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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