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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Shokugeki no Souma – 12

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Hannah: You know Zane, there wasn’t even a battle in this episode, but I was still bowled over by how much power lay in the deliberations, judgement and, aftermath, along with the surprise resolution that actually served both parties, thus transcending the typical Good Guys Win, Bad Guys Lose formula. A Food Wars episode without a Food War might sound transitory, but it sure didn’t feel that way. Instead, what it felt like was a masterpiece.

Zane: I’m inclined to agree, Han, that was an emotional spin cycle right there! Even with the cookoff concluded, it still had all the elements I’ve loved from previous previous showdowns, what with the highly-detailed analysis of the dish and its unique, metaphorical effect on the alumni-judges. At least in this Shokugeki, 7 > 9!

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Hannah: I like that; and I’m no math whiz, as you know. I also liked how the warm, earthy, nurturing flavor of Megumi’s terrine each evoked a different benevolent deity forthe judges. It spoke to them in different ways, but it spoke to them all, touching their hearts in a way Shinomiya’s simply didn’t.

Zane: Yeah, those Megumi gods were the best! I also appreciated how Megumi decided her best option was to try to put forth the best damn veggie terrine she could, freed of the limitations of Shino’s recette. Her Mature-vs.-Fresh treatment impressed the judges, and also laid the groundwork for the excellent character work to follow.

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Hannah: Was your heart, just warmed by the effect of her food when she’s on her game, suddenly cleaved in two upon the sight of those three coins on Shinomiya’s plate, indicating our heroine’s defeat? Even though I knew this wouldn’t be the end for her or Souma, mine certainly was.

Zane: Absolutely. I also knew Shino’s far more technically proficient, real-world-tested, award-winning cuisine was going to blow Megumi’s earnest but sloppy effort out of the water. I mean, the guy has the Pluspol. The PLUSPOL, fer cryin’ out loud! And yet, the suddenness of the judgement, and the look on Megumi’s face as she realizes she’s done, still had impact.

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Hannah: That brings us to the Deus Ex Doujima [Gin], which turned out not to be what I thought. When he put his coin on Megumi’s plate, breaking the rules of the Shokugeki, I thought we were in for a predictable-ish 12 Angry Men scenario in which he convinces the other judges to change their votes one by one. What happened instead was…much better.

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Zane: It was…it so was! Last week Doujima opined that Shino was holding back against a student, and now we see why: he graduated from Totsuki, moved to France, and became the chef-owner of a restaurant, i.e. got to the top so frikkin’ quickly, he finds himself at the top of a precipice, unsure of his next move.

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Hannah: You gotta stop agreeing with me…it’s kinda freaking me out. Anyway. His stagnation is regression. He’s moved forward so forcefully by sheer will and talent, he’s left the heart behind…a heart he finds when he finally takes a bite of Megumi’s cooking.

I’m glad to see the tripartite Megumi-deities show up again, but I’m even more impressed that rather than a goofy ridiculous fantasy played for laughs, which is often how people react to Souma’s food, Megumi’s food creates a pang of nostalgia for Shinomiya, transporting him back to a simpler, safer time, before he was on a “knife’s edge.”

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Zane: It’s a beautiful memory, to be sure. And as you say, the other judges don’t change their votes. Doujima puts his coin on Megumi’s plate, followed by Shino himself. He scoffed at Doujima’s apparent “pity vote” for the loser, but now sees that the power of Megumi’s food must be acknowledged. …Then Hinako, who isn’t even a judge, puts a 500-yen piece (these guys are rich, after all!) on the plate, making the Shokugeki a tie. The rules are bent, but Shino not only approves of the bending, but is a dang part of it.

Hannah: The flashback of Shinomiya with Hinako and the others gives us a glimpse into how far back these guys go, and how they continue to want to look out for him. Doujima allows this shokugeki because he sensed Shinomiya was in a rut and crafted an opportunity to show, not tell, him what he was missing; what he lost sight of: caring for the customers. Showing hospitality, of which Megumi is apparently the goddess, at least in her class. Shinomiya found a way forward, while Megumi found her strength.

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Zane: Well said. I also enjoyed the little scene between Megumi and Souma on their way back to the hotel room. Free from the oppressive concrete and stainless steel of the basement kitchen, they now walk in a cool, soothing night, a great weight lifted. Megumi no knows without a doubt that Souma is a good person, someone she wants to keep cooking with for a long time yet, and thanks him for helping her get that opportunity.

Hannah: Yes, if it weren’t for his reckless gambit, she’d be packing her bags for home. But to his credit, Souma doesn’t take credit; he only provided a nudge—breaking through the light mesh of Shinomiya’s unfairness—in order to bust through the brick wall and inspire both the judges and the chef who would’ve expelled her, Megumi herself had to rise to the occasion and show what she’s made of…and she did.

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Zane: So, all’s well that ends well! Except when Megumi goes ahead, Souma expresses his intense displeasure with losing, smacking his fist against a wall so hard his friends notice it when he returns to the hotel room. However well things ended, he still drew, rather than beat, Shino, and Doujima saved both their asses. Even as the sous chef, he takes responsibility, and will likely take the draw as a bitter pill of wisdom: as we saw from Shino’s rise, you don’t always win.

Hannah: And that brings us to the midpoint of this awesome show that blends your love of cooking with my love of intense battles. I’m really looking forward to the second half, which I’m sure will be just as entertaining a watch.

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