Shokugeki no Souma 3 – 16 – Embrace the Smelliness

So yeah, Akira is a member of the Central Elite Ten now (one seat above Erina, no less) after defeating his senpais to fill the vacancy. His ostensible reason for his decision to sense which way the wind is blowing is that he desires the very top spot at Totsuki, at any cost, and apparently that includes surrendering to the Azami administration.

In any case, Central has ceased “dirty tricks” and simply given Souma an opponent they’re confident can beat him in a fair fight, even if Souma is unlucky enough to be locked in his third straight battle requiring mastery of spices against, well, someone with more mastery of spices than he. It’s a BEAR BATTLE, boys and girls!

This episode doesn’t go into detail about what sacrifices if any Akira has or will have to make now that he’s a Central puppet; he seems to shoo away Azami’s handpicked testing team pretty quickly. Perhaps Azami is relaxing his rules on strict orthodoxy where Akira is concerned simply because even he cannot deny the kid’s preternatural talent, or perhaps likens his godly sense of smell with his daughter’s sense of taste.

Meanwhile, Souma is starting to sweat when he receives aid from an unusual place: Kuga-senpai, flanked by his loyal army of baldies. Kuga says he wants Hayama’s seat, but wants Souma to take it from him first in a Shokugeki, so he can then crush Souma and re-take the seat he lost. That makes him an ally, at least for now, and Souma can’t refuse allies right now.

Souma gets it into his head that the only way to get the full measure of understanding of bear meat is to head into its mountainous habitat and learn from a hunter who guides him and Kuga. They aren’t able to locate a bear, but Souma soaks up the knowledge like a sponge, and a chance tripping into a tree gets him thinking about using the medicinal schisandra berries to counter the intense gaminess of the meat.

He succeeds, but he’s only one rung higher on a ladder Akira finished climbing years ago, and Akira has no qualms about showing up in the test kitchen with his superior, Cajun-inspired spiced bear meat to intimidate his opponent. Kuga and his men can’t help but smell the gap in skill.

Souma is going to need his scrappiest effort yet to beat Akira, because he’s already failed twice, and the show has always been pretty adamant that he’s just plain better than Souma. It’s almost as if something will have to go wrong with Akira in addition to everything going right for him!

Shokugeki no Souma 3 – 15 – Maximizing the Value of the Humble Potato

The Central-loyalist instructor for Stage Two makes it even tougher for the rebels to succeed this week than last. By calling their names and hall designations last, their task of securing the missing ingredient in their noodle dish becomes all but impossible, as all the noodles, and ingredients for making scratch noodles, are already been exhausted. Worse still, there’s a severe blizzard outside, so can’t get to Sapporo in order to buy ingredients.

But the tighter Central turns the screws, the more the rebels huddle together and dig deep. Armed with their talent, as well as Erina’s invaluable Hokkaido seminar, they manage to make noodles for their dishes using one ingredient the instructors neglected to deprive them of: the potato. Specifically, the Irish Cobbler cultivar Hokkaido is famous for.

Megumi, Takumi, and Souma share raw ingredients so that there’s enough for each of them to make a “single serving”—another requisite for the stage the instructor laid out—and not only to they have no problem making noodle dishes that tear his clothes off, but all of the other rebels pass easily as well.

Almost too easily, if you ask me: I mean, if this instructor (and the one before him) were willing to stoop to dirty tricks, why not just lie and say the dishes sucked? Perhaps, subconsciously, “having no choice” but to pass the rebels is their own way of rebelling against Central. For them, unlike Azami, good food is good food. Their first loyalty will always be to their taste buds.

When the instructor hears word that Erina has coached them, he concludes that their passing the second stage is all thanks to her “mercy”, but Erina quickly chimes in and tells him he’s wrong. All she did was teach them about potatoes, everything else that led to them crafting gourmet-quality dishes came from their own innate talent as chefs. Truly, Erina is their gleaming knight, Joanne d’Arc.

She wouldn’t have wasted her time lecturing them if she didn’t think they were worthy. All she did was give a little nudge. And that night, when the students are allowed to sight-see in Sapporo, Erina joins her fellow rebels, and sees the city in a whole new light because of it.

Erina laments to the others that all the other times she’d been to Sapporo, she didn’t get much of an impression from it, since she was so busy in her duty as Nakiri heir and God Tongue tasting dishes. But someone who was able to watch her from a younger age disputes her: Nikumi, the one she shunned after she lost a Shokugeki to Souma.

Not only does Nikumi not harbor any hard feelings for being cut off by Erina-sama, but she humbly comments that she too might just know a tiny bit of the pressure to succeed for the sake of one’s family, and how she always looked up to Erina as a paragon of culinary excellence, and she’s glad she’s able to spend time with her once again. Erina is humbled by Nikumi’s words, and even feels shame for having treated her so badly in the past.

When Souma and Takumi meet up with Erina and Megumi, they all head to a restaurant for a big dinner in which to sample all that Sapporo has to offer. Those previous times Erina was there, she was alone, and all business. Now that she’s socializing with friends, her horizons have expanded…and she’s loving it.

Unfortunately, there are many more stages to come, and even though the four arrive at the train station at the designated time, they learn from Hisako that their train already left 30 minutes ago! Indeed, the rebels have now been split into four groups and diverted to four different venues for the third stage.

Oh, and the third stage will pit each rebel against a member of the Elite Ten. I’m not quite sure how that will work, as there are more than ten rebels who aren’t Erina…but perhaps it will be the trio of Takumi, Megumi and Souma working together against their Elite Ten opponent, whom Kobayashi Rindou presents to them as the newest member of the Ten: Hayama Akira. Oh, shit!

Shokugeki no Souma 3 – 04

It’s Day 4, and Kuga and his bald mapo legion still don’t fear Souma and Megumi in the least. Ryouko and Yuuki agree that things look pretty bleak; but Megumi assures them that she and Souma have a plan. That plan, which required a great deal of networking and preparation, finally starts to come together, and not a moment too soon.

That plan aims to exploit the weaknesses of Kuga’s Sichuan stall: the increased patronage on Saturday means longer lines. The very old, the very young, and everyone who came with them are all waiting to be plucked from the endless lines. But first, Souma needs a place to seat them; enter Tomita-san, his neighbor from his home shopping district, with a set of benches.

He’s got seats, but he needs one more push to poach those people waiting in Kuga’s line, and has it in an innovative twist on mapo tofu. Not only does he add his noodles, but a pork meatball with a heavenly center of gelatinous curry-seasoned broth that melts through the dish and sends waves of wonderful aromas straight into the line.

With both seats and a means to put people in them, Souma quickly swipes half of Kuga’s hungry line, and Kuga realizes he’s not dealing with a docile housecat. That cat has been watching his stall for three days, and he’s grown into a ferocious lion.

And yet Kuga doesn’t panic, because Souma has just Megumi helping him. The increased workload is sure to cause both of them to break, but Souma pulls one secret weapon after another out of his arsenal. First, the scene where his diner appeared open is explained: it wasn’t Souma, but Mimasaka Subaru working there, training to become exactly like Souma in food stall speed and skill.

In a way, Mimasaka inspired Souma to truly observe and profile his opponent (Kuga) before formulating a plan to defeat him. With Mimasaka by his side manning the stoves, Souma doubles his productivity, while Megumi’s innkeeping experience at the Staigaire has made her formidable at customer service.

When it gets dark, Megumi’s colleagues at the Cultural Research Club arrive with gorgeous lanterns that draw even more customers. When the three again start to feel the strain of the increased workload, Nikumi arrives, having delegated her spot at the Don RS booth, to help Souma out. She helped develop his buns, so takes over that task from Megumi.

Then the Aldini brothers join in. Takumi won’t allow his rival Souma to be defeated without “accomplishing something.” Now numbering six, all of them elites within their class, Souma’s restaurant has finally come together.

Once the day’s takings are tallied, Souma & Co’s stall beats Kuga and his army of baldies with first place in the central area, all but assuring an expulsion-preventing profit with one day left. It’s a thrilling come-from-behind victory, with Souma relying on the friendships he’s formed far and wide, quite a contrast to Kuga running his stall like a despot.

In other Moon Festival news, Alice & Co. finally get their act together, as she combines Akira’s excellent curry with a special kind of 3D-printed chocolate ribbon that slowly melts into the dish, enhancing it. Looks like they’ll escape expulsion too. Akira even smiles, impressed by Alice’s clutch idea, which pleases Jun to no end. Up in Yamanote, Erina keeps a good table open just in case Souma’s dad shows up, while Tsukasa Eishi quietly chops veggies in a kitchen…what’s he planning?

Shokugeki no Souma 3 – 03

Day One of the Moon Festival…doesn’t go so well for Souma and Megumi. Kuga’s big flashy restaurant rakes in all the customers, while Souma’s little bun cart only manages a couple dozen sales. Kuga makes sure to stop by to gloat and patronize Souma as further punishment for challenging someone out of his league. Unfortunately for Megumi, she’s tied her cart—and her fate at Totsuki—to Souma’s. For once, Souma can’t just laugh this off.

Joining Souma and Megumi in the red on the first day are Alice, Ryou and Akira, which draws the ire of Erina, considering all three were Autumn Elections finalists. Souma still offers her and the others dinner in the form of leftover buns, but the fact remains all five are in dire straits.

The next day, to Kuga’s surprise, Souma’s cart does a little better, jumping from 40th to 35th in the area rankings, and you can just a comeback mounting. Wait…that’s actually the smell of Sadatsuka Nao’s grotesque cuisine. As Megumi says, she and Yukihira make quite the pair as culinary sadists.

Turns out Souma’s increased sales were due to the fact he used some bun dough to make fresh handmade noodles, and by moving around the area and giving away samples, he hopes to stoke up a marketing campaign that will get him and Megumi the customers they need to get back in the black.

While I admire Souma’s generosity, surely it only hurts his bottom line to be not only feeding his friends after the first day, but giving out so many freebies on the second night. I guess it’s a matter of him not compromising his values just to profit…but he’s only making things tougher for himself when Kuga has made things plenty tough.

I imagine Alice, Ryou and Akira will also be expelled unless they get their shit together, but Akira thinks Ryou’s years of spoiling Alice has ruined any possibility of them climbing out of the hole they’ve made the first two days (though a naan lollipop does sound intriguing). Then Alice concedes that they should focus not on her ambitious and expensive experiments, but on a more customer-focused menu.

Meanwhile, Souma knows he needs more than buns and noodles, and Megumi is sticking with him to the bitter end, so he prepares for an all-nighter. Meanwhile, his old hometown friend Mayumi notices the Yukihira Diner’s lights are on, and upon entering, receives a terrible shock…

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When Souma’s lil’ budding journalist buddy, Whasisname, puts Souma’s profile right next to Kuga’s in the Official Moon Festival Guide, not only Souma, but his closest friends and frenemies are fired up. Nikumi is apologetic she can’t help out, as she’s finding her groove and regaining her charisma with the the Don RS.

Souma seeks the aid of the Nakiris, who happen to have an hour to kill while waiting for festival material to arrive. As a result of their Stagiaire time, Hisako is a lot warmer towards Souma, and Alice has always been friendly with him, so Erina has no choice but to act as a third taste tester.

Rather than cruel and arrogant, the trio is actually level-headed and extremely helpful in analyzing Souma’s ad hoc mapo tofu. It lacks the balance of ma (chilies) and na (numbing peppers) heat crucial in Sichuan cooking.

Getting super food-nerdy, Alice explains how the taste receptors for spiciness are different form the other five tastes, and actually triggers the same neuroreceptors as pain and pleasure, making Kuga’s food painfully spicy yet addictive. Medicinal gourmand Hisako even chimes in with the healing properties of spiciness.

Armed with a wealth of information from three of the best in the business, Souma lays out a plan of research, testing, and tasting to achieve that magic addictive formula. Tadokoro eagerly pledges herself to him, worried (justifiably) that he’d have a hard time assembling a team with so many of his peers off doing their own thing.

That includes Alice, who missed the deadline to register but commandeers Hayama booth with the maternal blessing of Shiomi (who is just happy Akira has friends his own age) and Kurokiba (who is in his “dormant whatever” state…for now).

Souma works tirelessly in the kitchen, developing stronger and stronger levels of pure heat, turning both his and Tadokoro’s lips into swollen masses, but is ultimately cursed by failure. It isn’t just the heat that makes Kuga’s cuisine so powerful—it’s everything around and beneath that spice. Every ingredient in his mapo tofu is carefully custom-made and thoroughly vetted over time.

Souma seems to concede that he may not be able to beat Kuga in Sichuan cuisine…but there are seven other major Chinese regional cuisines, and a gambit from his father prior to a festival where their diner had a booth gives Souma an idea, and with help from Hojo, he’s able to precure the instrument of his grand Chinese pivot.

The day of the start of the Moon Festival arrives, and everyone seems lively, amped-up, and ready to compete for the mouths and money of the masses. Perhaps the funniest sequence in an episode full of pleasant character-based humor is when it’s time to sing Totsuki’s anthem, something neither Souma nor I knew even existed.

And yet everyone, no matter how different they may be in other areas, EVERYONE not only knows every single note and word, but sing it with all the bright-eyed optimism of elementary schoolers.

With the Festival officially in gear, Souma unveils his secret weapon: stone oven-baked black pepper buns. (Mouth watering) His and Tadokoro’s first two customers experience foodgasms…we’ll see if they’re able to make a profit to not get expelled, or beat Kuga at a game he believes is already in the bag.

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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7 Awesome Non-Romantic Couples of Summer 2016

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Summer 2016 has shaped up to be bursting with interesting boy/girl relationships that aren’t necessarily (or in some cases, even remotely) romantic. Just friends, BFFs, best buds, call ’em what you want, they’ve already made a huge impact this season. Here are seven of our favorites. If you know of one we missed, let us know in the ‘ments.

Heavy Spoilers Throughout.

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Takamiya Naho x Suwa Hiroto (Orange)

Orange is primarily focused on the potentially future-and-life-saving romance between Naho and Kakeru, but Naho’s friends play a key role in facilitating her mission, and none more than Suwa. Indeed, in the future where Kakeru dies Naho marries Suwa and they have a child, but both of their future selves seemed committed to making sure their past selves saved Kakeru. That meant Suwa putting his own feelings for Naho aside.

Now that they both know about each other’s letters form the future, Naho and Suwa have a strong, unique non-romantic relationship. In the circle of friends, Hagita and Azusa are another romantic couple in the making, leaving Suwa and Takako, who we think should be a couple so everyone’s paired up and happy.

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Kariu Rena x Kaizaki Arata (ReLIFE)

Remember ReLIFE? Zane semi-binged in the first two weeks July, and it was full of great character pairings. Most were romantic: Kariu and Oga (better late than never); Kaizaki and Chizuru (a pairing potentially doomed by circumstance, but not dead); An and Ryou (who weren’t fooling anyone).

But one of the best combos wasn’t romantic: Kariu and Kaizaki. He helped end her misunderstandings about Chizuru’s behavior and brought them together as friends, and then Chizuru helped Kariu repair her friendship with Honoka. Kaizaki was also instrumental in getting Oga to realize his feelings for Kariu, leading to them finally pairing up at the Summer Festival. Being friends with and helping Kariu out also helped Kaizaki come to grip with his own social issues.

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Utara Canaria x Suzaku Ichiya (Qualidea Code)

Ichiya has been and continues to be a twerp in QC, but his friendship with Canaria was one of the most humanizing things about him. His boorish “I’m all we need” arrogance is borne out of his intense desire to be strong enough so that his friend doesn’t have to fight (even though he was at his best when she was buffing him with her song).

Not the most original dynamic, but the fact Ichiya and Cana were never even hinted at a romantic couple (and never acted awkwardly towards each other) made the couple more interesting.

Sadly, Canaria was suddenly killed off after just four episodes and all evidence suggests she’s not coming back. Since she was the only person Ichiya cared about in the world, he’s not so high on the world right now.

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Hoshino Yumemi x Customer (Planetarian)

This show only spanned five quick episodes, but still packed an emotional punch, and dealt with some very elemental Asimovian themes when it came to human-robot relations.

At first, the customer was impatient and indifferent to the planetarium host without an audience. But her relentless positivity wore him down, and he became enamored of the idyllic island in a sea of apocalypse she represented.

He became so fond of Yumemi that seeing that she made it out of the Sarcophagus City with him safe and sound became as much a priority as surviving, making it all the more tragic when she disobeys his order to stay put when she senses his life is at risk and she sacrifices herself to save him. Thank goodness her memories are backed up!

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Yukihira Souma x Tadokoro Megumi/Nakiri Erina/Nakiri Alice/Mito Ikumi (Shokugeki no Souma: Ni no Sara)

Yukihira Souma didn’t come to Totsuki Academy to find a girlfriend or wife, but he DID come to make friends. And that what he considers all the girls listed above: friends, whom he can talk with casually about a number of subjects, bounce ideas off of, and, of course, cook with (or against), enjoy meals with, and learn from.

Souma’s female friends don’t feel like an anime harem because it isn’t one; there are certainly actions and reactions from all of them that suggest they harbor affection or even some feelings for him, but Souma generally treats them non-romantically, as equals.

Which is just as well: his ideal woman would be someone with the qualities of all four: Megumi’s warmth, humility, and inner strength; Erina’s uncompromising pursuit of culinary perfection, unwavering confidence, and veiled decency; Alice’s technical know-how, cheerfulness and humor; and Nikumi’s infectious earnestness and generosity.

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Crusch Karsten x Natsuki Subaru (Re:Zero)

If you told us eight weeks ago that one of Subaru’s most intriguing friendships would be with one of his beloved Emilia-tan’s rivals for the throne of Lugnica, you would have sounded preposterous. Yet here we are. Crusch and Subaru aren’t exactly friends, but they do share mutual trust and respect for one another, which is an important step towards friendship…without the slightest hint of romance.

What’s interesting is how this was achieved: through trial and error (and some death and suffering), Subaru finally arrived at the formula of things to say, and when and how to say them (as well as the conviction to back those things up), to make Karsch believe him and agree to his plan to defeat the White Whale. The result of that battle remains to be seen, but it’s nevertheless impressive to see how far these to have come.

Compared with the other two candidates introduced along with her (Anastasia and Priscilla), Karsten’s character has been given the most depth and opportunity to empathize with her as a fully-dimensional person rather than a set of personality traits. Subaru shared a drink on the terrace with her, grovelled in vain and elicited her disgust, and finally came to her with head held high and an alliance she could get on board with. The fact she can magically detect when Subie is lying literally keeps him honest!

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Yatrisino Igsem x Ikta Solark (Alderamin on the Sky)

The undisputed crown for best non-romantic couple of the Summer are these two ridiculously-named characters from Alderamin. Preston has gone on at length about what makes these two so fun and riveting to watch, but it all comes back to the fact that you just can’t put them in a simple box like “siblings”, “lovers”, “soul mates,” or “brains and brawn.”

Instead, they have their own box: the Yatori & Ikta Box. Beyond friends, beyond family, and frighteningly effective as a duo, keeping each other out of trouble and making each other better. We were sold on them before an episode aired detailing how they met and forged their unique bond; after that portrait our regard for them only grew. These two make this show.

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 – 24 (Fin)

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Hannah (Braverade): Here we are: the final dish, which after watching I considered deserved a spot among the best of the series, for various reasons, but most notably because it didn’t try to do too much. With only two challengers left, the show could really focus in depth on their two dishes and get down to the delicious culinary details. In effect, this was like an informal Shokugeki: Hayama and Souma going at it with everything they’ve got.

Zane (sesameacrylic): A delicious final ep to be sure, Han! Glad to be contributing for this final episode of a show I handed off to you to to my heavier Summer workload, though I still watched it along with you. And I agree that while it’s no episode 12 or 14, this episode is indeed required watching that gets at the essence of the show: smart culinary commentary backing up a good old-fashioned shonen-style duel with food instead of weapons.

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Hannah (Braverade): In the process of dueling, Souma, and for that manner many other characters, not only developed their characters further through their processes, influences, and innovations, but changed the minds of their peers in the process, or at least gave them a better understanding of who he/they are.

Zane (sesameacrylic): That’s quite a mouthful there, but I think I see what you’re getting at. Take Erina. She’s looked down on Souma all this time—literally, since she’s in the luxury box for this competition, above the fray and all—but this last dish, and the manner in which Souma came upon it, not through perfection but failure, learning from each and every loss, basically forced Erina to, at the very least, kinda-sorta acknowledge him.

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Hannah (Braverade): Exactly. They don’t even meet in this episode, but Erina can’t dismiss the five judges’ reactions to Souma’s dish, nor the final score, which is only one point below spice expert Hayama (who clearly expected to win running away, not by a squeaker) and two points below her own cousin Alice.

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Zane (sesameacrylic): The similar unveiling of the two dishes as “fragrance bombs” was pretty clever, and really expressed the impact that “contained” spiced dishes make on the nose. Even cleverer was the fact the bombs worked in different ways, as did the impact of the two dishes. Hayama’s was like a piercing spear, but Souma’s was more like hit combos from a mixed martial artist.

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Hannah (Braverade): The show wisely avoided letting the hero Win It All. Rather, this is another failure for Souma, who wanted to win but didn’t. But failures have driven him to become a better chef, and this one will be no different. And what a close loss it was. Setting aside the one-point difference, the scoring shows that two judges clearly liked Hayama’s dish more while the other three were firmly in Souma’s corner.

The fact that had this been an official shokugeki, Souma would have won 3-2, and the resulting heated argument among the judges, proves that Souma was even closer to winning that the one-point difference indicates on its face.

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Zane (sesameacrylic): For all the excitement and delectableness of the final two candidates, the episode still manages to save plenty of time for a nice epilogue. I’ve always liked when the show simply lets the characters have fun and blow off steam after a big battle, as they do here with a party congratulating not only Souma and Megumi, but Marui and Takumi. The Aldini brothers are there, and so is Nikumi, showing that those who enter Souma’s orbit don’t easily leave it.

Hannah (Braverade): Hojo admitting she misjudged Megumi was also a nice little moment. Hojo wasn’t the deepest character, but I appreciated that the show didn’t forget about There’s also an interesting tension between those at the Polar Star party and those who aren’t: Alice, Ryo and Hisako aren’t in that social circle, and neither is Hayama, who is content to carry a piss-drunk Jun, his savior, mentor, and muse, to bed.

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Zane (sesameacrylic): The show also smartly ends with some nice Souma/Megumi moments. Souma tells her “I like your cooking” the same way you’d confess to someone, and Megumi reacts appropriately. Then the show closes with a callback to the first episode when Souma subjected Hinako to peanut butter calamari. This time he uses yogurt, which is even dirtier looking when Megumi’s disgust is visualized as softcore tentporn.

Hannah (Braverade): Fortunately, this show had a lot more to offer than hilariously wrong foodgasm visualizations. Like Souma’s curry risotto omelette rice, it leaves me wanting more, like to know who will ultimately win the autumn elections. I suspect this isn’t the last we’ve seen of Food Wars.

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Shokugeki no Souma – 23

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After Group B’s solid showing, it’s Group A’s turn to shine, and shine they do, and every candidate shines through their own unique methods and specific culinary specialty. And while I get how compressing everyone’s evaluation into such a small space increases the tension and excitement, this second straight episode of such an approach still felt rushed and a times, formulaic—like the show was scrambling to get to everyone before the final showdown between Souma and Akira next week.

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This episode also suffered from a slightly weaker field, starting with Ryo, Alice’s aide. Now, I haven’t quite gotten what I believe to be my fair share of Alice this season, so to focus so much on her aide felt like a poorer use of time, despite his need to compete as a candidate. Still, Ryo makes a pretty intense impresson once he slips on his bandanna and his personality becomes a lot more pushy and assertive, essentially daring the judges to “slurp” and “stuff” to best enjoy his cognac lobster curry.

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The candidate I care most about this week, Nikumi, went next, and didn’t embarrass herself, though like her, I thought she’d score in the 90’s like Ryo. Her pork belly curry looked amazing, and her grateful reaction to Souma’s praise was classic Cute Nikumi. While a much lower profile character than Nikumi or Megumi, Ryoko also distinguished herself by tying Nikumi, thanks to a curry that showcases her mastery of fermentation, as well as time and patience. Still, like Nikumi, she’s visibly pissed she didn’t score higher.

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Rounding out the quartet this week were two more Polar Star residents, who end up tying for second place with 88 points each, 2 higher than Nikumi and Ryoko. Marui, whose room has always been commandeered by the rest of his dorm-mates, shows off his knowledge of culinary history by blending curry udon and vichyssoise. The quiet, messy-haired Shun impresses with a curry in which everything, from the eggs and bacon to the salt that seasons everything, is smoked.

This week ends with two pairs of candidates tied for second and third, with perhaps the two toughest candidates yet to present their dishes. So it’s pretty likely, barring any disasters, that Ryoko and Nikumi will be bumped in what the preview declares will be the final episode of Food Wars.

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