. eighth-seat Shiratsu Jurio; Megishima vs. fifth-seat Kaburagi Shouko, and Souma vs. … sixth-seat Kinokuni Nene. While what we get about who she is is a rapid-fire affair, the show has proven adept and quickly making characters people we can care about, even if they’re not on the right side. They also saved Hanazawa Kana, employing her huskier voice, for the role of Nene; an elite seiyu for an elite character.

Despite her participation in the Azami regime, Nene is a woman of honor and propriety, well-bred in traditional Japanese cooking, dance, music, calligraphy…and soba making. Her family owns the final word in soba restaurants, and if she comes off as a bit aloof, well, she’s earned it. She hasn’t glided her way to where she is on the backs of her family name; she’s worked her own ass off.

When Souma, in his infinite bad luck at the worst times, manages to pick “soba” from the random battle themes, Nene is justified in declaring she’ll mop the floor with him. It’s calm, cool confidence, not cockiness. Her textbook handmade noodlemaking skills are unparalleled, having been honed over years. Souma can’t compete with them, so he doesn’t try.

Instead, he makes the best soba noodles he can possibly make, which in his case, means using a machine. What’s worse than machine-made noodles? Badly-handmade noodles. Juichirou warned his son that his usual seat-of-the-pants, bold-for-bold’s-sake improv act won’t cut it against such highly-specialized talents as Nene. He has to know when to make a strategic pivot, not take the bait, and wait for an opportunity.

At the same time, his win over Hayama due having made something that best represented the chef he is, Souma isn’t doing a rarified-air flavor only a paltry few can comprehend, let alone enjoy. The “time and history” from which he’ll draw power is in his diner upbringing: creating flavors with wide appeal, yet elevated to gourmet status for the shokugeki.

We then pivot to the second of the three first duels, an eel battle between Isshiki and the never-before (by me at least) seen or noticed Shiratsu Jurio. Like Nene, he has a lofty pedigree; as his family has served the Italian consulate in Japan for years and is highly regarded in both countries’ culinary circles. He’s also a master of stagecraft with his various “rondos.”

Where Nene trash-talked Souma with mostly quantifiable facts and logic, Jurio tries to get under the almost eternally-cheerful Isshiki’s skin by castigating him for betraying his own bigshot family. When that doesn’t work, Jurio insults the Polar Star expellees, and immediately wishes he hadn’t.

Leave it to Isshiki to let all insults directed at him and his biological family slide off like raindrops off a fireman’s helmet, but hearing his beloved dormmates dragged lights in him a fire and energy that wasn’t there earlier in the match. Isshiki resolves to crush Jurio simply for running his mouth.

The third match is barely mentioned, but I’m sure we’ll learn more about the rarely-seen Megishima and virtually never-seen Kaburagi next week. As for who will win, well…I can’t see Souma ever achieving the goal of becoming first-seat if he can’t beat a sixth at her specialty. He’s gotta win, somehow.

Shokugeki no Souma 3 – 21 – The Storm

As the Central Elite Ten trains hard for the upcoming Team Shokugeki and an exhausted Erina sleeps soundly after standing up to her father for the first time, Souma, Megumi and Takumi finally learn what exactly happened between Jouichirou, Gin, and Azami back in the day when they were all Polar Star members at Totsuki.

As Souma hears from his pops and the other two hear from Gin, the three were inseparable friends, but Jouichirou was so far ahead of Gin and Azami in sheer culinary talent and innovation it wasn’t even funny. Gin, one of Totsuki’s most accomplished graduates, has a 20-101 record against Jouichirou. I doubt the Azami of the time would have fared any better.

Meanwhile, Jouichirou was a lot like Souma in not taking anything too seriously, and occasionally making weird gross dishes for lil’ Shiomi Jun to taste. We later learn the stark difference between why Jouichirou and Souma engage in such a practice.

(I’ll also note that the fact the three amigos are voiced by extremely talented veterans in the present works against them in the flashback; none of them sound remotely credible as middle/high schoolers.)

In the lead-up to Jouichirou’s entry into the predigious BLUE competition for up-and-coming chefs, he is challenged to a Team Shokugeki against one of Totsuki’s old money family heirs who wasn’t good enough to get into the Elite Ten. Jouichirou decides he’ll go up not only against this loser, but 49 of his friends in a 50-on-1 marathon.

You’d think Jouichirou would be at a huge disadvantage, but no number of inferior chefs can make up for a once-in-a-century talent like him, so it’s no contest. Gin is worried about the chef Jouichirou had to become in order to win such a contest, but Azami is delighted, as Jouichirou is nicknamed “The Demon” and is no longer seriously challenged by anyone at school.

Jouichirou continues to crush outside competitions, but as BLUE approaches, he slowly begins to shut down, no longer knowing what he’s doing or why. He ends up flaking out on BLUE, and Senzaemon, who had predicted that a talent as huge as Jouichirou would eventually turn in on itself.

Jouichirou, Gin, and Azami were at the top of the Golden Age of Polar Star, trudging through a great storm in the desert, seeking out new flavors and ways of doing things. But Gin and Azami let him get too far ahead, and he lost himself. Senzaemon suggests Jouichirou leave Japan—and leave cooking—for a time to try to restore what so much success had caused him to lose.

Years later Gin gets a call; Jouichirou has been back in Japan for a while, has a son and a diner. Gin is just happy he’s cooking again. But Azami isn’t as forgiving. He idolized Jouichirou, and seeing him brought so low was traumatizing. He isn’t just revolutionizing Totsuki and global cuisine to stick it to Jouichirou, but to make sure Jouichirou’s sad scenario is never repeated.

While admirable on some levels, it’s also a choice that will ultimately lead to stagnation. Jouichirou had the talent to go as far as he did, but lacked the tools to deal with the inevitable trials that befell him. His son is the opposite; perhaps far less talented, but a lot stronger when it comes to accepting his weaknesses, staring failure right in the nose and drawing strength from every setback.

It’s why Souma never stops battling his pops, even with an 0-490 record against him. And it’s why I believe Azami’s team will lose. After all, it won’t just be Souma out there alone.

Shokugeki no Souma 3 – 20 – Shattering and Clashing to Victory

When Gin and Jouichirou start bebopping and scatting all over the train kitchen, Takumi, Megumi, Souma and Erina have to find a way to contribute to the “music” the master chefs are playing, or fail the challenge. For Takumi and Erina in particular, it means leaving their comfort zones—the cooking philosophies they’ve always lived by—and going for gusto.

If they completely shatter or abandon everything they’ve known thus far, they risk losing their vital identities as chefs, but that’s not truly what’s going on here: they contribute in ways only they, with their uniquely amassed knowledge and experience, can contribute.

They’re not so much changing who they are, but changing how they use that, and in doing so unlocking another level in their growth.

The resulting hachis Parmentier from both teams scarcely resemble that classic French dish, yet both embody the spirit of the dish while elevating it into more rarefied culinary air. Senzaemon makes a last minute addendum to the rules of this mock battle: the four young participants, not he, will judge who deserves to win.

Everyone loses their clothes in foodgasms, and when the moment of truth arrives, the kids all point…at each other. Erina likens Team Doujima’s dish as a perfectly in-sync jazz band, while Takumi likens Team Saiba to an avant-garde group art project. In both cases, chaos is used to create things harmony couldn’t, resulting in dishes that are both cohesive in concept and strongly individualized in execution.

The point of Senzaemon’s mock battle wasn’t to decide who’d be the captain of the team that will face Azami’s Elite Ten. It was to get the youngins to experience their abilities firsthand in order to know what to expect of one another when the battle and the stakes are real.

And brother, is there anything realer, or more appallingly hilarious, than watching the ghost-white, skunk-haired Nakiri Azami skiing down a slope in his black suit? Talk about pumping him up as a Bond villain!

His collection of Central stooges also looks the part; they’re as diverse in personality and appearance as our rebels—and in the case of Eishi and Rindou, we’ve seen they have good sides—and yet because they’re determined to defeat the rebels at the behest of Azami, here and now they’re nothing but The Enemy.

Azami tries once more to bring Erina back into the fold simply by stating the duty of all Elite Ten members to obey his orders. He wants Erina on his team, and like almost everybody, expects Erina to be cowed by the certitude and force of his words and sheepishly defer to her father. Even Souma calls her a “doormat” when it comes to her dad—out loud!

But Erina stands her ground. If being the Tenth Seat means having to join Central in the Team Shokugeki, then she will simply relinquish said seat, and join the rebels as simply Nakiri Erina.

While impressed by her continued insolence, Azami comes back at her with one last stipulation in the Team Shokugeki: If the rebels are defeated, she will have to return to his side, commit herself to central, and never disobey him again.

Since losing means all her friends’ expulsions will stick, all the rebels still standing will be expelled, and her beloved Saiba-senpai will have to become Azami’s ally, Erina figures “what the heck, might as well add to the already epic stakes.”

She’s so pumped up by successfully standing up to her father that she starts acting like the Queen of the Rebels, vowing to take the First Seat once they are victorious. Takumi and Megumi like this new rebellious-yet-regal “Queen Erina.” Souma, while initially irked (since he wants to stand at the top of the Elite Ten), nonetheless pledges his life to her, along with the others, in the decisive battle to come.

Shokugeki no Souma 3 – 19 – Light at the End of the Tunnel

While Rindou has Souma and Erina hanging in suspense for a hot minute about the fate Megumi and Takumi, she ended up passing both. With just the four of them left, Souma proposes they challenge Central’s Elite Ten for their seats. With Erina and Akira they’ll have a majority of seats, and thus the power to reinstate their friends, and possibly sack Azami, stopping his grand plans in their tracks.

The only problem is, the Elite Ten members have to agree to even have shokugekis with the rebels. When Souma simply barges in and asks Rindou straight up, she laughs in his face; it’s not going to be that easy. Seemingly out of options, Erina decides she’ll appeal directly to her father to pardon her friend, hoping his love for her will sway him.

My peeps, it does not sway him. He has no reason to overturn the expulsions, and as someone who has carefully conditioned his daughter to do what he says, he’s not about to reverse that power dynamic just because Erina turns on the waterworks.

Souma calms Erina, and asserts the only way to make things right is in the kitchen. He formally asks for the right to challenge the Elite Ten, as it would solve once and for all whether Central’s cuisine truly is best, but Azami quite logically points out that Souma has nothing to offer to persuade Azami to allow the challenge, and so he will not do so.

That’s when Souma’s pops, Saiba Jouichirou, appears, along with Azami’s father-in-law Senzaemon.

Jouichirou repeats his son’s plea (after mussing Souma’s hair and angering him), but he is actually able to make it worth Azami’s while: if the rebels are defeated, he will bend the knee to Azami and his gastronomic philosophy.

Since virtually everything Azami is doing  with Totsuki is a means to beat his senpai Jouichirou, once he has assurances Jouichirou is serious he quickly agrees to let the challenge go forward: a Team Shokugeki between Central’s Elite Ten (well, eight of them anyway) and the rebels.

While aboard the train to the port that will no doubt take them to the island of this momentous shokugeki, Souma, Megumi and Takumi get a crash course in what a team shokugeki is: Individual team members duel with those on the other team, until only two remain. However, as the teams fight, they are able to help one another as needed, making up for one anothers’ weaknesses and filling gaps in the culinary work.

The kids later learn is was Doujima Gin who summoned Junichirou and Senzaemon, thus single-handedly saving the rebellion. He and Juni will be training them, and they decide the best way to do so is through trial-by-fire: a mock team battle. Gin, Megumi, and Takumi form one team, while Junichirou, Souma, and Erina form the other.

The one officiating and judging the battle (and who decided on the team makeups, as Gin and Junichirou constantly bickered over it) is Senzaemon-sama himself. He adds an extra wrinkle of difficulty by banning all chefs from verbal communication throughout the mock battle. With Gin and Junichirou as their teams’ respective captains, the kids serve as their assistants.

Both Takumi and Megumi quickly catch on by watching Gin make preparations for the featured dish (shepherd’s pie) and are able to have what he needs ready without his having to ask.

Team Jouichirou…has a bit of a rougher time at first. Jourichirou is one of the few people who can truly throw Souma off his usual happy-go-lucky, it’s-all-good vibe. It doesn’t take long for the bickering father and son to break Senzaemon’s no-talking rule, but since it’s a mock battle they’re merely sternly warned.

Erina, who is just chuffed to be cooking alongside her beloved idol Junichirou, has to serve as peacemaker…though even she breaks the no-talking rule while scolding Souma. Ultimately all four youngins start to realize their captains aren’t making run-of-the-mill shepherd’s pie, but putting their own individual spins on it (in Gin’s case, he’s making a “haute cuisine” version of the dish).

That’s key, because the whole point of challenging Azami and Central is that there are other paths to achieving great gourmet cuisine. Down-home shepherd’s pie ain’t gonna cut it. But more than that, the kids have front row seats for an unofficial but still heated duel between two former classmates in Gin and Jouichirou who are at the top of their games in very different ways and will never pass up an opportunity to go at each other.

That alone makes this training session well worth it, because as good as the Elite Ten kids are, these two are probably quite a bit better, owing to their experience.