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.
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.
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.
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!