Shokugeki no Souma 3 – 14 – An Unlikely Team-up Gets the Rebels on the Train

Erina has decided she’s going to do what she wants…which just so happens to be the right thing and benefits the Totsuki rebels AND means she’s bound to spend more time with Souma.

The structure of the advancement exams are laid out by Hisako and it feels more like a military campaign against Hokkaido, and for that, Polar Star needs a drill sargeant to train them up. Erina lands on a sexy teacher look instead, and nobody complains.

During the week in which Erina whips Polar Star into shape, Nikumi and the Aldini Bros. listen in, and Erina ends up pulling them into the Hokkaido seminar as well. They have nothing to lose; they’re rebels too.

On two separate occasions, Erina makes sure to remove her glasses before talking to Souma. She puts her faith in his ability to come up with a solution to whatever they throw at them, and later she tells him whatever she might have said in the past about wanting him to fail, she doesn’t feel that way anymore.

Naturally she frames it in terms of not wanting anyone to be expelled…but Souma is part of that “anyone”, and he appreciates it.

The class is bussed to the first of many examination venue (Totsuki’s resources really are formidable), and the rebels are all grouped together among the 5-person teams—all but Erina, who is intentionally placed in a group of faceless classmates who have abandoned their own cooking for Central’s orthodoxy. Azami can’t be losing his God Tongue, after all.

Not only are the rebels isolated, but the salmon they’re given is subpar. Fortunately, they’re given from roughly noon till sundown to come up with a dish, and the group, made up of Souma, Megumi, Alice, Ryo, and Yuuki, have more than enough skills and resourcefulness between them to come up with something. Erina allows a wry grin of understanding. She’s taught them all up, now it’s time to see if they can fly.

Her faith in them is matched only by her clear disgust for the other kids’ blindl following of the step-by-step instructions to creating Central mandated salmon dishes. Only the steps matter, and the only answer to “Why” is “because Azami wishes it.” That’s not cooking. That’s cynical mass production of one and only one way of cooking.

After facing off against Alice and Ryo in the past, it’s great to see them on the same side as Souma, working to their strengths with the precision and speed they’ve come to expect of one another. Of course, it’s not 100% smooth, as Alice constantly takes exception to Souma asserting himself as the leader…as well she should!

While they arrived in the kitchen with their salmon less than a half hour before time expires, it’s such a quality fish (brine-frozen at its peak of freshness), a half-hour is all they need to put their instructor on her back, leaving her no choice but to pass them.

I’m appreciative that at least at this first stage of the exams, despite all of the roadblocks Central puts in their way, when it comes time to judge their cooking the clearly-biased instructor cannot deny what her taste buds are telling her—that the rebels made the best dish in the room.

Indeed, Azami and Central are actually helping the rebels to become better chefs by piling so many challenges ahead of them. If they can overcome them and advance to the second year, it won’t just be a repudiation of Central orthodoxy, but a back-door defense of it as a tool with which to forge great chefs from the crucible of adversity.

With the first hurdle cleared, the rebels join the rest of the advancees aboard Totsuki’s grand luxury sleeper train, the Tsukikage, which brought back memories of Rail Wars! and explains the OP’s train imagery. While Hisako continues drilling some Polar Stars, others take the opportunity to avail themselves of the sumptuous train’s many features.

Erina, meanwhile, holes up in her personal compartment, but is visited many times by Fat Aldini, Ryouko, Megumi, and finally Souma. She doesn’t realize they’re coming to express their appreciation for all she’s done. Of course, she was never after gratitude, nor did she expect it; Erina is doing what she wants…and loving it.

Souma joins her just as the train leaves the forest, revealing a sky packed with twinkling stars that remind Souma of salmon roe, and he even gets her to drop her guard and laugh at him (rather than scoff or harrumph). Then Erina takes note in her head that Souma’s face, the mere mental image of which used to annoy her to no end, is something she’s come not to mind so much. Baaaaaaaaw. Erina’s the best.

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Shokugeki no Souma 3 – 11

Last week I pleaded for the show to do something, anything with Erina before the cour is out, and it seems like my prayers were answered … somewhat. She’s finally out of that horrid brown frock, back in uniform, and more importantly, outside the friendly confines of Polar Star.

Erina confides in Isshiki that she doesn’t expect her relationship with Alice to improve anytime because of the “horrible things” she did to her in the past, even though those things were done when she was under the absolute influence of Azami.

So it comes as a shock to the system when Erina arrives at the Shokugeki hall to find Alice telling Azami off right to his face, demanding he let Erina be her own person. Alice knows it wasn’t Erina’s fault she never got her letters, and never again wants her cousin in the postition where she can’t write back.

But this isn’t going to work if Erina herself doesn’t stand up straight and show her domineering creepfest of her father that she’s her own person. Alice can’t let her main rival be a cowering puppet!

The Alice-Erina interaction is wonderful, but things get even better and more complex when Yukihira and Megumi’s teacher is dismissed and replaced by First Seat Tsukasa Eishi. (Additionally, as Ryo was the only rep to beat Central, Azami quickly purges of the other 32 clubs and societies that lost in the first round.)

Tsukasa, wonderfully voiced by Ishida Akira, is the siren, if you will, who will bring the students to heel through their adoration of him; the class is understandably super-stoked to have the opportunity to learn from the First Seat.

Where things get interesting is when Souma volunteers to be Tsukasa’s teaching assistant, then proceeds to exceed Tsukasa’s expectations with the skills he honed at Shino’s, keeping up with the superfast pace of Tsukasa’s cooking.

The class is wowed, and frankly, I enjoyed Souma and Tsukasa—ostensibly an enemy—putting aside their differences to work some culinary magic in perfect harmony. As Souma says, it was fun!

Meanwhile, Erina has worked up the courage to return to scheduled classes, a big step forward and a relief to her admirers. In a scene that’s touching despite the blatant fanservice, Hisako remarks how she’s noticed a change in Erina.

Erina acknowledges is a result of witnessing all of the people, from those in RS’s to Polar Star, Souma, Ryo and Alice, standing up against her father, something she once thought impossible.

She’s now become worried less about how to please father and more worried about what she Nakiri Erina, wants to do with herself…something far beyond taking a side in Totsuki’s not-quite-dead Civil War.

Speaking of sides, Erina, Hisako, and later Megumi end up eavesdropping on an extended conversation in which Tsukasa offers Souma a job as his right-hand man, making him an official member of Central.

When Souma says he wouldn’t want to present Yukihira Diner’s cooking at Central, Tsukasa calmly reveals that such a thing wouldn’t be necessary, because Yukihira Diner’s cooking isn’t necessary.

All Tsukasa wants is Souma’s “supportive abilities” to help him refine his own cooking, while Souma’s cooking would presumably die off. Tsukasa, literally Number One at Totsuki, has no qualms exposing his boundless selfishness common in many elite chefs.

Souma doesn’t see the point if he can’t serve his own cooking, and says for all they know, Souma’s cooking is better than Tsukasa’s, to which Tsukasa responds with an informal challenge right then and there. If Souma wins, Tsukasa will surrender his First Seat to him. If Souma loses, the rest of his days at Totsuki will be spent as Tsukasa’s sous chef.

Tsukasa begins cooking immediately, and the smell of his venison is so invigorating, Megumi and Hisako—outside the classroom—have foodgasms without a bite! Even Souma hesitates in the presence of such superlative cooking skill—until he hears of Azami and Central’s ultimate plans.

Central aims to literally take over the Japanese culinary world, shutting down all restaurants deemed subpar, including Yukihira Diner. This isn’t just a silly little war within the school, it’s primed to become a nationwide battle between the monolithic empire of orthodoxy and the rebellion of independence an individuality.

Here’s the thing: I just don’t see Souma beating Tsukasa. Does that mean he loses and is forced to switch sides? If this is a conflict the effects of which will extend far beyond the school, will he instead choose exile? And since she’s been listening and watching this whole time, what will Erina decide to do?

LOL. Never change, Erina.

Shokugeki no Souma 3 – 10

Entering this shokugeki, I was a little dubious: I generally dig the concept of Kurokiba Ryo’s dual identity, but in execution, while cooking Okamoto Nobuhiko yells a lot in that very annoying Okamoto Nobuhiko way (though it has its uses). Meanwhile, this new baddie Kusunoki Rentaro, not only sounds a lot like angry Ryo, he also looks stupid with all his fussy accessories, and his haughty attitude is poised to wear faster than clothes during a foodgasm.

Still, by the time he’s completed his salmon confit flamme, I gotta hand it to Rentaro—the kid knows what he’s doing and he’s supremely confident in victory in a way every chef must be. While I came to love a good many of Food Wars many characters, this episode gets back to the show’s roots, and the thing that got be hooked early on before I knew anyone—the process of creating a dish.

Rentaro is a veritable culinary Radio Shack, employing many of the same innovative gadgets that Alice uses in her molecular gastronomy. And I can tell ya first hand it’s no gimmick—some of the moistest, most flavorful turkey I’ve ever tasted came from the sous-vide water bath method. Rentaro’s “elegant” use of heat (cooking the fish through steam convection) and cold (salmon ice cream from the cryomill) lends his dish a thermal interplay that knocks even Momo’s clothes off.

But while we were hearing all about Rentaro’s dish and how great it is, all we saw at the beginning of the battle was Ryo sauteeing rice and prepping bread dough. The final product is a total surprise: a french dish of Russian royal origin called coulibiac, and it looks every bit as succulent as the confit flamme.

I’m one of those people whose enjoyment of a food—any food, even highly processed—is only enhanced by learning more about it, particularly while eating it. So I can relate to the judges seeming to enjoy the dish even more once they unpack how it was prepared. Like Ryo’s cartoccio in the Autumn Elections, the brioche crust serves as a container for pure, intense umami that causes a brain jolt (and the loss of Megumi’s clothes, sneaking a bite from a portion Alice stole).

So, who’s the winner, eh? Rentaro and his elite colleagues believe the tie will be broken by his dish, because he was able to maintain moisture without drying out the fish. But it isn’t moisture that tips the scales, nor is it Rentaro’s dish that wins—it’s Ryo’s coulibiac.

How did he nab victory after Rentaro’s nearly-perfect dish? With imperfection. His umami was superior due to the use of an outside factor—spinach in the crepe, while his own original blend of spices (using a skill learned at the Indian restaurant where he interned) are unevenly distributed throughout that crepe, a non-homogenous tactic that enables the palates of all who taste it to sense the richness and flavor with greater acuity.

The use and distribution of spices was born out of the guy who ultimately won the Autumn Elections, Akira, as well as Ryo’s circumstance of ending up in the very kind of restaurant where he can bone up on a field he may have neglected in the past.

Then you have Alice supporting him as always (these two should really just get married at this point), and it all adds up to a Ryo who is not the chef who distinguished himself at the Autumn Elections: he’s better. And he gets a sweep and the first blow to the arrogant Central-picked elites.

Nice ep; its main demerit is that it checked in on Erina.

Why is that bad? Because it’s a reminder that, so far, Erina has had next to nothing to do but sit around the dorm. Granted, her movements are limited due to her runaway status, but that amplifies the Princess Toadstool(or Kuchiki Rukia)-esque quality of her arc thus far. But she’s just not the factor I’d hoped her to be so far.

Here’s hoping the series can get her more involved before this Third Plate is finished.

Shokugeki no Souma 3 – 09

After all the upheaval of Nakiri Azami’s oppressive new regime, the good guys really needed a win badly, and Souma put himself out there, took a chance, and won against an ill-prepared and overconfident Eizan. To the show’s credit, the good guys are actually allowed to revel in this victory, as Souma soaks in his triumphant return to Polar Star, greeted with hugs, tears, and warm smiles…even from Erina!

But as Isshiki Satoshi told Rindou before Souma’s match, he had every confidence in his kohai’s ability to beat Eizan, while being focused on what’s to come afterwards. While Souma loudly and brazenly stood up against the oppression, he provided time and cover for Satoshi to do some behind-the-scenes legal wrangling. As such, now every club slated for disbanding has the right to challenge via Shokugeki…and a fairly-judged one at that.

Souma may have won a Shokugeki, and Satoshi may have set a precedent that must be followed, but it isn’t long before Azami kicks Satoshi off the Elite Ten (along with Eighth Seat Kuga and Third Seat Megishima), both for voting against Azami’s installation and for not being “team players.”

Only Rindou protested the oustings, but ultimately falls in line. If Souma has an ally in her, she’s one who seems poised to play both sides to the end. As for the other Elite Tens, they and their “Elite reserve troops” knock off one research club after another, as those clubs are unable to put up as much of a fight as Souma.

One of these “elites”, hand-picked by Azami, is Kusunoki Rentaro, who has a very fussy and cliche-packed style and a haughty, abrasive attitude, and neither Souma nor Takumi (both of whom attended the Shokugekis for scouting purposes) are able to take his trash-talking lying down.

Ultimately, Kuzunoki’s next opponent is neither Souma nor Takumi, but Kurokiba Ryo. Alice has unknowingly been the chief of the “Cutting Edge Cuisine RS” for a while now, and Ryo aims to defend her title and the club.

Like the other guys, he’s not about to let Kusunoki talk shit about him and his. Perhaps he can provide that crucial second victory against Azami, further legitimizing the rebel forces in this Totsuki Civil War. 

Shokugeki no Souma 2 – 10

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Shokugeki no Souma 2 – 09

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Shokugeki no Souma 2 – 08

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Shokugeki no Souma 2 – 07

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Shokugeki no Souma 2 – 03

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Shokugeki no Souma 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 – 20

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Shokugeki no Souma – 19

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The Autumn Election selections have been made, and Groups A and B will duke it out, with the survivors moving on to the tournament proper, where they’ll be observed by some of the finest restauranteurs in the business (no surprise there), and where failure will almost certainly ensure they have to futures in the industry.

The show shifts into overdrive juggling both all the side characters we know (like the Aldinis and Nakiris) while introducing a bunch more (Hojo and Nao) while elevating mostly background characters into contention with the better known chefs (Ryo, Hisako).

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Souma is straight-up fired up, and can’t wait to get into the fray. But when participants receive a vague hint about the nature of the elections—indicating a “curry dish” will be the thing by which they’ll be judged, Souma decides to track down a Totsuki professor who is not only an Alumna but his dad’s former kohai and dormmate at Polar Star.

This turns out to be Shiomi Jun, a P.E. outfit-wearing scientific master of spice who instantly reminded me of Working!!’s Popura due to her size, which misleads many to believe she’s a junior high student or younger (in reality, Jun is 34).

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At first, Jun isn’t pleased to see the son of a senpai who regularly used her as a test subject for his nastier dishes, and expresses that displeasure by giving him a sequence of Olympic-caliber punches. But since Megumi tagged along with Souma, and both she and Jun are experts in circular apologetics, it isn’t long before Jun forgets about her outrage over Souma’s presence and just starts geeking out over her speciality, spices, giving them a full-on lecture during which Megumi takes careful notes.

Megumi and Souma are “saved” by another newcomer, the tan, silver-haired Hayama Akira, Jun’s aide who transforms her scientific theories into real cooking. He’s as dependent on her (and his excellent nose) as she is on him; it’s a symbiotic relationship. And Akira takes the opportunity to show Megumi and Souma what he can do with curry, which he and Jun just happen to be researching, which is also the theme of the elections.

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The show gets into the nitty-gritty of what makes a simply good curry to what makes a transcendentally awesome curry, and it really comes down to little tweaks in the cooking process, combined with impeccable skills and timing. And while Souma didn’t know Akira existed, Akira knows him, and warns him that using inspiration to overcome restrictions won’t be enough to get to the top of Totsuki (which, duh). 

As usual, Souma tries to get the last word in, diplomatically thanking Akira for the food and promising to return the favor by making an even better curry for him, but Jun, upset they ran out on her lecture, interrupts Souma’s monologue by bursting in the door he’s about to exit through, slamming the doorknob into his gut. It’s hilarious, but also appropriate to the task at hand. As usual, Souma will have to speak, and convince all the naysayers, with his cooking in the next four episodes, not with words.

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