Shokugeki no Souma 5 – 02 – Tha Last Meal is Delayed

These first two episodes of SnS‘s fifth season weren’t supposed to be merely a two-part preview of a series that won’t return for many months, if ever. Yet that’s what happened, and it’s impossible not to approach this episode with that in mind.

With the BLUE Competition looming, Totsuki must pick three chefs (four if you count Erina, who’s automatically in) to represent the academy. They need not be in the Elite Ten, but any chef at Totsuki.

The resulting preliminaries are hastily organized and involve so many different chefs making different kinds of soup, it all ended up a bit of a chaotic mess—more a stream of things happening than the truly compelling culinary competition I’d expect of the best of Food Wars. This was the equivalent of throwing a bunch of stuff on the screen, be it dishes or “foodgasm” reactions, and seeing what sticks. Nothing much stuck.

Two of the winners of the three BLUE spots come as no surprise: Souma and Aldini, while the third is a bit of a surprise. Megumi gains first place with an initially “lame”looking dish of meatballs, until the judges discover that each ball contains a miso soup using miso from all of the areas of Japan. It’s definitely the most clever dish presented, both a symbol of her collected Good Times and a flavor tour of Japan. Megumi also reacts to her win with her usual fluster.

Later, while walking the halls of the school(!!!) Souma and Megumi are reeled into a first-year class at Suzuki-sensei’s request to regail the youngins of some Totsuki war stories. This sequence doesn’t last long enough to have much of an impact, but is merely the preamble to Suzuki staking his claim to ownership of Erina’s hand in marriage (despite looking a lot like an illegitimate son of her dad??)

Souma isn’t so ready to let Suzuki swoop in and marry Erina, while Megumi’s dialect breaks out in her head as she ponders a poential teenage wedding. Still, Souma accepts Suzuki’s challenge to a non-official shokugeki right here and now, with Megumi as the judge, all while Erina listens from the hall to people who apparently think she’s a prize to be won. Maybe leave it up to her who she’ll marry and when, my guys?

Of course, a cooking duel that was meant to take place next week will now come…TBA. And that’s pretty much that. Nothing much to do now but wait, and hope the wait was worth it!

Shokugeki no Souma 5 – 01 – Tha Last Meal Begins

It’s a New Day, yes it is at Totsuki Academy. The rebellion is over, the evil empire fell, and now it’s time to rule. Erina does the ruling as the new Director, while Souma achieved what he set out to do back on Day One of Year One: claim the First Seat of the Elite Ten.

Filling out the other seats are chefs he’s fought beside and against. For the final exams, Erina puts the new Elite Ten at several disadvantages as they attempt to make 3 million in profit with a ramshackle beach hut on the dark corner of the beach.

Erina seems genuinely happy in her new role leading the academy to educational and creative freedom. Similarly, she’s never had an easier or warmer manner with Souma. The two are two peas in a pod right up until he tells her she’s prettier when she smiles (she did not solicit such explicit flirting!).

Erina also learns a little about how Souma’s mom used to man the kitchen with his dad. I imagine we’ll learn more about this mystery mom this season. If not, we’ll never learn…this is the final season, isn’t it?

As for the exam challenge, the Elite Ten bounce off each other and bicker for the first two days as they try to get the hut in usable order, but they’ve been in stickier situations before, and as Souma tells a camo-bikini’d Ikumi (who has a lot of screen time this week—not complaining!) it’s the Elite Ten’s job to inspire the rest of the students by achieving the impossible.

In this case, that’s clearing over 3.5 million in just one day’s serving, thanks to putting their heads together and crafting a yakisoba with an irresistible Hayama-developed aroma that ensnares all of the customers on the beach at once. It’s a very quick and rushed challenge, but it’s fun to see everyone working together again without the threat of expulsion looming.

Two new antagonists emerge from this opening episode: first-year rich kid Dakekanba Ken, who vows to make Souma’s Elite Ten reign as brief as possible. Souma for his part admires the kid’s spirit—Ken’s doing exactly what he did, after all! A far larger threat seems poised to emerge in Suzuki-sensei, who shares Erina’s dad’s ghostly white complexion and hair, to the point I initially thought it was Azami with an assumed identity (for whatever reason)!

In any case, this new Defense Against the Dark Culinary Arts teacher admired by all for his good looks wouldn’t look this much like Azami if he wasn’t related. I’ve heard mumblings that the Food Wars manga kind of crashed burned with a disastrous final arc, but my completionist nature precludes me from not finishing the anime adaptation to the end, whether that end is bitter, sweet, salty, sour…or umami.

Shokugeki no Souma 4 – 12 (Fin) – Victory Lap

With the Team Shokugeki won by the Rebels, everyone’s expulsions are canceled and their student IDs returned—albeit in far worse condition thanks to the abuse to which Momo subjects Bucchi. Azami steps down from the directorship, while the eight Elite Ten members who participated in the Shokugeki for Central lose their positions, freeing up the spots for the rebels.

At first I thought Erina would take the first position in the New Elite Ten, but instead she acknowledges that none of the rebels would have been victorious were it not for Souma’s actions, so she recommends him for the top spot. At the same time, Senzaemon is content to remain retired, so it’s Erina who takes over as director when Azami vacates the position.

With the third years moving on to the next stage of their lives, the New Elite Ten consists of Souma, Satoshi, Terunori, Akira, Ryou, Alice, Takumi, Etsuya, Nene, and Megumi. Both Souma and Erina are far busier with their lofty new positions, but Souma makes it clear to the whole school that no one will be punished for siding with Central, and anyone—anyone—is free to challenge him to a Shokugeki at any time.

With the Rebellion triumphant, the episode basically takes an extended victory lap, as the framing device of a letter narrated by Tenth Seat Megumi shows us where everyone has ended up, and how a number of characters  have made slight updates to their appearance for the new school year. There’s even a quick glance a a new potential challenger to Souma and/or Erina, who may be a new first-year. Further developments will have to wait until the fifth—and likely final final—season.

Shokugeki no Souma 4 – 11 – Making Beautiful Music Together

After a moment’s confusion by Souma’s insistence Erina treat their two-course meal as a Shokugeki in and of itself, it occurs to her that he’s right: classic teamwork has never been their strong suit and never will be. Instead, they have to challenge each other to the very hilt, which means an inter-Shokugeki Shokugeki is the only way to go.

Because I am a joyless person, I often skip to the end of Shokugeki no Souma episodes to get a glimpse at who might win, even if it’s somewhat obvious. I won’t do that for potentially game-changing or arc-resolving episodes, however, and so I didn’t do that here.

With only ten minutes remaining, Erina crafts the dish that will beat Souma’s and score the rebels victory over his father and Central. Everyone notices she’s working with a lot more forceful passion—like Souma usually works. She also uses Souma as an assistant, trusting him tasks that will be essential to the success of her dish, and thereby demonstrating splendid teamwork under fire.

When Erina describes her completed main course as a “chicken-and-egg rice bowl”, Azami refuses to even taste it, so disappointed in how far his daughter has fallen. Instead, he has Eishi and Rindou serve as his tasters. Of course, first they have to taste Souma’s dish, which they find so impressive they can’t imagine anything better could follow it up.

But not only does Erina’s Le Plat Veritable: The True Gourmet That Escaped Paradise, Delinquent Daughter Style surpass Souma’s dish, a reality is created for its tasters in which basically no dish could ever have followed Souma’s up so perfectly or surpassed it further. Even more shocking, a vital part of the dish is a croute containing…squid and peanut butter!

Long derided as a form of culinary torture, in the hands of the god tongue it elevates the Jidori chicken in her dish, but also connects it to Souma’s appetizer, creating a synergy between two seemingly vastly different plates that could never have been predicted. Erina may have had to push herself beyond her usual effortless culinary elegance, but when you see her beaming face, you know she enjoyed the hell out of it.

But while Eishi and Tsukasa acknowledge the dish, Azami is still dismissive, calling it a “pile of slop” filled with the “unnecassay passion”, pain and suffering of its chef. He likens Erina’s chosen path to that of his senpai, Souma’s dad, and said it will only lead her to the “Wastelands,” suffocation, and despair. But then Erina insists he taste it and give her and the rest of Totsuki his impressions.

Try as Azami might to fight back the reflexes of his body with the stern logic of his mind, but he cannot. When he reiterates his fear Erina will walk the Wastelands alone, Hisako comes forward and contradicts him, not as Erina’s servant, but as her friend.

Azami’s Gifting ability affects not just those in his immediate facility, but the other members of the Elite Ten, the rebels, Hisako, even Urara! Clothes are torn off left and right as a great distant hammer drums out a beat: beautiful music that Souma and Erina have created. Then Azami’s clothes tear away as well.

What her father calls “contamination” are the precious experiences Erina has had with people of so many backgrounds, skill sets, and values, expanding her culinary universe in ways she could never have imagined, providing the “ulimate spice” for her cooking. Urara has no choice but to declare the rebels the winner of the final bout and of the Team Shokugeki.

All that’s left to do is for someone to say “Glad you enjoyed it!”…and Souma defers to Erina, who is, after all, The Boss.

Shokugeki no Souma 4 – 10 – The Battle Within the Battle

The final bout is here, and Souma and Erina are forced to work together on a two-course meal. It goes about as well as you’d expect. Souma seems determined to challenge Erina at every turn, even after he lost rock-paper-scissors and got stuck with the first course. Meanwhile, Eishi and Rindou work like a well-oiled machine, and the latter presents their appetizer before the rebels even start cooking.

It’s a mushroom mille-fille using the formic acid from ants of all things to provide a unique and tantalizing tang, and it’s so delicious and well-composed, Azami’s “Gifting” ability—inherited by marrying into the Nakiri family—suddenly activates, disrobing some of the rebels (though I’m not sure why Ikumi is embarrassed, she rarely wears much to start with!)

Rindou’s dish is specifically crafted not just to show what her mastery of rare ingredients can do, but to provide the perfect preamble for Eishi’s main: a delicate yet powerful salt-crusted venison that transports everyone who eats it to a culinary Eden. It’s the ideal Azami talks about when he talks about Central, and even Souma has to admit it’s pretty powerful. But this isn’t a battle to determine whose cooking is best, necessarily, but how they come upon those flavors. It’s about the creative freedom of all chefs, not just an elite few.

As Souma cooks, he is constantly turning to Erina to taste things, tuning each of his ingredients like one would tune the strings of a guitar before a concert, “taking advantage” of her God Tongue the way her father wants to in his Central regime. His resulting dish combines two of his specialties—dishes only he could come up with—into one super-specialty that maximizes both his resourcefulness and playfulness with Erina’s God Tongue ability.

That resulting dish, “Countdown Caveman Meat, Cheeky Youngster Style”, wows all the judges and even causes another bout of Gifting from Azami, who cannot deny Souma juggled some very disparate flavors and techniques into a fascinatingly odd yet still cohesive plate. Unfortunately…it ain’t an appetizer. For one thing, the portion of meat presented is huge, and comes with a side of veggies. It appears to be its own meal, and for that reason, in this two-course Shokugeki, it gets a zero.

Everyone on both sides of the war is shocked that Souma, known for his rashness, would be so thoughtless as to sabotage the crucial final bout by failing to follow the simple rule of creating a dish that must come before another. But Souma hasn’t gone mad; he’s done this to challenge Erina one final time, when it matters most.

He tasted all of the mains she made the previous night; none of them would have beaten Eishi’s venison, because they weren’t her specialty. Souma went and created the best flavors he, Yukihira Souma, could make. Now it falls upon Erina to beat those flavors, and even overcome his un-appetizery portions, with her own gourmet specialty. In effect, Souma started a Shokugeki within the Shokugeki. If she can beat his dish, they lose. Time to put up or shut up!

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…

Shokugeki no Souma 3 – 02

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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