Shokugeki no Souma 3 – 08

Thanks to his consulting network, Eizan Etsuya is one of Totsuki’s greatest wheeler-dealers, and his profits greatly exceed the combined tuition fees of the entire enrollment. He has connections with everyone, including the three Shokugeki judges. He also has a fifty-strong eviction force about to knock down Polar Star’s doors. Souma doesn’t have a chance in hell, nor do the Polar Star residents…right?

Well, not so fast. Food Wars didn’t back our friends into a corner just to hit the trap door and send them plummeting to their doom. Simply put, neither Souma nor his dorm-mates are going to take this raw deal sitting down. Even if Eizan and the judges say it’s hopeless, Souma just has to believe…it isn’t.

He finds a degree of support in Rindo, who clearly sees something in Souma, and wouldn’t want to see him expelled. Of course, he wouldn’t have been worth supporting if he does lose; she seems to be waiting for him to show what he can do, which is more than you can say for the dismissive Eizan and his puppet judges.

Satsuma chicken is the ingredient, and Eizan shows that yes, he can still cook by preparing some exquisite Haianese Chicken Rice, a dish as much of strict orthodoxy as it is a dish of elegance and restraint. The judges go nuts over it, and Souma is also impressed by the taste, which is most definitely refined.

But he isn’t going to win this thing, or even get to a point where the judges taste his dish, by trying to surpass Eizan in refinement or sticking to a script. If Eizan is classical, Souma’s got to bring the jazz. Fell deeds awake. Now for wrath, now for ruin, and the red dawn! 

His resulting dish, gyoza made with boned wings and a sauce composed of, among other things, ketchup and Parmesan, does indeed sound like a desperate cobbling together of disparate ingredients that will only do the noble Satsuma fowl a disservice. That’s what everyone thinks, at least.

The judges were in Eizan’s pocket. There was no way they were even going to entertain picking up a fork to taste Souma’s food. They were that sure Eizan’s dish was superior. And yet…I guess the smell was just a bit too irresistible, or maybe Eizan’s rice wasn’t quite filling enough.

Whatever the case, after Eizan tastes the gyoza and is left speechless, one of the judges digs in, then another, then another. And all of sudden, Souma has won 3-0, and the eviction (which had been thwarted by Polar Star in riot gear) is called off. Suddenly, the impossible is possible.

It’s a win for all of Polar Star, not just Souma, as he wouldn’t have stumbled upon the flavor combinations that beat Eizan’s competent but by-the-book cuisine were it not for their input and collaboration. Erina, having witnessed this dorm-as-a-culinary-think-tank, can’t believe such a chaotic system could work. And yet…it did. I wonder what her father will say about this.

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Shokugeki no Souma 3 – 07

During an exceedingly rare instance of Yukihira and the others actually being in class, new Totsuki boss Nakiri Azami gives another inaugural speech, this time laying out the nature of his “revolution.” And hey, it really is a revolution—a authoritarian one.

He immediately bans all groups, clubs, and research societies, then sets up a paramilitary organization called Central to enforce his strict culinary dogma. No more pockets of like-minded weirdos, and no more individual creativity. Azami and the Elite Ten will decide what is food and what is “animal feed.”

Azami believes that by eliminating the meritocracy and replacing the current system with his, Totsuki will be a more just and equal place, and a few low-level plebs can kinda dig it if it means they get to learn how the Elite Ten cook. But a lot of people are unhappy and unwilling to accept this.

Worse still, the banning of all autonomous entities in the school besides Central includes Polar Star Dormitory! I should have known such a warm and fluffy rendition of dorm life experienced by Erina was a bit of a danger flag, and now we see the beloved home and melting pot of the central core of the shows characters is in the crosshairs.

Many, including Souma, intend to challenge these edicts with Shokugekis, but Eizan buys off all the judges, who don’t even eat his challenger’s food before declaring Eizan the winner. It’s meant as a warning: challenge the new system, and you will be expelled.

Rather than break Souma’s spirit, Eizan only draws the redheaded kid’s ire. I’m not sure what Souma’s game plan will be, other than cooking chicken that smells so amazing even bought judges can’t help but eat and judge it, but Eizan has also arranged things so that in the three hours Souma is occupied with cooking in what could be another farce of a shokugeki, a band of delinquents is dispatched to evict Polar Star immediately.

I’m telling you, everything the good guys know and love has been turned on its head. #THISISNOTNORMAL. How in the heck are they going to get out of this awful mess?

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 – 06

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Barring something bizarre (like a tie with one judge abstaining), this battle was only going to end one way: with Souma victorious. There’s no way he’d lose and give up cooking six episodes in.

The show knows we know the outcome, so it must, as it often has in the past, dazzle and entertain us with the process that leads to that outcome. And it succeeds!

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After whipping out bacon that demonstrates his curing and smoking expertise are on par with Ibusaki’s, and revealing that his profiling job was made much easier by guessing Sotsuda’s password and reading all his notes on Souma’s prep.

The very harsh alumnai judges believe the multifaceted umami of the bacon is something Souma simply cannot overcome, until he starts improvising, whipping out four distinct cuts of meat—cheek, tongue, tripe, and fillet—each perfectly prepared in a manner ideal to it, and added as garniture for the stew, in what Souma deems a “meet theme park.”

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Mimasaka predicted someone of Souma’s confidence would turn to improv, but is confident his profiling and detailed preparations will be able to weather anything Souma throws at the judges.

Mimasaka serves his dish first, and the beef/pork umami is violently, knock-’em-sock-’em good, leaving Mimasaka laughing villainously and the judges more weary than ever that Souma’s seemingly thrown-together dish will be any match.

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…But of course it is. Rather than being tossed around in a boxing ring with meat heavyweights, the judges are spirited away to “Yukihee Land” (trademark pending), where they transform into giddy high school girls (yes, including Dojima) running around enjoying life and youth.

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While Mimasaka’s carefully erected house of cards is impressive, it pales in comparison to the encyclopedic display of skill on display, as he puts a Chikuzen stew-like twist on beef stew rather than sticking with the French classic. The individual meats he used impress the judges with how well each was prepared and how they create and exhilarating ride in their mouths and imaginations.

By the end of their meal, the judges are gleefully holding hands without knowing it. The voting is unanimous, and Souma defeats Mimasaka…but he also teaches Mimasaka a lesson.

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Growing up, Mimasaka imitated his stern father’s cooking, and the first time he put a twist on it, he beat his father’s cooking, leading to his exile. He used that same approach intentionally—and with increasing cruelty—throughout his cooking career to advance himself, because it worked.

But for the first time, it didn’t work, and Mimasaka must surrender all of the treasured tools that embody the pride of the previous chefs he beat (in a scene that looks a lot like Hunger Games, what with all the past losers rushing into a container full of knives). Only Takumi refuses to take back his Mezzaluna; it goes to Souma instead, and he’ll get it back when he beats him in a Shokugeki.

Now that Mimasaka has experienced the same shameful, pride-robbing defeat what all the chefs he defeated, like them he begins to question whether he should even cook anymore. But the point of Souma’s lesson was to demonstrate that a true professional chef takes the worst defeat of their life in stride, because the kitchen must open tomorrow, and the customers must be fed.

Meanwhile, Souma continues to look ahead to his future match with Erina (who looks down imperiously before demanding he get her that manga she wanted), while Round 2 of the semifinals between Hayama and Kurokiba begins immediately. And what do you know, I have no idea who’s going to win this one!

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Shokugeki no Souma 2 – 05

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Souma made a big, bold bet, one that Nikumi, for one, is none too pleased about, because unlike us she can’t be sure that he’ll win, which means someone she deeply respects will be throwing their life of cooking away if he loses.

The wager also attracts the attention of a young, eager Totsuki junior high student who spends way more time with journalism than cooking. After relentlessly courting Souma for an exclusive, Souma uses him as his taste tester.

The dish for the Shokugeki is the same thing Souma served Mimasaka in his dorm when the challenge was made: beef stew. And unlike (or more likely, like) many Mimasaka’s previous 99 victims, he’s trying to switch things up by being very transparent about what he’s doing.

Souma knows he’s not going to win by being secretive; Mimasaka will find out or predict what he’s up to. Nor can he win by emulating his opponent’s specialty: Mimasaka doesn’t have one. Instead, Souma is treating this like the ultimate creative battle…against himself.

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After her loss to Hayama, Arato is too ashamed to stay by Erina’s side, and takes a leave of absense. Mind you, she makes this decision before Erina had a chance to talk about the match with her (during which time she’d likely have told her she was proud of her effort and wanted her to remain by her side).

On the bright side, when Erina needs the next volume in a shoujo manga she’s reading, the absence of Arato means Souma has something to compensate her for in exchange for her tasting duties (since someone at the dorm has the complete set).

Erina has her largest role in an episode this season, and she shines. By not making things easy for Souma, she (intentionally or not) contributes greatly to setting Souma on the proper path, being immediately dismissive of his pathetic diner stew (and its white miso secret ingredient) without elaborating why.

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While Mimasaka relives the last 28 episodes as Souma, starting back at the diner with Souma’s hometown friends, Nikumi, like Erina, lends Souma a subtle hint for how to proceed in the form of a meat care package, warning him she won’t let him lose and give up being a chef as she runs away flustered.

The final four days leading up to the match pass by in montage form, with Souma ditching the journalist (no longer useful at this stage in his dish development) and Megumi and Nikumi periodically looking in to see how he’s progressing.

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The day of the match Souma must win arrives, judged by five Totsuki alumni (including Dojima, Mizuhara and Hinako), who along with Kikuchi, Tsunozaki, and Erina, imagine how difficult it will be for Souma to break out of the diner mentality of dishes tasting best on the third bite (gourmet dishes must taste good on the first).

Erina expects a crushing defeat for Souma, meaning the end of his stinking up her academy once and for all, right up until she notices what he’s up to down in the arena. Instead of the usual cuts of beef, he goes with high-gelatin oxtail seasoned with cloves to deepen the white miso, and a veggie matignon to add sweetness near the end.

Souma has always been a sponge for culinary knowledge, even if it isn’t being directly taught to him by those he absorbs it from. But he caught on to what Erina was hinting at, as well as the meat that Nikumi gave him, and crafted a game plan for evolving his diner’s signature dish into something one would be proud to serve in the kind of elite gourmet restaurants the judges run.

Conspicuous in his lack of screen timeat the start of the match is Mimasaka; because Souma bet everything on this match, he’s the center of attention, but once he and the crowd notice the opponent, they see that he’s mimicked him in every regard. There is simply no way to surprise Mimasaka; he’s always going to be one step ahead. Oxtail, cloves, matignon – he’s got all that…plus his signature twists that usually corner and decimate his opponents.

Souma will have to weather those twists—some possibly drawn from his own culinary history, some of Mimasaka’s own imagining—keep his cool, and simply out-cook his clone. How will he prevail where 99 chefs fell? Will he put it all on that first bite, or manage to flip the script in a way even Mimasaka could not predict?

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Shokugeki no Souma 2 – 04

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In hindsight, SnS wouldn’t have brought a character like Mimasaka Subaru into the foreground unless he had some extended role to play. And if he knew so much about Arata and Hayama, he’s doubtless know even more about open book Takumi. That meant Takumi probably never had a chance.

This week, Mimasaka takes Takumi apart, matching him move for move, then adding “twists” that push him even further into the corner, until his own gameplan and emotions become the enemy on top of the incredibly talented but demented chef he’s up against.

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He may not be the most nuanced character (frankly, it might have been nice if his character design weren’t so huge and threatening to so obviously match his predatory personality), but there’s no denying Mimasaka has a system, is utterly committed to it, because it works.

Even a judge has some real problems with how Mimasaka goes about his business in the kitchen, but Mimasaka knows people don’t like him, and doesn’t care. In a Shokugeki, it’s all about the food, and Mimasaka’s food is simply better than Takumi’s, and it’s not close.

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Thankfully, Takumi doesn’t simply curl into a ball and accept his defeat, even when it’s too late to start over with something new (and he’s limited by the ingredients on hand he himself chose). He manages to produce an ace in the hole with his homemade lemon curd layer made with the family olive oil.

It’s a brilliant, clutch counter to Mimasaka’s many twists, and at just the right time…but Mimasaka knows everything about Takumi, including the lemons and the oil, and his dish’s true genius isn’t revealed until the judges have tasted both and can compare. Mimasaka’s preserved lemons are in every layer of the semifreddo, and beat out Takumi’s curd.

It’s a total victory for Mimasaka—his 100th Shokugeki win—and he claims Takumi’s beloved mezzaluna, confident he’s stomped out yet another career. On to the semifinals, which occur in a week’s time.

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Rather than console Takumi, Souma simply goes home, and whether he expected it or not, Mimasaka is in his room (having used the spare key, to the girls’ horror). Souma maintains a neutral calm throughout most of their talk, being just as gracious a host as Mimasaka was to him last week. Mimasaka has come to announce they’ll be going up against each other. He wants a Shokugeki with Souma, and he wants his beloved knife.

Just as he knew how to push Takumi’s buttons, Mimasaka things he has Souma right where he wants him: angered that someone he respected has been so thoroughly humiliated. Indeed, it could be argued Mimasaka trampled Takumi as part of his overall strategy should he get Souma in the next round, which he did.

And he’s right: Souma is angry, and does take the challenge. But the terms are different. If Souma wins, Mimasaka will give him all of the hundred tools he’s claimed from those he’s beaten, essentially undoing his entire legacy. Souma considers Mimasaka and his methods more of a virus than an opponent; something to be wiped out entirely. He also considers those methods a waste of Mimasaka’s own considerable skills.

If Souma loses, he’ll quit being a chef. Well, we’re only four episodes into the season, and Souma is not going to quit being a chef…so I guess the result of his next match is clear, right? Perhaps, but it will surely be something to see how (not if) he bests someone who knows him better than he knows himself…at least on the outside.

I’m excited to see that, but I can’t help but think Mimasaka has been a wasted opportunity thus far, lacking the nuance of Souma’s other rivals. We’ve yet to see anyone defend Mimasaka’s philosophy or methods, nor has there been any attempt to explain how he came to adopt them. Perhaps that will come to light in his battle with Souma.

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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 2 – 02

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Erina waited for Alice post-match to tell her how the “limits of her strengths were apparent” against Souma. When Alice fails to deliver a worthy comeback and storms off, Erina privately expresses her envy that Alice can cry and fume so freely without anyone giving it a second thought. Heavy is the crown on the head that contains God’s Tongue.

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While last week was a battle where heart warmth beat out dazzling science (and dazzling science cried but accepted the loss), this week gives us another battle between two chefs from harbor towns who have completely different philosophies about cooking. Those opposing views inform Megumi and Ryo’s equally polarized approaches to seafood broth in their first round ramen challenge.

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For this match, Souma and Alice join the others in the stands, and the latter’s presence proves useful in providing everyone else with her own personal insight regarding Ryo. She first met him while on her world travels ten years ago, and even then he was a head chef an a force to be reckoned with.

But Megumi isn’t the shrinking violet she was at the start of this show. She’s put faith in her friends, her family, the bounty of her home, and her ability to bring out its full potential. Once he puts on the bandanna Ryo transforms into a wild child, but Megumi doesn’t let herself be intimidated, as a fire of equal ferocity burns within her, fueled not by coarse ambition, but by love and kindness.

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There’s a reason Megumi’s the dark horse: no one looked at her and saw a serious contender. But Megumi doesn’t simply rely on low expectations, nor will that get her past these judges. She’s got skills, as the judges see when her broth turns out shining and crystal clear, goading them into drawing nearer as one does at a ramen cart, watching your meal be prepared up close.

They don’t get near Ryo’s side; he’s like the shellfish whose carcasses he pounds into powder: people keep their distance out of fear, lest they get the claws. Alice knew well to stay the hell out of his kitchen ten years ago, when he brought three brawny harbor cooks to heel with ease, all while satisfying a packed restaurant.

When Ryo sees Megumi has the judges’ and crowd’s attention, he snatches it back with a loud and dramatic noodle drain. He also finishes first, just as Alice did.

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Like his personality and hyper-competitive spirit in the kitchen, his bold, multi-latered “soup de possion” ramen beats its tasters into an elated submission, and Ryo is visualized as a delinquent gang ringleader.

I thought Ryo’s Yang would be countered by Megumi’s Yin, but while her soup, like her, looks like it wouldn’t stand a chance against Ryo’s zero-sum, all-conquering flavor, but actually can, and surprises everyone but her and her friends when it does.

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Yes despite looking clear and pure and light, Megumi’s ramen packs just as much of an umami punch. Not only that, she carefully prepared this dish knowing she’d be facing a rich soup from Ryo (since he immediately and very publically chose thick noodles), and made sure to include the flavors of her home, adapting a regional specialty as her secret weapon.

She also included a delicious paste because it would be “fun” to switch up the flavor later in the bowl. Ryo would never do that. He wants to beat the judges down; nothing fun about that!

Ryo and Megumi’s different routes brought them to the same place: two powerful, assertive seafood ramens bursting with complex umami. Rather than fight fire with water, Megumi brought the same weapons to bear as Ryo. It’s an all-out brawl, and by the end, unlike last week, there is no clear winner.

I have no idea who will win, but I predict it will be Ryo. I love Megumi, but the idea of her beating Ryo right after Souma beat Alice seems too one-sided in favor of the Polar Star crew. Then again, Ryo has definitely exposed some weaknesses which Megumi is uniquely poised to exploit. Not to mention I certainly wouldn’t mind Megumi moving on to the next round!

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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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