Shokugeki no Souma 3 – 18 – INFINHONEY WAR

SPOILER WARNING: This review contains *major* spoilers for the Marvel film Avengers: Infinity War. This serves as a warning not to read on if you have not seen it yet and do not wish to be spoiled. Furthermore, there are a number of references to the MCU herein, so if you don’t know nothing about (or hate) any of that stuff, you have my apologies.

Let me make some comparisons. If Totsuki is the universe, Nakiri Azami is Thanos. Thanos wants to cleave away all of what he deems to be unnecessary excess form the universe, just as Azami wants to do the same with the academy. In both cases their end product will be something harmonious and sustainable only they had the will to make possible, and are convinced that once they’re done the universe (and academy) will be grateful for their efforts.

Polar Star and its allies represent the Avengers. However noble Thanos/Azami believe themselves or their efforts to be, they are, on a human scale, amoral and must be opposed. I won’t get bogged down into which chef is which Avenger, but suffice it to say that Azami has been their greatest foe to date, and this week they take their heaviest losses, which will make an already uphill battle feel…well, even more uphill.

Hayama Akira isn’t trying to save anybody other than Shiomi Jun and the research lab they built together, and decided the best way to do that was to accept and join Azami’s Central regime. But even Jun herself cannot support his decision. In joining Central he creates a rift, and for the first time, she isn’t there to watch him from the sidelines.

At first, it doesn’t seem like that matters. Soue, Cilla and Berta can tell Akira’s chicken-fried bear is superior to Souma’s dish before it even touches their lips, and upon finally digging in, Soue has a full-blown Explosion (the family history of which is hilariously explained by Gin). The sisters try in vain to identify all of the chemical reactions going on, but are overcome by their foodgasms.

Akira’s bear and dipping sauce combine to form a one-two punch to put the metaphorically boxing Souma on the ropes, and creating another metaphor: that of an impenetrable fortress of flavor mastery. The only problem is, Akira locked himself in that fortress alone.

It isn’t over yet, because the judges still have to try Souma’s dipping sauce (in an interesting twist, considering you’d think they’d have finished the first dish before starting Akira’s, and not mixed them in their palates). To everyone’s amazement, Souma’s sauce…is just plain better, do in large part to his use of a very specific kind of honey.

Suoe’s reaction is even stronger, evolving from “The Explosion” to “The Gift”, in which his spontaneous disrobing expands in waves to the sisters (though in the very next scene their clothes are back on…continuity!) With Akira’s superior bear and Souma’s superior sauce, the sisters split their votes, leaving Suoe to break the 1-1 tie.

It’s here where I’ll break out another Avengers metaphor and compare Souma to Tony Stark. Sure, he’s no monetary billionaire, but he has an embarrassment of human riches at his disposal, along with Hokkaido’s vast natural bounty. Like Tony, his ambition to improve his skills and his drive to never stop tinkering is virtually boundless. It has to be; just as Tony has no innate superpowers, Souma lacks a superhuman sense of taste or smell.

Souma ran Kuga’s Chinese RS battalion ragged darting from mountain to valley to stream and back again, collecting every flavor in the bear’s habitat that could be exploited to improve the dish even one tiny amount. He approached his culinary testing with a passion Akira simply didn’t match, because Akira was so focused on protecting Jun that he was relegated to testing without her insights or anyone else’s.

While Souma caught up with him, Akira actually backtracked; as delicious as his bear is, it can’t match the passion that went into his Autumn Elections-winning dish. And he knows it. Moreover, he sought perfection and balance in his dish, but gave no thought to who it was for, while Souma’s was painstakingly crafted specifically for Akira to taste it and say it was delicious.

Jun arrives on cue to give Akira a well-deserved slap across the face (Guardian of the Year Jun, everyone!) and tell him continuing the research lab doesn’t matter to her anymore. All she wants is for Akira to keep having fun cooking with kids his own age…because he is still a kid, after all.

Her sentiments hit Akira hard, and his eyes go glassy as a result. Suoe casts the deciding vote naming Souma the victor, Souma says his “Glad you enjoyed it” catchphrase, and we move on to whatever is next. Erina arrives, short of breath and mussed of hair, to learn to her great relief, that Souma has survived his latest trial.

But Jun’s wish for Akira to cook with his friends hits a snag. As a result of losing to Souma, Azami sends his aide Ebony Maw Sean Aida to inform him he’s been summarily expelled. Not only that, the rebellion has been decimated: Hisako, Ryo, Nikumi, Asami, Shun, Zenji, Daigo, Shiouji, Ryouko, Yuuki, and Alice…are all expelled.

That’s a purge to rival (or exceed) the effects of The Snap on the Avengers, and leaves you in a similar defeated mood, completely overshadowing Souma’s momentous achievement of finally beating Akira.

Megumi and Tekumi weren’t in the montage, nor were lesser potential rebels in Nao, Miyoko, Subaru, etc. But how in the hell are Souma, Erina, and whoever else managed to survive the massacre going to proceed? Something tells me Carol Danvers’ cooking skills aren’t gonna cut it…

Shokugeki no Souma 3 – 17 – The Gloves (and Clothes) Come Off

I may have been down on Akira for bending the knee to a tyrant like Azami, but I held out the possibility there was a good reason he was doing it other than self-advancement, and there is. Akira owes everything he is to his beloved Jun, and Azami threatened to make life extremely difficult for her if he didn’t cooperate, so he did.

That’s what Azami does: he finds your weak spot, but offers an out that suits his purposes before going in for the kill. Just because Akira is an amazing chef doesn’t change the fact that protecting Jun was more important than his culinary independence.

Thanks to Doujima, Souma and Kuga learn about Akira’s circumstances, but as far as Souma’s concerned, Akira still took the easy way out. Souma has no quarrel with Jun and indeed would lament contributing to her suffering in any way, but these are the cards he’s been dealt. His only choice to avoid expulsion is to defeat Akira, and that’s what he intends to do.

In the fairest and most impartial examination of this whole process thus far, Doujima introduces the judges: brain physiology genius sisters Cilla and Berta, along with Alice’s straight-shooting dad Suoe. There are no other Central machinations to make Souma’s job tougher; this is between him, Akira, and their cooking. May the best man win.

Everyone observing the two chefs immediately picks up on the fact that there’s a level of intensity they were not inspecting. Souma does not shrink before Akira’s objective superiority in spice, and both of them decide to take a great risk by frying the bear meat, which will either enhance the umami or amplify the smelliness.

The smell and tiniest taste of Hayama’s gravy is enough to “domesticate” the sisters, but Souma is the first to complete his dish, and after following Suoe’s lead, grabbing the hot cutlet with a napkin and digging in, Cilla and Berta are immediately relieved of their clothes. Souma took great risks, and walked the tightrope along with Akira, and it all paid off.

By grinding different cuts of the bear meat together, including meat close to the bone, Souma expertly crafted a “umami gradient” of a level of sophistication that not only impresses the sisters, but causes Suoe to bear his chest like his father, the former chairman, in recognition of Souma’s skill.

So Souma didn’t screw up, and won the respect and acknowledgement of three of the best minds in the business, regardless of age. But will it be enough to defeat Akira? Will the third time be the charm? Will it end in a draw, meaning he won’t be expelled? We’ll have to tune in next week to find out.

Shokugeki no Souma 3 – 16 – Embrace the Smelliness

So yeah, Akira is a member of the Central Elite Ten now (one seat above Erina, no less) after defeating his senpais to fill the vacancy. His ostensible reason for his decision to sense which way the wind is blowing is that he desires the very top spot at Totsuki, at any cost, and apparently that includes surrendering to the Azami administration.

In any case, Central has ceased “dirty tricks” and simply given Souma an opponent they’re confident can beat him in a fair fight, even if Souma is unlucky enough to be locked in his third straight battle requiring mastery of spices against, well, someone with more mastery of spices than he. It’s a BEAR BATTLE, boys and girls!

This episode doesn’t go into detail about what sacrifices if any Akira has or will have to make now that he’s a Central puppet; he seems to shoo away Azami’s handpicked testing team pretty quickly. Perhaps Azami is relaxing his rules on strict orthodoxy where Akira is concerned simply because even he cannot deny the kid’s preternatural talent, or perhaps likens his godly sense of smell with his daughter’s sense of taste.

Meanwhile, Souma is starting to sweat when he receives aid from an unusual place: Kuga-senpai, flanked by his loyal army of baldies. Kuga says he wants Hayama’s seat, but wants Souma to take it from him first in a Shokugeki, so he can then crush Souma and re-take the seat he lost. That makes him an ally, at least for now, and Souma can’t refuse allies right now.

Souma gets it into his head that the only way to get the full measure of understanding of bear meat is to head into its mountainous habitat and learn from a hunter who guides him and Kuga. They aren’t able to locate a bear, but Souma soaks up the knowledge like a sponge, and a chance tripping into a tree gets him thinking about using the medicinal schisandra berries to counter the intense gaminess of the meat.

He succeeds, but he’s only one rung higher on a ladder Akira finished climbing years ago, and Akira has no qualms about showing up in the test kitchen with his superior, Cajun-inspired spiced bear meat to intimidate his opponent. Kuga and his men can’t help but smell the gap in skill.

Souma is going to need his scrappiest effort yet to beat Akira, because he’s already failed twice, and the show has always been pretty adamant that he’s just plain better than Souma. It’s almost as if something will have to go wrong with Akira in addition to everything going right for him!

Shokugeki no Souma 3 – 15 – Maximizing the Value of the Humble Potato

The Central-loyalist instructor for Stage Two makes it even tougher for the rebels to succeed this week than last. By calling their names and hall designations last, their task of securing the missing ingredient in their noodle dish becomes all but impossible, as all the noodles, and ingredients for making scratch noodles, are already been exhausted. Worse still, there’s a severe blizzard outside, so can’t get to Sapporo in order to buy ingredients.

But the tighter Central turns the screws, the more the rebels huddle together and dig deep. Armed with their talent, as well as Erina’s invaluable Hokkaido seminar, they manage to make noodles for their dishes using one ingredient the instructors neglected to deprive them of: the potato. Specifically, the Irish Cobbler cultivar Hokkaido is famous for.

Megumi, Takumi, and Souma share raw ingredients so that there’s enough for each of them to make a “single serving”—another requisite for the stage the instructor laid out—and not only to they have no problem making noodle dishes that tear his clothes off, but all of the other rebels pass easily as well.

Almost too easily, if you ask me: I mean, if this instructor (and the one before him) were willing to stoop to dirty tricks, why not just lie and say the dishes sucked? Perhaps, subconsciously, “having no choice” but to pass the rebels is their own way of rebelling against Central. For them, unlike Azami, good food is good food. Their first loyalty will always be to their taste buds.

When the instructor hears word that Erina has coached them, he concludes that their passing the second stage is all thanks to her “mercy”, but Erina quickly chimes in and tells him he’s wrong. All she did was teach them about potatoes, everything else that led to them crafting gourmet-quality dishes came from their own innate talent as chefs. Truly, Erina is their gleaming knight, Joanne d’Arc.

She wouldn’t have wasted her time lecturing them if she didn’t think they were worthy. All she did was give a little nudge. And that night, when the students are allowed to sight-see in Sapporo, Erina joins her fellow rebels, and sees the city in a whole new light because of it.

Erina laments to the others that all the other times she’d been to Sapporo, she didn’t get much of an impression from it, since she was so busy in her duty as Nakiri heir and God Tongue tasting dishes. But someone who was able to watch her from a younger age disputes her: Nikumi, the one she shunned after she lost a Shokugeki to Souma.

Not only does Nikumi not harbor any hard feelings for being cut off by Erina-sama, but she humbly comments that she too might just know a tiny bit of the pressure to succeed for the sake of one’s family, and how she always looked up to Erina as a paragon of culinary excellence, and she’s glad she’s able to spend time with her once again. Erina is humbled by Nikumi’s words, and even feels shame for having treated her so badly in the past.

When Souma and Takumi meet up with Erina and Megumi, they all head to a restaurant for a big dinner in which to sample all that Sapporo has to offer. Those previous times Erina was there, she was alone, and all business. Now that she’s socializing with friends, her horizons have expanded…and she’s loving it.

Unfortunately, there are many more stages to come, and even though the four arrive at the train station at the designated time, they learn from Hisako that their train already left 30 minutes ago! Indeed, the rebels have now been split into four groups and diverted to four different venues for the third stage.

Oh, and the third stage will pit each rebel against a member of the Elite Ten. I’m not quite sure how that will work, as there are more than ten rebels who aren’t Erina…but perhaps it will be the trio of Takumi, Megumi and Souma working together against their Elite Ten opponent, whom Kobayashi Rindou presents to them as the newest member of the Ten: Hayama Akira. Oh, shit!

Shokugeki no Souma 3 – 13 – The God Tongue Officially Joins the Rebellion

…Aaaand we’re back. Good! I missed my Food Wars. The Fall cour of the third season ended with Erina learning that the irritating pest and hack chef Yukihira Souma’s father is none other than her beloved Saiba-sama.

Eishi gives a school-wide address about impending Advancement Exams that will no doubt drive this cour, and makes it clear in no uncertain terms that those who stray from Central’s edicts won’t make the cut. The morale among Polar Star’s ranks sinks at the news.

Erina, to her credit, doesn’t go on an “avoiding Souma” binge to forestall telling him what she’s learned. Instead, she comes to his room, in her nightgown, no less! She has something to say, wants Souma to hear it, and it can’t wait.

What she essentially tells him is that she’s lost. As God Tongue from a young age, tasting and cooking were merely tasks to be performed, and she never derived any fun from any of it…until on a rare day off she got to sample some of Saiba’s cooking. From then on, she got it: cooking could be fun and good enough to win over the God Tongue!

But not long after experiencing that fun, her father began her “education” in “good food is only what I say it is” culinary orthodoxy. She cannot easily cast aside that conditioning, even if she wanted to, and part of her understands the need for standards to be set and followed, even if Azami goes about it in far to harsh and oppressive a way.

As such, she’s torn between two opposing philosophies. Souma decides to try to put his finger on the scales, so to speak, and get back at her at the same time for telling him his food was disgusting the first time she tasted it. He wants to make something quintessentially Yukihira, to remind her of those fun yet refined flavors Azami tried to condition away, along with her passion for cooking.

Souma’s Polar Star peers worry he may be up to something, but Megumi assures them he’s on a mission to make her understand not only his philosophy, but all their philosophies. The rewards of “awakening” Erina to culinary freedom may be the key to Polar Star’s survival.

Souma ends up preparing a tempura egg rice bowl, the process for making which neither Erina nor the eavesdropping dorm-mates understand, until Souma lets them in on the secret: freezing the egg before coating and frying it. And not just any egg: a low-quality egg that was on sale at the local shops.

Not only does Souma achieve an aroma, texture and flavor that have Erina imagining countless tiny Souma-chickens gently pecking her naked body (yikes, that’s a foodgasm for the books), but he manages to debunk Erina’s firm belief that only the finest, rarest, highest quality ingredients can make a great dish. In this case, a finer egg would be too overwhelming due to the freezer’s effect on the protein.

As expected, Erina never actually says “delicious” as Souma bet he’d make her do, but he does remind her of Saiba, not just in his style of cooking, but how he talks about it. Cooking isn’t about following a book, it’s about taking risks. To paraphrase Julia Child, great cooking requires a multitude of failures. It takes risks that sometimes won’t pan out. And taking those risks is what makes cooking fun.

So even though Erina craftily takes her leave before giving Souma any answers about the taste of his bowl, the effects of the meal inspire her to call for all of Polar Star to assemble out front the next morning. It’s cold, and her first words to them are cold as well, rattling their cages before praising them for helping to teach her that not only is their value in cooking food that is “free”, but that such innovation-through-failure is essential to stave of culinary stagnation.

To that end, she challenges each and every Polar Star member to keep doing what they’ve been doing—cooking free food, failing, learning, and improving—and she’ll summon the full powers of her God Tongue to see to it each and every one of them pass the Advancement Exams. And so, Erina has officially taken a side against her Azami and Central.

I have no doubt that if the dorm-mates can cook food that impresses her, they’ll impress any and all impartial exam judges. The question is, how are they going to get non-Central-sanctioned food to the judges’ table? The Rebellion Continues…

Shokugeki no Souma 2 – 10

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This week marks the first time I can remember Isshiki or Eizen speaking this season, and it’s ultimately some exposition about how Eizen recruited Mimasaka to take down Souma. He failed, partly due to underestimating Souma’s rare ability to face down and work through his inadequacies without lowering his expectations.

By the end of Souma’s dish presentation, it wasn’t looking good, as his saury seemed a not insignificant number of notches below Hayama and Ryo’s. But he was about to reveal his trump card: seasoned soy milk, which turns the dish into a rich porridge where glutamic and inosinic acid play. Yum.

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The Chairman bares his chest (WWE-style); Leonora bares her eloquence (Lifetime-style), and all of a sudden, it’s looking like all three are in the running for the win. Their flavors were on par, while Souma’s exceptional creativity largely made up for the others’ superior ability to choose the best saury.

Being all but tied in so many ways, the difference maker was going to be the dish that best represented the chef who made it, the dish only that chef coule make; their specialty. And the winner is…

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Hayama. Hayama Akira. Akira, meaning “bright, intelligent, and clear.” He was a diamond in the roughest of roughs, abandoned in a slum. It was not only Jun’s compassion for helping one in need, but her belief Hayama’s sense of smell would “change the world”, much in the same way some veteran pilot would pluck a newbie out of humble beginning and upon the highest stage in the galaxy. Jun facilitated this, serving both as best friend, mentor, and surrogate mother.

The flashback is a bit schmaltzy at times, but it mostly works, even if the missing pieces to Hayama’s backstory come a bit late in the game, without time to really let them simmer (or age) like the ingredients in the final. It also let me feel okay about Hayama’s win over Souma. He earned it; he deserved it. And his rare showing of emotion, including giving an elated Jun a big ol’ hug (flustering the dickens out of her) was a great moment.

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By winning, Hayama Akira sits in the second position in their class’s ranking, just below Erina. But he won’t be alone and isolated up there, as Souma and Ryo stay in his orbit, stung by the defeat eager to taste the winning dish and compare it with their own.

The three are on the cusp of becoming friends (or at least colleagues) who respect each other and went through culinary hell together. They are all diamonds who will polish each other by smashing into one another, as Leonora eloquently puts it (with her bad Japanese).

While saying this, we see Alice’s head lying in her lap; she’s no doubt nearly as dejected as Ryo by his loss; while Erina watches Souma’s dorm clique heading off to celebrate from her lonely limo high above them. Souma’s dad also calls him, coming away glad Souma found a peer who could beat him; finding the motivation to keep improving.

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With the Autumn Elections finally over, the last act of the episode is a bridge between that ordeal and the next: the forebodingly-named Stagiaire, in which the first years are tossed out of the academy for practical training, presumably in real restaurants, serving real customers.

Before being warned about this by Jun, Souma and Ryo are all up in Jun and Hayama’s lab, which irritates him but makes her very happy, because it means despite his terrifying, monstrous talent, he’s still able to connect with others.

One of the essential elements of Totsuki Academy is simply proximity: that of young chefs to one another, gleaning new insights on cooking from each other. The Staigaire will affect that proximity, but expose the students to new stimuli aimed at sharpening their skills and opening their minds even further. Should be fun!

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Shokugeki no Souma 2 – 09

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The hall is rented, the orchestra engaged. Now it’s time to see who can DANCE.

There’s an extra drama to that ‘hall’, thanks to the retractable roof opening to reveal the autumn moon, the transit of which across the opening marks the match’s two-hour time limit. It also lends the festivities an extra air of drama.

Off the bat, Dojima is impressed that Ryo doesn’t exhibit the slightest bit of nerves, but Alice tells him that’s no surprise at all, after years of cooking against her. Ryo lost a lot, but that motivated him to become good enough to beat her…on occasion. That, in turn, angered Alice, who upped her game even more.

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The result is that Ryo creates explosively successful dishes that have elevated him to the finals. His herb butter-enhanced saury cartoccio is an “aroma bomb” that produces heretofore unseen reactions in the judges.

We get the rare “Grin” from the chairman, while Alice’s mom unexpectedly “bares” a much better command of Japanese, explaining the dish in great detail with perfect grammar.

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The rare reactions do not cause Hayama to waver, as he presents his saury carpaccio immediately after they finish Ryo’s dish. It seems pretty pedestrian until he takes a blowtorch to the fish, searing it and the kaeshi sauce glaze, while highlighting the since spice he used, allspice.

This stunt makes the entire arena feel like they’ve already tasted the dish before it even leaves the plate. The judges remark how the two competitors evolved in different ways after their tie in the semis, with Ryo doubling down on explosive force and Hayama refining his scimitar into a precise rapier or arrow.

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That leaves Souma with not one but two tough acts to follow up, especially since the judges are probably more used to eating two dishes before deciding a winner. For them, the match might already feel over, especially since what they tasted was so amazing.

Souma doesn’t flinch any more than Hayama did summoning the advice and know-how from his friends and rivals to help craft the proper blade to battle those of his opponents. It didn’t look like much at first, but he succeeds in exceeding the judges’ expectations and keeping pace with the others.

…Or does he? There’s much enthusiasm and praise, but once the initial glow of his dish wears off, Dojima and Leonora have set down their chopsticks, and the chairman’s robe remains on. Everyone assumes the match is over and that the winner will come down to Hayama or Ryo.

But Souma isn’t done yet. He insists the judges have seconds, and that they pour something over the rice and dig back in. I have no idea what that something is, but it’s sure to put him back in the running. I just hope that rally doesn’t result in a three-way tie. I feel there has to be a winner and two losers here.

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Shokugeki no Souma 2 – 08

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When we learned the ingredient for the Autumn Elections final would be something as pure and elemental Pacific Saury (AKA sanma), I had a feeling the show would go all out in explaining the multitudes the seemingly simply fish contains.

Sure enough, when Todoroki accompanies Souma to the bustling pre-dawn fish market (a setting begging for an anime dedicated to it), the two spout off the usual tricks for picking the best fish—which turn out to be woefully inadequate compared to Souma’s opponents.

Ryo is also at the market. Ryo has always been at the market. He’s gone every morning for ten years, continually sharpening his instincts for picking the best fish by sight and feel. Hayama regularly attends, but needs neither hands nor eyes—he can pick the best fish by smell.

Alice is there to explain the differing curves in rigor index and muscle breaking strength, but Ryo, like Hayama, doesn’t care about any of that; he just knows when the fish is best. Sure enough, an impromptu sashimi mini-duel proves Souma’s fish-picking ability is worryingly deficient, when compared to the harsh competition.

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In a rare display for Souma, he kinda freezes at the task before him: he has neither the natural instincts nor the time necessary to acquire them; on this matter, Ryo and Hayama simply have him beat. But as is so often the case with Souma, when he doesn’t like what’s being said, he changes the conversation (to paraphrase Don Draper).

Forget getting the the market first and picking the ideal fish; the other two will do it better. Instead, he’ll AGE the fish. He amasses a team of experts who just happen to be his friends/dormmates: Sakaki, Ibusaki, and Nikumi, a veritable dream team of food-aging consultants who are happy to lend their expertise.

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Souma experiments with salt, smoke, temperature, humidity, and time to make up for his deficiency in fish selection and create the ideal blend of mouthfeel and umami. Due to sanma’s general simplicity, there’s nowhere for one’s weaknesses to hide; but at the same time, one cannot win this final without bringing out the fish’s complexity, like one unlocks a door.

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Souma is close…very close. But Todoroko confirms his suspicion he’s still not quite there. With the final almost upon him, he comes up with one last idea that he doesn’t let anyone else (or us) in on. I like how the episode shows Ryo and Hayama’s doubt and unease when they see Souma isn’t there. They know he hasn’t thrown in the towel, so what is he up to?

That little scene of the two thinking is crucial, because it shows that Souma isn’t simply up against two elite heavyweights, but two other human beings with their own insecurities and uncertainties. They’re very very good, but they’re not invincible; no one is.

The day of the long-awaited final is marked by the introduction of a new third judge to accompany Dojima and Senzaemon…and it’s Alice’s mom from Denmark! She is every bit her daughter’s mother, even teasing Erina with Alice. And the initial sight of her as some kind of norse goddess being totally undone by her woeful command of Japanese created a big laugh.

This was a great build-up to the final, and increased by regard for samna immensely. Too bad my roommate can’t deal with all the bones!

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Shokugeki no Souma 2 – 07

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Unlike the past few Autumn Elections battles, I didn’t have a horse in this race. I like Kurokiba and Hayama…just fine, and while Hayama carries himself like he’s the best of his generation (and just might be), there’s a fire to Kurokiba (only once he has his bandanna on) you just can’t sell short.

They also have strong women supporting them, with Jun serving in a nurturing maternal capacity as mentor (despite the visual suggestions of bondage) while Alice treats Kurokiba more like a ferocious feral beast she keeps calm until it’s time to be unleashed on his prey.

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What got me into this battle between guys I don’t have strong opinions on was the featured audience: Souma somehow ends up being able to sit with Erina, and Alice soon joins them to complete a Nakiri Souma Sandwich.

Alice is a vital resource on All Things Ryo while Erina’s wealth of culinary knowledge and insight are well-documented. He couldn’t have two better people to help him scout his future opponent, whether the raptor or the tiger prevails.

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Hayama’s aloof calm (as the soaring bird) irks the nearly-manic Kurokiba, but Hayama soon demonstrates he doesn’t have to yell and shout, because his spices do all the talking. He commands the entire arena with his waves of fragrance and grasps the judges in his talons of flavor.

When Kurokiba’s dish arrives, Judge Taki (who almost got in a brawl with the similarly fiery chef) is unimpressed with the aroma, but her false sense of security and confidence are soon undone. Ryo was lurking in the bushes, and strikes with an electrifying bomb of plums within the eel. Very vivid foodgasms this week, if far from the weirdest or most creative the show has done.

It’s all too fitting that I had a problem deciding who I wanted to win, though Ryo is probably the more interesting/unconventional one (as well as the underdog), because the judges can’t decide either! Four of them split the vote, and the fifth, Sonoka, cannot choose one over the other.

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Doujima decides to recommend both chefs move on to face Souma in an unprecedented three-way final. Chairman Nakiri allows it, shocking everyone, including Hayama and Kurokiba, who both seem pretty sore about not being able to knock the other out of the competition.

But hey, the OP had been teasing this all along this season, and here we are: a chef with encyclopedic knowledge of spice and how to wield it, a chef with a surging inner fire of molten lava, and Souma – who I daresay is somewhat between the superego and id of the other two, and perhaps the best of both worlds.

Totsuki’s first ever 3-way Autumn Election Final will feature Pacific Saury, something I can easily grab from the H-Mart should I get the urge to attempt to duplicate one (or all) of the dishes they come up with. But it also symbolizes each of the three chefs’ strengths: it’s fragrant (Hayama), it’s seafood (Kurokiba), and it has strong roots to the common people (Souma). Should be an epic match.

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Shokugeki no Souma 2 – 03

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Megumi lost. You knew she was always going to lose, if going by the spoilery OP that showed Kurokiba, Souma, and Hayama as three of the finalists. But it wasn’t a blowout by any means. While Senzaemon did not go shirtless, he did go loincloth-less, something he didn’t notice until getting up to leave. There’s veins of greatness within Megumi left to mine; she just didn’t mine enough to beat Kurokiba.

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The OP also hints that Hayama will be one of the victors, and it only feels more likely when he rejects Jun’s assertion that he’s already made her proud by advancing past the prelims. Arato Hisako also pledges to win for Erina-sama, while Takumi vows to defeat his foe for his brother’s sake. All have people they love whom they don’t want to let down. But at least one of them will; two if the fourth guy wins.

Who is the fourth guy? The huge motorcycle punk Mimasaka Subaru, who finally introduces himself to Souma. Rather than give him a ride to the arena, he locks up his bike right there and they continue on foot together. His bike-locking procedure, like everything else he does, underscores his obsessive attention to detail, which belies his appearance.

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SnS actually switches things up by not having the arena audience and judges be the only spectators. Mimasaka warmly invites Souma, Megumi, and Takumi to his standby room to watch the fight, and we learn more about him by watching his reactions to the match between Hayama and Hisako.

While the former tends to an impressive cylinder of doner kebab, Arato seemingly pulls out all of her medicinal stops by using every bit of a Chinese soft turtle (or suppon) that she personally butchers on the spot (exciting Nao) without flinching to craft a very inventive hamburger.

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I say “seemingly” since throughout her cooking, she aspires only to walk “close” to her beloved Erina, “following a few steps behind.” In essence, she’s conceding the top spot to someone else, which is certainly reasonable considering Erina’s talent; but it’s not ambitious enough.

Hisako’s burger is creative, beautiful and delicious; it excites both the taste buds and the soft palate with its exquisite texture, and it also restores vigor by right of being crafted with her extensive knowledge of Chinese medicine.

It even sends Senzaemon into rapture, as he imagines a Godzilla-style Hisako turtle monster roaming the streets; he growling noise she makes while doing so is fantastic.

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But “Details” Mimasaka knows what I knew: Hisako was going to lose to Hayama. Even if Souma, Megumi, and even Takumi don’t quite see it, he sees it all too early. Hayama brings the full galaxy of spice lore to bear on his kofte, doner kebab, and pita “burger.”

Perhaps Hisako’s largest flaw in her dish is the ever-important “pickles” component. She used ginger and ginger alone; Hayama made achaar with onions and a dozen other ingredients to create a pickle unlike any other that made what looked like a heavy, overbearing meat-filled bread pocket into something the judges salivate for like ravenous dogs and inhale just as quickly as said dogs.

Miss Secretary created a dish that doubles as lunch and medicine, but the Sultan of Spice hijacked the basic human instinct for food and blew it up. Even Hisako herself realized she could not win against that.

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Hayama twists the knife by calling Hisako’s goals and cooking “too small”, and she rushes out of the theater, straight past Erina, the number one she never considered trying to supplant.

That takes us to the next match: Takumi vs. the Mimasaka guy. Like Yuki in Momokuri, Mimasaka has been stalking Takumi and knows every last detail about him. Because of that, he knows how to get under his skin: by badmouthing his brother. It works, and the match becomes a Shokugeki, the winner of which is not clear from the OP (at least from what I saw).

That’s fine; whether or not an OP spoils things is beside the point; what matters is enjoying the battles and watching how one chef’s unique skillset and style beats another chef, not necessarily which chef will win.

I entered this episode with an empty stomach, and like many other episodes before, took basic culinary knowledge I was aware of and took it further, demonstrating new and exciting methods and combinations of flavor. Now that it’s over, I really do need to eat something.

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Shokugeki no Souma – 21

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Sleeping Souma was a red herring! He was just nodding off a bit waiting for the perfect time to add his spices and fill the kitchen arena with a tantalizing aroma that even Hayama Akira must acknowledge has promise. But that’s pretty much it for Souma this week, as all eyes are on Megumi in much of the episode’s first half. Just when the “bumpkin” is being chastised for her lack of showmanship and clumsiness, she unveils a giant monkfish hanging from a tripod.

After remembering how hard she trained back home, under the tutelage of a big burly fisherman, she prays for Souma to lend her some of his courage, then butchers the ungainly fish like a pro, impressing everyone, even then very hard to impress Hojo Miyoko. Both girls have had to work that much harder to gain the respect of their elders due to their gender, and in Megumi’s case, her gentleness. But she’s a lot tougher thatn she looks, and proves it again here.

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With that performance, the clock runs out and the cooking is complete. Now all that’s left is for the five judges to grade the students’ dishes on a scale of 0-100 (with each judge having 20 points to award). Even though they heap praise on the first dish, they award a measly 33 points, jaded as they are by years of impeccable culinary excellence, “pretty good for a student” ain’t gonna cut it.

Student after student fails to break 40 points (50 being something to be proud of), and when Sadatsuka Nao unveils her putrid-smelling dish, I figured her to be the first chef to earn precisely zero points. And yet, she not only broke 40 point barrier, but was awarded 84 out of 100 to shoot up to the lead. Once the judges held their noses and tasted her horrifying kusaya-infused jet-black curry, they became enthralled in its bold, assertive flavors. In other words, they all fell under her curse. BDSM also comes into it, as all the judges willfully submit to Nao’s gastronomic punishment.

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With Nao having set the standard for her group thus far in the most unorthodox way possible, her arch-nemesis and rival for Erina’s heart (and verbal abuse) Arato Hisako steps to the plate with a seemingly safe-looking curry bowl made with mutton. But her approach, steeped in her family’s traditional focus on Eastern medicine and medicinal cuisine, has the opposite effect on the judges, purifying and revitalizing them rather than beating them into submission.

Hisako’s dish is essentially the antidote to Nao’s, which is apropos considering their diametrically-opposed personalities. Both are great chefs, but Nao cooks for her own sake, while Arato claims to cook for the sake of others, including Erina. She even gives Nao a bowl, destroying “Dark Nao” in a cascade of medicinal light and giving rise to a much purer “White Nao.” Nao’s defeat is so complete, her masochistic side causes her to shift her fixation from Erina to Hisako. Love is in the air!

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I’m guessing this is how the remainder of the episodes will pan out: episode 22 will cover the judging of the Aldini brothers, Alice, Megumi, and possibly a few others not seen in the preview (like Miyoko and Yuuki); episode 23 be Souma and Akira, and 24 will be the wrap up. That’s assuming this show will end at just 24 episodes…which if you ask me and Hannah, would be a crime.

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Shokugeki no Souma – 20

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With just four episodes left after this one (barring a second 26-episode season, not outside the realm of possibility), Food Wars will likely dedicate them to the Autumn Elections, meaning it no longer has the luxury of spending an episode focusing on one, two, a handful, or a smaller group of students.

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It must focus on all of them, including quite a number of recently-added newbies, all from diverse backgrounds and with diverse goals. One uniting factor is that a lot of them either admire Souma and want to see what he can do, or want to beat him…or both. Still, the character sprawl and the necessity of checking in on everyone both before and during the big preliminary round results in a somewhat breathless, unwieldy affair.

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If, for instance, you like what Alice is up to in her futuristic sci-fi kitchen, or what Nikumi is carving up, that’s kinda too bad, since the episode can only afford occasional peeks at each chef in order to cover all of them. New characters like Hayama, Hojou and Nao (whose late introductions are another hint that this show could keep going after this first round of 24) eat up some of that time.

Everyone’s jockeying for space and attention, and the episode gets a little whiplashed. At the same time, that’s part of the appeal: variety of the spice of life, be it real spices, or characters and methods of cooking, and there’s plenty of it here.

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The main rivalry in this preliminary three-hour curry cookoff seems to be Souma vs. Hayama, and both have been preparing for months, pulling many all-nighters in the process. But while Hayama seems on top of his game and is already attracting the attention of the prestigious judges, when we check in on Souma for the first time, he’s asleep. Looks like he’ll have to come back from behind one more time.

Let’s face it: We know he’s going to be one of those eight finalists to move on to the elections proper, but knowing that is neither as important nor all that detrimental to our present anticipation and future enjoyment in watching how he succeeds, as well as who the other seven will be. There are so many great chefs to root for and choose from.

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