Shokugeki no Souma – 17

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Zane reviews this week’s Food Wars.

I should have known Souma’s homecoming wouldn’t consist of kicking back and relaxing…or rather kicking back and relaxing the way normal people do on vacation. Though he only intends to “air out” the diner, when classmates and townsfolk see the shop open, they swarm to him, and he’s more than happy to feed them.

Then a nexus of elements conspire to put him in the middle of a shopping district-saving karaage challenge, and he can’t help but put every effort into it. The kid simply doesn’t turn off. Nor does the show’s hunger for heightened tension through competition, no matter what the challenge is.

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His return home also marks the return of his adorable classmate Kurase Mayumi, on the surface one of the show’s plainest and least charismatic characters. Yet in a show replete with colorful, eccentric personalities, Mayu actually stands out due to her relative normal-ness.

She couldn’t be more different than the glamorous, scantily-clad buxom, low-voiced meat-expert Nikumi, who enthusiastically accepts Souma’s call to pay him a visit without question or complaint (and whose T&A have their own proprietary sound effects). I take that back: they’re similar in one very important way: they both like Souma.

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More to the point, they both feel threatened by one another. Nikumi fears the chipmunk-like Mayu is the type of gal Souma goes for; Mayu fears Nikumi is actually Souma’s girlfriend, and is so blown away by her sexiness she forgets they’re in the same grade. Truth be told, I’m a Souma x Megumi shipper and thus not really in this particular fight, but the two make for a fun duo flanking a predictably oblivious Souma.

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The three stop by the wildly popular Mozuya specialty karaage shop that is cleaning up from its primo location in the newly renovated train station shopping arcade. The lady in charge is the volatile, venomously competitive (and hilarious!) Nakamozu Kinu, who isn’t content to just clean up, but also dance on the corpses of the shopping district losers she’s stealing business from. When she learns Souma & Co. are there to scout, she isn’t the slightest bit intimidated, because Mozuya is an award-winning, financially burgeoning karaage giant.

Mozuya reminds me of Chik-Fil-A, a local fast food chain in America that also specializes in chicken. Every store is a well-oiled machine, whether it’s in a mall or a standalone. Every time I go, I’m met with uncommon (to American fast food at least) courtesy and hospitality from an obviously highly-trained and motivated staff, regardless of how busy it is…and it’s always busy.  I’ve made complicated orders for large groups during the lunch rush, and always get the order within a minute or so of placing it. It’s uncanny.

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Chik-Fil-As are, in fact, run so well, it’s almost suspicious, like there’s something sinister at work. And that’s the same vibe I got from Mozuya. Nakamozu certainly has her merciless, sinister side, which thoroughly unsettles foodnorm Mayumi well after they depart. Souma and Nikumi, on the other hand, are used to that kind of tension, and have been through culinary hell together; this is just another challenge to overcome.

But it’s not going to be easy. Mozuya has been perfecting its recipe for years, and though Mayu is a game taste tester, Souma isn’t able to create any test batches of karaage remotely good enough to topple the giant. The ultra-rich and thus out of touch with the real world Nikumi suggests fighting fire with a tactical nuke, AKA her family’s vaunted A5 beef, but her idea of “affordable” is over three times Souma’s price ceiling.

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Even if profits aren’t as important as victory to Nikumi, Souma isn’t just trying to win; he’s trying to revitalize the shopping district. So it’s interesting that it’s Mayumi, a native of the town like Souma, gives him the spark he needs to move forward by suggesting playing to the strengths of the district rather than playing on Mozuya’s turf.

As he works out what he’s going to do, Nakamozu has a call with her restaurant advisor, who happens to be one of the Elite Ten along with Isshiki and Erina. That means if Souma can somehow defeat Mozuya, that will speak volumes to his ability to take on said Elite Ten. Not a bad feat to pull off while on vacation!

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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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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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Shokugeki no Souma – 11

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Shinomiya concedes that shokugekis of the type Souma proposes aren’t unprecidented, but like any other shokugeki, they requite the consent of both parties; consent he’s not willing to provide. That would be that, but Doujima Gin, who is running this show and its venue, and Inui decide otherwise.

Gin authorizes an unofficial or “street” shokugeki in the basement kitchen of the resort annex. If Souma and Megumi wins, they’re both still in Totsuki. If they lose, they’re both expelled.

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Not suprisingly, Megumi feels responsible for putting Souma in this predicament, but he won’t have her blaming herself for a choice he made. He says he made it because it’s not time for her to drop out yet, but the unspoken reason is, of course, she’s a dear friend who he couldn’t stand by and watch get unfairly washed out. They’re in this together now, because that’s what he wanted.

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When the contestants, Gin, and four other alumai judges assemble in the basement kitchen, Gin sets the rules: two hours, veggies leftover from the day’s training sessions, and most importantly, Megumi is the head chef who will be going up against Shinomiya. Souma will be a sous chef, nothing more, who must follow Megumi’s vision without alteration.

The reason for this is both plain and very welcome: if Souma is in charge and wins the shokugeki for Megumi, she’ll remain a tagalong, and continue to need to be saved by him. By putting her in the chef’s seat, Gin is hoping this shokugeki is the crucible through which they’ll finally see what Megumi’s made of, and whether Souma is justified in believing it’s worth un-expelling her.

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I loved the playful banter and horseplay between Gin, Shino, and the judges; all of whom are old classmates, if not friends who’ve known each other a long time. They also keep each other in check, the same way Aldini’s more reasonable brother kept him in check as his character was built, so not even Shino can become a full-blown villain.

Of course, the fact she’s going up against a seasoned, up-and-coming French chef-owner straight up freezes Megumi, until Souma slaps her hands together with his, a trick that always stops his hands from shaking, but require two people to do it. The message is clear: he’s here for her, only this time he’s behind her rather than the other way around.

She needn’t be concerned about her opponent or what he’s making, all she can do is put everything she has into her dish, using the skills she’s honed since she used to watch her mom cook as a young girl. Watching her stride proudly into battle with Souma as her trusty sidekick was a great image.

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Also a great image? DAT CHOU FARCI. Honestly, I’ve had cabbage rolls before, some delicious, some gross, but never anything like Chef Shino prepares. The judges put on a clinic in gastronomic know-how in analyzing his dish, and the animators do a great job whetting my own appetite by showing us the intricate step-by-step of its preparation.

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The foodgasm fantasy of the week is the four judges playing off of the fact it tastes like Shino put a spell on his dish, turning them into a magical girl team, complete with Gin in drag. I’ll admit, I’d probably watch a couple episodes of that show!

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Alas, this battle is not settled this week; in fact, we only catch a passing glimpse of the fruits of Chef Tadokoro’s labors, though we saw that she and Souma are like a well-oiled machine, with him supporting her in everything without making his own tasks suffer or taking over. You can literally see Megumi’s confidence surge as they cook, but she gets nervous again when it’s time to present.

Again, Souma gives her the push she needs to approach the alumni with her dish: an elaborate and delectable-looking terrine, this time not limited by Shino’s recette. We won’t know how they feel about it until next week, but we do know one thing: Shino held back, believing he could beat Megumi without breaking out his signature dish (or food bankai, if you will.) While Gin doesn’t think it likely Shino will lose, he does wonder if Shino’s arrogance is his Achilles Heel.

My take? It probably is. If Megumi really put everything she is and has into that terrine, while Shino just kinda half-assed things (at least by his standards), I believe the judges will be able to taste the difference.

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Shokugeki no Souma – 10

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Somewhat predictably based on how we’ve seen her act around Souma before, Erina is not particularly prepared to bump into Souma in the hallway after taking her bath. To whit: she denies she was humming the ED (she was, like Souma) and claims she’s not interested in playing cards later (which she is, as Hisako procured cards from the front desk). Still, it was nice to see a slightly more vulnerable side of her, even if she tried her darnedest to keep up a hostile front.

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Souma, who is perfectly comfortable expressing his happiness at being through the day’s trials, maintains his “whatever” attitude, and is surprised to find Doujima Gin already in the bath, stretching and making manly noises. While Gin oozes super-manliness, Souma isn’t intimidated, and the two actually bond, with Gin telling him more about Erina and her “God Tongue.”

Souma, not the sharpest tack with non-cooking-related things, realizes Erina beat him to the baths. He also learns Isshiki was the first back last year. He’s among greatness everywhere he looks, and fulfilling his wish to graduate at the top of his class will be no small feat.

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Thankfully, Souma’s whole dorm of first-years are able to survive the first day, and while many of them are all gung-ho about enjoying their fancy digs and playing through the night, those same people fall asleep quickly. Megumi doesn’t, though: fighting alongside Souma and rising to the occasion both with the first challenge and with dinner, she’s so full of confidence, she’s wide awake even though she’s exhausted.

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So naturally, the second day consists of a challenge that immediately puts that newfound confidence to the test by taking away her security blanket (Souma) in an every-person-for-themselves battle to prepare the best nine vegetable terrine for one Shinomiya Koujirou, who washed out 30 students in the first day.

Megumi initially freezes up at the sight of the bedlam before her, but clenches her fists and joins the fray, grabbing all the vegetables she needs…save one: the only cauliflower left when she gets to them are discolored due to oxidation. And in a dish where looks are as important as flavor, discolored cauli will sink her.

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I liked how Shinomiya gave Souma’s dish one bite, pondered it, and said “Pass.” No foodgasm, no elaborate fantasy; this guy is all business, and you don’t get any extra fanfare or praise for doing your job. Even Souma seems surprised by the lack of reaction.

But this isn’t Souma’s show this week; it’s Megumi’s. The A-part ended with a portentious scene of Megumi’s dish failing and Shinomiya expelling her, and that’s exactly what happens here. Yet even though we were fairly warned it would happen, when he brings the hammer down my heart sinks right along with Megumi’s.

The kicker: Shinomiya, while a dick, has a pretty ironclad reason for washing her out: she changed the chef’s recipe without his leave. Sure, the resulting dish was a success, but the point of the exercise was to show whether one was quick and tough enough to secure the freshest ingredients the fastest, and in this Megumi failed.

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But again, Shinomiya IS a dick, because there was no reason to include unfresh vegetables other than to increase the number of students who failed. Had she gotten a good cauli, she would have surely passed. Basically, Shinomiya’s logic is flawed, because in a restaurant situation, with a hungry customer waiting for a terrine, you’d probably do what Megumi did…though not necessarily in haute cuisine

At the end of the day, I’m siding with Megumi because I like her and don’t want her to go away, even if it’s unrealistic to expect everyone Souma knows to make it past the training camp, let alone graduate. It’s a bullshit reason to expel someone, and I’m glad Souma is standing up for her, even though the last thing she wants is for someone else to get expelled on her behalf—by challenging Shinomiya to a shokugeki. 

Shinomiya is by far the toughest foe he’s ever gone up against, so it should be a hell of a fight.

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Shokugeki no Souma – 09

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Aldini Takumi and his bro made a pretty bangin’ dish for Chef Hinako, but when pondering his response, Souma shows that two can tango. As soon as he asked Hinako to repeat the condition of the test about using anything inside the confines of the hotel grounds, I knew he was going for her beloved rice crackers, which means unlike all of the other students who are grilling the char, he’s now got a coating with which to deep fry it.

Now that’s resourcefulness; hinging one’s entire dish on a snack the judge just happened to have on her. I also like the cut from students wondering why Hinako was known as the “Empress of Mist”, to the “mists” of tea steam emanating from her, explaining the nickname.

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I also like SnS‘s insitence, at least at this point in the game, to have rivals, not villains or antagonists, face off against Souma. Takumi is a rival. He left home to attend this academy specifically because he wants to go toe-to-toe with worthy rivals like Souma. He’s even worried and apologetic when he accidentally crushes Souma’s crackers, afraid he may have inadvertently sabotaged Souma’s dish. Luckily, he needs those crackers pulverized.

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Also heartening: as down to the wire and in the dark as she initially was for this test, Megumi doesn’t just shrink before the task at hand. Once it’s Go Time, she’s fighting right beside Souma, delicately preparing the mountain veggies she has experience foraging for back home as he bones, coats, and fries the fish.

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The final dish that’s served is, like every other one he’s made (except the peanut butter squid) looks tantalizingly scrumptious, especialy that airy egg, oil, and herb dipping sauce.

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We knew this dish was going to be a hit with Hinako, it was just a matter of what spit-take-inducing fantasy she’d have in her taste-ecstasy. SnS doesn’t dissapoint here, either, with a mermaid Hinako (with an embellished bust) being taken into the muscular arms of an anthropomorphized rice cracker. You gotta love the creativity of  SnS‘s visual symbolism.

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Hinako passes Souma and Megumi, but contrary to her agreement with Takumi, never determines whose dish is superior. This is either because she’s a bit of an airhead (another reason for her “Empress of Mist nom de guerre”) or because she’s deliberately toying with the overeager guys. Probably a bit of both.

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And in the end, it doesn’t matter whose dish was better: both Souma and Takumi learned that the other is the real deal, and more importantly, someone they’d never have met if they both stayed in their family restaurants. Only by putting your skills up against others and being exposed to their methods can these two find their true passion; the passion that will take them beyond merely surpassing their elders.

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And that’s a wrap….oh wait, no it isn’t. We get Bonus SnS this week, which underlines how strenuous the training camp truly is. Poor Yuuki thinks they can kick back with extravagant meals prepared for them by the hotel staff, a nice hot bath, and a sumptuous hotel room. But she and the other students are the hotel kitchen staff, and they have to make 50 servings of a steak set each before they can feed themselves, to say nothing of the other comforts of the hotel.

Yuuki is crestfallen, but it’s not long before the intense situation puts her into Battle Mode, feeding an endless horde of ravenous bodybuilders, wrestlers, and football players. It’s good training for those who wish to run a restaruant, no matter what kind it is.

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Unsurprisingly, “Short-Order” Souma is the first to finish, and doesn’t even break a sweat. He heads cheerfully to the communal bath, certain he’ll have it all to himself. But as an extended version of the lovely ED plays and he sings along to it, an equally cheerful and relaxed Erina is singing the same song. It ends with the lyric “Fate is the spice of life” as the two bump into each other, as if by fate. Be it cordial or hostile, I look forward to seeing how this encounter pans out.

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Shokugeki no Souma – 08

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This week’s Food Wars leaves the confines of the school for an elaborate “training camp”, held on the premises of Totsuki’s famed (and very highly-priced) resorts. Isshiki warns his juniors that the purpose of the camp is to thin the herd; in some cases half of the students who participate end up on the expulsion block.

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Predictably, Megumi’s a nervous wreck, while Souma is perfectly relaxed, as he even calls out to “Nikumi” (a nickname he’s decided to use and she’ll just have to accept it) fresh off his victory over her. While I hope not every girl he beats gets the hots for him, I do like how nicely her haughtiness has been neutralized.

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Once at the resort, the students learn their various camp tasks will be judged by Totsuki alumni, all of whom went through this themselves and survived to graduation, and celebrity restaurateurs, who will be treating the students no differently than they treat their staff. If they’re no up to snuff, boom expelled. One judge makes their meaning plain by kicking out a kid just for having scented hair product.

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She’s paired with Souma again, to her sweet relief this time. The first time she thought she’d paired with a troublemaker who was all talk; but now she and many others know differently: he’s a troublemaker who is more than all talk. In fact, most of the talk is directed at him from one Takumi Aldini, who along with his fraternal twin bro Isumi, work at their family trattoria in Italy. Like Souma, he’s already a pro who’s served and satisfied thousands of customers.

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On top of their alumni judge Inui Hinako (a bubbly yet ruthless Noto Mamiko)’s challenge that they forage the resort grounds for the ingredients needed to create a Japanese-style dish, Takumi makes it a battle between him and Souma, with Inui deciding who’s best. In a nice character moment, Inui refuses, leaving Takumi stranded on his high horse, with even his own bro laughing at him. I like how everyone on the show is aware of Takumi’s overzealousness, as if he knows he’s in a shounen battle anime.

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He may be fiery, but he and Asumi are also one hell of a team, being the only students to find a duck, then perfectly timing their work to finish first with a Japanese-Italian fusion dish that makes Inui imagine herself in a Pavarotti-like opera singer’s arms as he serenades her while wearing a duck hat of sorts, in another bizarre foodgasm.

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Nikumi fell into a trap of “the best ingredients always win, period” and got clobbered by Souma, but these Aldini boys are a lot sharper and scrappier. The more limits you impose on them, the more creative and amazing the food they dish out. They’re a lot more on Souma’s level. On top of that, the brothers operate like a well-oiled machine, an efficiency we haven’t yet seen with Souma and Megumi.

Not only does Souma have to use river fish—the same thing everyone else is using—but he also has to properly coordinate its preparation with Megumi in the time remaining. Hopefully they Aldinis don’t try to sabotage them on top of all that, because their hill is steep enough as it is. Will Souma be able to turn Takumi’s loathing into grudging respect? I suspect so. What I look forward to is watching how.

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Shokugeki no Souma – 07

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Let’s face it: We all knew exactly how this would end. For all her bluster, trash-talking, attempts at mind games, and peerless A5 Wagyu Beef, Nikumi was going to loooooose. Souma wasn’t getting expelled, and the club he stood for wasn’t going to be shut down. The haters were going to hate. Souma just cooked; and outcooked Nikumi on the only field that matters: the field of a don battle.

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Her precious meat may be singular, and she may have formidable skill, flair, and grace in butchering, searing, roasting and slicing said meat (Erina compares her to a pianist, equal parts strength and delicacy). To the show’s credit, Nikumi IS a phenomenal chef, especially with meat.

But while here meat is fresh and beautiful and marbled six ways from Sunday, she’s been spoiled by it. Her arrogance and refusal to take Souma seriously cost her dearly, though you can’t blame her when Souma whips out discount half-off discount sirloin from the supermarket, seemingly spitting on the entire Shokugeki institution.

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Her meat is so lovely, laid out like a flower atop garlic rice, Nikumi tries to make it the star of the don, litterally sitting on top like oil on top of water. The rice is just okay, but the dish suffers in its essential don-ness, or cohesiveness, because the meat clobbers everything else in that bowl. The judges are impressed by the ingredients and preparation, as they should be, and are highly skeptical Souma’s dish is even worth trying.

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But this is Souma we’re talking about: not only is he sneaky as all hell when it comes to how he’s going to make something out of nothing, but that particular talent works far more in his favor than Nikumi’s mad eat skillz. From the pickled ginger in the rice to the onions sauteed in juices and wine, to the thick yet delicate sauce tickled with burnt soy, all the components of the dish work together to elevate one another out of the supermarket and into the stomachs of the venerable judges, who literally can’t stop eating it and are sad when it’s gone.

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And that’s why Souma wins the don battle: his don beat Nikumi because it didn’t put on airs and intimidate you with its pedigree, it merely welcomed you to eat as much of it as you wanted. The judges didn’t even finish Nikumi’s rice, nor could she have bumped it up with beef, because she’s already maxed out with the A5 on top, and would have been left with competing flavors. Her ingredient saved her from total embarrassment, but she was clearly out of her element here.

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Souma’s other knack is for neither looking up or down at people, but looking straight at them as an equal. To this end, he prepared a bowl for Nikumi as well (something she didn’t do for him), and one bite of the welcoming don transports her to the day her dad ripped her teddy and told her as a Mika woman she could not be ladylike, but must be strong and aggressive to succeed in life. Nikumi hadn’t thought of that day in years, or the pain of leaving her girly side behind, but Souma’s don took her there.

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Far from a sore winner or a gloater, Souma not only fed her after a tough battle, but complimented her nickname when spelled in hiragana. A combination of the shock of a defeat she didn’t think possible (and all the consequences that come with it), and Souma’s basic kindness and friendliness—matching the personality of his don—leads to her becoming all flustered and smitten with him.

Whether Souma intended for her to assume he was joining the Don RS to burn her, the point is you don’t run out of the arena until you figure out what’s really going to happen: She’s to report to the Don RS, which she dutifully does, trying to look cute for Souma, only to find that he never had any intention of joining himself; it’s just her and the hair guy.

Nikumi is thus humanized, and thankfully, their battle didn’t have any lame sabotage or cheating. Both played by the rules, and Souma beat Nikumi fair and square. Watching Erina, Megumi and the other Polars watch and react to the battle added to the stakes. Even the cute, two-faced MC was a nice touch. All in all, great first Shokugeki. I look forward to more.

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P.S. Yup, That’s Christina next to that 9, indicating yours truly will be handling most Shokugeki no Souma reviews henceforth. Now I just wished he’d cook some of this stuff for me. —Hannah

Shokugeki no Souma – 06

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Souma’s sixth episode is notable for having no big cooking challenge, an omission that was felt in terms of keeping up the momentum and tension the previous five episodes had built up. But while there were no Wars, there was plenty of delectable Food, starting with a tour of Polar Star’s impressive vegetable garden and other on-side ingredient facilities. Also, Isshiki has no qualms about gardening in a loincloth.

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I liked the camaraderie of the Polar Star tenants all working together to ensure the dorm has the best ingredients possible. Megumi also gets to shine for once by providing a lunch of delicious-sounding onigiri. Megumi is interesting because while she’s a great chef she’s prone to stage fright and is terrible in high-pressure situations…like Shokugeki. Here’s hoping being around Souma will help her confidence on the big stage. She already adopted his honey-tenderizing method.

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There’s more exposition explaining how the school works, in that there are “research socieities” rather than conventional clubs that focus on particular kinds of cuisine. As a self-professed proud “diner brat”, Souma gravitates toward the Donmono Research Society, or “Don RS,” which seeks to discover innovate ways of elevating the versatile, quick, affordable meals served in bowls. And Megumi, caught in his orbit, tags along.

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This kind of cooking is right up Souma’s alley. Unfortunately, the Don RS is down to just one member, who is surrounded by an aura of doom and gloom, thanks to it being the latest target in Nakiri Erina’s quest to consolidate power by eliminating what she deems to be societies undeserving of existence.

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Mind you, she’s not going to be the Don RS’s opponent. That role falls to her eager and fiercely loyal henchwoman, Mito Ikumi, whose pun-filled name and bodacious bod clues you into her specialty: MEAT. Souma doesn’t like how quick the snobbish “Nikumi” is to call the most expensive meat the best, and decides he’ll be the one to face her as the representative of the Don RS in the Shokugeki.

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With three days to prepare and not much money, Souma gets cooking, scouring the shelves of Don RS recipes and dishing out bowl after bowl of deliciousness. Every dish has its strength—I certainly wouldn’t mind tucking into one or all of them—but lack the punch that will be needed to have a chance against Nikumi and the vaunted A5 beef her family corporation is famed for.

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In an otherwise evenly matched culinary battle, it’s ingredients, resourcefulness, and creativity that determine the victor. Nikumi has the ingredients, so Souma will go after her in the other areas. Reminded by Megumi of his honey breakthrough, he decides he’ll make a don with Chaliapin steak, a unique, some would say obscure Japanese technique using onions and butter that makes even cheap meat melt in your mouth. Budget A5!

Will it be enough? Well, yes, it most certainly will. How do I know? Simple: I just don’t see Souma getting expelled seven episodes into the series, just when he’s settled into a nice living situation with some great peers.

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Shokugeki no Souma – 05

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Isshiki Satoshi is as mercurial and competitive as he is friendly and welcome, so even though it’s the middle of the night and the rest of Polar Star is out cold, he’s too restless to go to bed. He heard Souma at the opening ceremony go on about how he wants the top spot. Time to put up or shut up.

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Naturally, Souma’s just fine with that, and appreciates the chance to show off his mad cooking skillz to Satoshi and the others. His basted mackerel rice ball in kelp tea tears the proverbial clothes off everyone who tastes it.

Souma isn’t afraid to punctuate the deliciousness of its dishes with ample, unisex nudity. It’s also a surefire way of knowing when Souma’s hit the mark.

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Then you have Megumi, who totally missed the cook-off and wakes up to a baffling scene that freaks her out. The humor on this show isn’t subtle, but it is effective.

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The next morning (I also like how differently everyone wakes up), Souma is eager to hit Satoshi with a challenge of his own, gunning to take over Satoshi’s seventh seat on the Elite Ten. But obviously it’s not as simple as that. That being said, I like how everyone except Souma and Megumi were totally apathetic about Souma’s Big Bold Challenge because they knew it wouldn’t be happening then and there.

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There’s procedures to be followed, and people to assemble: a adjudicator to certify the challenge, an odd number of judges, and an agreement between contestants about the conditions. Souma also needs to stake something of equal value to Satoshi’s seventh seat, and even staking expulsion if he lost wouldn’t be enough, not to mention Satoshi doesn’t want Souma expelled.

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Still, despite the fact Souma isn’t ready to take on Satoshi, he’s still eager to take on somebody, and once he starts racking up wins, he can start going after bigger fish like Satoshi…or Erina. While Satoshi and the others are explaining the particulars of the formal challenges, called Shokugeki. They go down a lot like Iron Chef, but with more dire consequences for the loser, in this case the hot pot society’s entire clubhouse is demolished so Erina can build another kitchen for her personal use. Dayum, dis bitch is COLD!

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But the hot pot guy wasn’t anything resembling a challenge to her, only “trash.” Not only that, a dark-skinned girl with an American flag bra is itching to face the other challengers not worth Erina’s time. She apparently specializes in meat, and Souma will surely have to get through her before he can challenge Erina.

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