Vinland Saga – 21 – It Will Never Be Enough

It’s pretty amazing that Askeladd, who only a couple episodes ago was about to be assassinated by his own mutinying men, now finds himself taking a prominent role in maneuvering Prince Canute to the throne of the most powerful kingdom in Europe. Then again, it’s par for the course: Askeladd isn’t a mere pirate, he’s a tremendous diplomat, charmer, and spinner of yarns, all to aid his own interests.

Askeladd knows he’s sending his prince into a veritable hornets nest from which he may never come out…unless he plays his cards right. Sweyn wants Canute out of the picture, but he’s not reckless or bloodthirsty. He must match the king’s wits with his own. When Canute is shot in the chest by a sniper with a crossbow, the person actually shot was merely a slave woman serving as his body double.

Thorfinn goes after the sniper, and ends up in the arms of one Leif Erikson, a man he had probably not thought about in some time. Leif spots Askeladd first, and surely feels he owes Thors a heavy debt for saving them years ago. Leif remembers the cheerful boy on Iceland, and expects that he’s ready to leave the battlefield and go home; that he’s had enough of battle. He sure looks it, after all.

Of course, that’s not the case. Thorfinn betrays a moment or two of surprise upon seeing his old uncle again, but any talk of going home or seeing his mother and sister again, and he immediately puts his shell back up. It hasn’t been enough, and it never will be until Askeladd breathes his last, having been pierced through the heart with the blade of Thors, wielded by his son.

It’s entirely expected for Finn to act this way, but it hardly means he’s gone for good; he’s still so young after all. Just that he has his priorities. If he even considers himself the same person as the boy who has a mother and sister in Iceland, which is itself in doubt, returning comes home is entirely dependant on getting his father the revenge he believes he’s due.

That’s despite him knowing full well his father would have preferred he stop fighting and return home to family years ago, and not even bother with Askeladd.

That night, Askeladd visits an irreparably-wounded Bjorn, who arranges for his boss to fight and kill him tomorrow. Then Askeladd holds council with Canute, Thorkell, and Gunnar, and we learn just how much he’s thought through this York situation. He hired the assassin to attack the double, in hopes of making a big public show for the people of York that King Sweyn was playing dirty.

Indeed, we see rumors of varying degrees of accuracy spread across the city. Askeladd’s elite gut even sniffs out Gunnar’s treachery, and in Gunnar’s presence not only said only what he wanted Sweyn himself to eventually hear (that they’re not interested in a short-term battle, but in buying time), but has Finn follow Gunnar and his spy all the way to Sweyn’s house.

Canute doesn’t like how a woman had to give her life for a charade, but he can’t really complain when it’s put him in a far better position, increasing his available options while limiting those of his father.

The next day, Thorfinn asks Askeladd for yet another duel, and Askeladd once again accepts, with Canute and Thorkell acting as witnesses. But first, Askeladd has “a previous engagement” with Bjorn, who arrives and draws his sword for his last fight.

Before he dies, Bjorn tells his leader how much he looked up to him, but also pitied him for the loneliness he must experience. He paints Askeladd as someone who has risen to his present station (and indeed still breathes and stands, albeit with one so-so-leg) by rejecting everything and anyone.

Still, all Bjorn wanted to be his friend, and before delivering the blow that kills him, Askeladd grants him that wish before he passes. He allows him to hear those words, then turns Thorfinn, who may well succeed him as the next Askeladd. Scoring victories and glory left and right, but with nary a friend, family member, or lover to share it with.

Vinland Saga – 20 – Everything Must Change

Flanked by Askeladd, Thorfinn, and his new follower Thorkell and his army, Canute marches into Gainsborough like at…well, like a Prince—a clueless boy no longer. Floki can clearly tell something has changed just by looking at Canute’s eyes and hearing his tone.

His newfound backbone, charisma, and will conspire to put Floki in his place. It’s a good start, but the prince knows swaying his father won’t be so easy. More likely than not, the king will have to die before Canute’s Paradise on Earth can be realized.

Canute takes only Askeladd and Thorfinn to his meeting with the king, but the three realize almost immediately that they are walking into a potential ambush. Sweyn has packed his hall with hidden soldiers and archers, and his precise commands for where the trio to stand/kneel makes it clear he’s not shy about his intentions to finish what the war in England couldn’t—dispatch the son he no longer needs.

Askeladd demonstrates what an asset he is to Canute by using his silver tongue to beg Sweyn to reconsider what he believes the “will of the crown” to be. Sweyn has certainly seen better days (long ago, he apparently resembled Canute), and he’s not so subtly implying that the crown he wears is largely responsible, as it has a will of its own…much like the One Ring.

All a king can do is hold onto and increase his power. When Askeladd explains how that wouldn’t necessarily happen if he assassinates Canute, the king withdraws from that course of action, and an uneasy truce is reached. They’re to reconvene in York, where he’ll have a “reward” for his son’s service to the crown.

That night, Canute sits and drinks with his men (and a fresh-shaven—and 23-year-old!—Williband), and hears Askeladd’s impression of his father. Bottom line: Sweyn is no slouch, and dealing with him will pose a considerable challenge.

While pissing outside, Atli and his now brain-damaged brother bid their former boss farewell. Askeladd, a good sport, gives Atli some gold and one final order: never pick up a sword again, but take a wife and work the land. Canute’s paradise will need many more men like Atli and less like Askeladd or Thorkell. Because everything has to change.

P.S. Another Leif Erikson sighting, in Northumbria. Will his and Askeladd’s paths cross once more before the curtain falls?

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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