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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Shokugeki no Souma 3 – 11

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LOL. Never change, Erina.

Shokugeki no Souma 3 – 10

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shokugeki no Souma 3 – 09

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shokugeki no Souma 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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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 – 07

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Shokugeki no Souma 2 – 04

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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