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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Shokugeki no Souma – 18

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In part thanks to the efforts of her Totsuki Elite Ten adviser, Nakamozu Kinu was able to occupy a stout castle in a prime location where she can vacuum up the cash of anyone coming on or off the trains, and Mozuya Karaage is a good product, so she’s doing just fine. But she’s also been operating in a vacuum; without legitimate competition. That changes this week, in what is billed as an epic samurai-era battle for dominion over the stomachs—and wallets—of the locals.

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Mozuya is a tough foe, but Souma, Nikumi, Mayumi, and Chairman Tomita work to lay out its strengths and weaknesses. Souma in particular makes the keen observation that Mozuya does not operate on the same turf as the Sumire Shopping District. Its greatest strength is also a weakness, because customers have nowhere to stop and eat. Souma susses out the customers Mozuya isn’t reaching due to their location and the way they serve their product.

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But it’s not enough to find those customers; they must be lured to the district with a sensational product that is “innovate, memorable, and portable” in addition to having an enhanced taste. Nikumi suggests the shift from lean breast meat to heartier, jucier thigh meat, and while Tomita’s karaage onigiri falls flat, the idea of rice going so well with the chicken sparks an idea in Souma’s head: one that’s kept secret from us, the audience, as well as Nakamozu.

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We don’t know exactly what’s going on, but we see a lot of wheels turning, from Tomita waking up the printer, to Nikumi throwing her Mito weight around to get on-the-dot early deliveries of meat, to Mayumi conscripting her little brother to help with package design. There is a great sense of shit going downpreparations for a surprise attack on Mozuya.

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Nakamozu, ensconced in her fortress of success, in her arrogance, never sees it coming. She sees some boys walking past her shop with karaage; then more and more people. By the third day, her sales are down 20%, an unthinkable course of events by her reckoning.

But the fact for those days she’s simply standing there beside her store, not innovating, resting on her laurels, speaks volumes. Souma never announced his siege on her castle, and she doesn’t realize there’s a siege at all until it’s too late.

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What amazes her—and me too, frankly—is how quickly and completely Souma is able to revitalize a shopping district that had been a “ghost town” three days prior. Then again, Souma and Nikumi are elite culinary masterminds supported by hard-working, dependable, passionate people, in an area where multiple disciplines are represented; disciplines that can be utilized to make a lot of progress in a pittance of time.

The genius of Souma’s delectable “Sumire Karaage Roll” is that it contains a little bit of every district business. Mozuya was all about purity, homogeneity, and authoritarianism; The Sumire Roll is culinary democracy in action.

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Once she inevitably tastes the roll, like her rivals tasted her karaage only a few days ago, Nakamozu has no choice but to concede defeat. After all, she tasted the innovation and resourcefulness of pure youth, as well as grossly underestimated the tactical skills of the kids she challenged.

Her downfall is a black mark on her Totsuki adviser’s record, so that advisor, one Eizan Etsuya, ninth seat of the Elite Ten, calls Souma in, not to “beat him up”, but to invite him to join his bullpen of chefs with which he creates empires of success all over Japan and beyond.

Souma, content with his smaller goal to keep his dad’s diner going, refuses the offer, so Eizan informs Souma that he’s been selected for the Autumn Elections, in which he’ll be working towards Souma’s defeat and the end of his meteoric rise. Somehow, I doubt Eizan will succeed.

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Shokugeki no Souma – 17

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Zane reviews this week’s Food Wars.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Shokugeki no Souma – 14

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SnS delivers its second masterpiece in three episodes both by putting Souma further up against the wall than he’s ever been, as his souffle omelettes are falling before customers take them. Meanwhile, Erina and Takumi have already dished out 200 servings. But there’s no conspiracy or sabotage behind Souma’s plight: it’s his fault; he effed up, and now he’s got to figure out a way out of the hole he’s made for himself, with time dwindling.

Another chef who finishes well before him is “Snow White”, whose name we finally learn is Nakiri Alice, Erina’s cousin and life-long rival. What Erina brings to the table with her talent, ability, and knowledge of the classics, Alice is on the cutting edge of molecular gastronomy. My face lit up in glee like a Christmas tree when it was revealed Alice’s “eggs” weren’t just eggs.

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As viewers we have the luxury of checking in on everyone as they near, or struggle to near, 200 servings, but Souma has no time to lose. Erina is frustrated that her gloating fails to reach his ears, as he works out the calculations to how he’ll get to 200. It involves lots of eggs, lots of cream, lots of pans, and lots of burners, and his mastery of all of those things at lightning speed in order to lure all those customers.

He moves on from his failure and starts over, getting enough people to his stand so he can serve omelettes as soon as they’re ready. Once the people try the jiggly, fluffy, bouncy delicacies, they can’t contain their enthusiasm and praise, which attracts even more attention.

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I’m not sure where Souma got all those burners or eggs (the logistics of this camp would seem to hinge upon an “Unlimited Food Works” skill someone at Totsuki possesses), but he manages to reach his target of 200…with two seconds remaining. He also impresses the alumni brass like Doujima, as well as the backhanded compliments and a formal introduction by Alice, who is really mean and cool and adorable and a great foil to Erina and new rival to Souma. She can clearly back up her big talk (and then some), and I look forward to seeing more of her.

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And as it did with Alice’s molecular eggs, the show gives us one more surprise, with Doujima summoning all 600-some survivors thus far into the hotel lobby for a big pep talk about how the unpredictability of the camp is a microcosm of their impending careers as chefs, and how they must learn how to deal with surprises and how to adapt when things don’t go their way.

Just when we thought another challenge was in store, the alumni burst out of the doors with a wait staff to reveal that the final challenge isn’t a challenge, but a meal, prepared by that same alumni. Not only is this a once-in-a-lifetime experience and the ultimate reward to the survivors of the camp, but another complete surprise. It really was a beautiful, heartfelt way to wrap up the arc.

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Shokugeki no Souma – 13

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Despite the very dreamlike imagery, I was pretty convinced for some reason that the training camp was finished and this thirteenth episode, bridging the gap between the first and second halves of this show, would take it easy. That misunderstanding only lasted until we learn Isshiki really was just having a dream.

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The first years have a long way to go: Chef Doujima has arranged a challenge that will surely thin the already thin herds: having to create an innovative breakfast dish using eggs worthy of acknowledgement by a huge cross-section of diverse customers, from the growers and producers of the Totsuki resorts’ foodstuffs, to the resorts’ service staff, all of whom are extremely keen, experienced food critics. They also have to serve 200 servings of their dish—which they have all night to devise and prepare—in order to complete the challenge.

This episode does a good job rendering an incredibly tense and difficult situation being tackled by people who are already exhausted from the day’s challenges. But the intent is clear: the chefs who pass the training camp have to have ample backbone and endurance to go with their talent, taste, resourcefulness, and speed.

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The episode also branches out, affording us dozens of little mini-stories happening to all of the various characters, none of whom are as simple as enemies or friends anymore. Even Erina has multiple facets, and the personification of one of those is a mysterious new character I’ll call “Snow White,” whose looks and air of confidence suggests she’s quite a chef to be reckoned with. Naturally, Souma treats her like he’d treat anyone else: with courtesy, friendliness, and respect, irregardless of her hidden motives for him.

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For the second straight episode, Food Wars doesn’t simply focus on Souma. Everyone gets a chance to show off their breakfast-innovation skillz: there’s Takumi’s “Insalata Frittata” (which is almost so corny it almost comes all the way around to being cool); Megumi’s delectable looking “bite-size oden” (which capitalizes on her nurturing cuisine); Nikumi’s “loco moco donburi” (I loved her look of nervous anticipation as the judges tasted), all the way to Erina’s exquisite Eggs Benedict (made with a dried mullet roe-infused muffin that shimmers like gold and tastes like million bucks).

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Erina is the first to pass, with Takumi right on her heels, and Megumi doing particularly well, still flush with confidence after her near-as-makes-no-difference win against Shino. But Snow White has an odd dish made up of various plain-looking eggs, which doesn’t seem to be popular. And that brings us to Souma, who by episode’s end has served less than ten of his “souffle omelette”, which showed promise but may have fizzled out, as some of his ideas sometimes do (peanut butter squid, anyone?).

Could the pressure of wanting to get better be negatively effecting Souma’s focus and ability to power through the challenges? Is that constant worry he’s not yet good enough stifling his creativity rather than stoking it? It looks like he’s in a very bad way, and he’s on his own. While I’m sure he’ll pull out of it next week, it isn’t the “whether” but the “how” that I’m most interested in; along with what Snow White’s game is.

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Shokugeki no Souma – 07

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shokugeki no Souma – 06

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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