Shokugeki no Souma 2 – 13 (Fin)

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Food Wars 2’s final episode wraps up the brief but wonderful Staigaire mini-arc with, what else, a food war, inviting some familiar faces to help judge the best staff dish, immediately following the end SHINO’S TOKYO’s pre-open.

Inui seems more hyper than usual, but otherwise she and the others mainly here to make curtain calls, and also to provide a distinguished audience and extra pressure for Souma. Whether he passes this Staigaire depends entirely on the dish he’s been developing.

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Everything, from the camp to the elections to the staigaire, has been building up to this. Souma has always been good at replicating dishes, following recipes, and finding creative, resourceful, even unorthodox ways to succeed. He’s even made quite a few “signature”-style dishes to win.

But this is different. Here, he has to craft something he can only make, but that is also worthy of being placed on a Two-Michelin Star restaurant hoping to win a third. The shounen transition/evolution Souma must undergo is perfectly boiled down to getting pincushioned by a rain of fancy french cutlery (i.e. aborbing French culinary techniquies), which crack his old self and reveal a new, refined chef.

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He successfully makes that transition by serving a playful oyakodon dish that looks like a classic french whole quail. Shino sees room for improvement before it goes on the menu, but it’s a sucessful dish, so Souma passes.

While Shino has always been driven by the desire to make his mom happy, Souma’s drive is largely sourced by his desire to surpass his dad. He sees that being at Totsuki, a melting pot of culinary knowledge from faculty and peer alike, is the best path to that goal.

That means picking up the box full of shokugeki challenges and getting to work knocking them off, each time learning something new from the process. He wants no less than the first seat; the top rung. As the pot lid falls on this solid second helping of that quest, I’d neither rule out nor oppose a third sometime down the road.

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Shokugeki no Souma 2 – 12

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What better way to follow up an episode that brought back the magic…than the Magician of Legumes himself? Food Wars goes right there in its next-to-last episode, focusing the entire episode on Souma as he advances to the next level: SHINO’S brand-new Tokyo destination.

Everyone’s very casual and genial to start out (Lucie, whom I believe to be voiced by the great Arai Satomi, is a standout), and Shino even cooks everyone a lovely mushroom burdock quiche after they finish cleaning and prepping for the day. Yay! But once the lights come on, Souma gets a rude awakening: this ain’t a family restaurant, and it ain’t gonna be a cakewalk like his first residency.

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This is haute cuisine, and Lucie, Gao, Abel, and Shino are polished PROS. They would be; back in Paris SHINO’S has two Michelin Stars. Thus it’s as if Souma’s difficulty level has been jacked up from 2 to 10. He’s astounded by the speed, precision, and silence of the intentionally short-staffed kitchen. Even on the first pre-open night, Souma can just barely get by.

The episode does a great job illustrating the whirlwind of pressure and activity, frazzling and intimidating Souma like never before. He’s not alone: the Staigaire gets tougher for everyone, as we see in the only cutaway to students other than Souma: all seem to be locked in some kind of epic battle, and everyone’s trying to hide a degree of fear and inadequacy and focus on the tasks at hand. Many anonymous students fail.

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But this is Souma we’re talking about; he’s not going to give up. In the deep end of the pool without floaties, he spends the week learning how to swim, and not just doggie paddle.

He foregoes sleep to absorb all of the kitchen’s precise and intricate French cooking techniques, all while getting into the pace and rhythms of the kitchen. He doesn’t have time to feel sorry for himself as the staff berates him mercilessly. He starts having a blast.

Shino’s team is wowed. but Shino is less impressed; after all this was the kid who challenged him to a Shokugeki; it would be a huge shame if he turned out to be anything less than what he’s become now. And despite all the gruntwork required of him, Souma has been developing a specialty he wishes to submit for the staff presentation following the pre-open. I can’t wait to see what he comes up with.

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Shokugeki no Souma 2 – 11

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I find it interesting how this episode, my favorite episode of this second season of Food Wars, took place after the Autumn Elections, after all the student battles had been fought and settled. While the tension and energy of those episodes was often electric, and the finale was superb, I feel like I was suffering from a bit of ‘arena fatigue’.

This episode tosses Souma & Co. out into the real world, and a lot of this episode’s greatness lies in its realism. It melds the warlike theme of completing a mission—serving and making your mark in a real restaurant—with the slice of life comedy I found so infectious in shows like Working!!.

Even better, it doesn’t dart from place to place showing us how every single character is fairing. There’s a clear A-plot and B-plot, and the A-plot takes precedence for maximum immersiveness. When I learned it would be two students to a restaurant, my first thought was that Souma would be teamed up with Erina.

Instead, the show did us one better: it teamed him up with Erina’s self-appointed “aide”, Miss Secretary herself, Arato Hisako. It turns out to be an inspired pairing that, at least for an episode, upgrades Arato from the character nosebleeds to center stage.

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As she and Souma start out at Western Restaurant Mitamura, Arato is in the midst of a personal crisis following her defeat to Hayama. She believes she will only be a liability if she remains too close to Erina. Note that no one else has told her this, it’s just something she believes. Hayama’s words about her being “too small” in the scope of her dreams really hit her hard.

At first confrontational to the point of warning him not to speak to her, Souma gradually wears her down with his unique blend of reliable friendliness, restless ambition, and an unflappable competence in the midst of a multi-wave battle against hordes of bullet train passengers who fill the restaurant all at once and demand transactions a bit faster than humanly possible.

Arato is no fool: she can acknowledge Souma has more experience with this kind of thing than she does. She can even take his orders to make things go smoother. But she doesn’t have to like it, and she doesn’t, so Souma serves as a catalyst for her to learn the ropes and the rhythms of this very unique restaurant fast.

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The result of that effort is heaps of praise from her older co-workers, many of whom have been working there since the beginning (it’s a third-gen family establishment). At first she thinks the praise is just for Souma, but it’s for her too, and it’s so wonderful to receive those laurels, Arato quickly does what she’s always done: rest upon them. Settle.

Pairing Arato with Souma was better than pairing him with Erina, because where the latter would have been primarily confrontational, the pairing we get results in some wonderful characterization. In the beginning, estranged from her mistress or not, an enemy of Erina’s (Souma) is an enemy of Arato’s. But her relationship wtih Souma evolves swiftly and rapidly into something more complex and satisfying.

Even if they didn’t know about Arato’s issues regarding complacency and her self-imposed exile from Erina, Totsuki’s administrators did her a solid by pairing her with Souma, who enjoys the first couple days of training, but has a splinter in his head always festering, telling him they’ve gotta do more.

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At first Arato thinks he’s being absurd—things are going great!—but he eventually gets her to realize “making your mark” means more than just fitting nicely into the machinery. The machinery has faults that are harming profitability and may lead to the restaurant’s demise. If they’re to truly pass their first Staigaire, they have to help fix that machinery, and ensure it keeps working after they leave.

Calling an emergency staff meeting Arato, with Souma backing her up, proposes radical changes, such as cutting back on the menu options. The seasoned staff rightly push back; with a gutted menu it won’t be Mitamura anymore.

The owner is also adverse, since he’s trying to get back to the golden years of the restaurant, not cut corners. Everyone’s positions here make sense, but the undeniable reality is that those bullet train hordes are keeping Mitamura from being it’s best, and something has to give.

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The B-plot is far more lightweight and tuned towards comedy, but those aren’t marks against it, as Megumi and Erina make the most of their limited time. It’s another inspired pairing that, like Souma/Arato, features a take-charge go-getter half and a talented but meeker half struggling to make her mark.

We know how talented and capable Erina is, so it’s no surprise when she stanches control of the kitchen right out from under the grizzled chef’s feet. He can’t do anything about it, and not just because of politics: Erina makes his place better. He’s on the fast road to a Michelin star after a couple days. That’s the power of having the God Tongue under your employ. She’s the ultimate culinary ringer.

Megumi is almost exclusively relegated to dishwashing duty, simply trying to stay out of Erina’s path and doing her job, but she knows she has to distinguish herself somehow. She finds a way through her observation of the dirty plates that come to her, shrewdly suggesting (with de facto Chef Erina’s support) that customers be allowed to determine the portion of sauce they want on a popular dish.

The de jure chef can’t argue with her when a customer asks a waiter for more sauce, and Erina is impressed with Megumi’s subtle perceptiveness.

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As for Mitamura, rather than cut down the menu, they take perhaps an even greater risk: they make the restaurant by reservation only. But it pays off. Without hordes storming in and out, the kitchen and staff can shine brighter, and the regulars scared off by the train passenger business start to return and find they were fools to ever leave.

Souma effectively lit a fire under Arato, and the two show Mitamura’s owner and staff that they made the right decision to change, not for change’s sake, but for the sake of the identity they wanted the restaurant to have: a fine casual Western restaurant that takes care with its dishes and customers…not a station-side industrial feedbag.

As a result, they are confronted outside the restaurant by a stalky Totsuki agent who informs them they’ve passed the first round of their Staigaire. Arato allows herself a proud smile, but her estrangement with Erina remains an issue to be resolved, which Souma can also help her with.

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Erina, unsurprisingly, misses Arato, and wishes she’d come back. She recalls the time she asked her purple-haired friend to come closer, to take her hands and have fun with her, not simply watch from a respectful distance. Too improper was Arato’s reply.

She felt she could only walk behind, not beside Erina. But it’s pretty clear that’s not the case when Megumi brings up Arato and Erina reacts the exact same way Arato reacted when Souma brought up Erina.

So Souma tells her to work to become someone who can walk beside Erina, and in the meantime, stop the silly self-exile. He has just the excuse she needs: a bag full of manga he promised Erina. He gives Arato the bag and the directive to go back to her friend. Arato takes it and runs off with ebullient gratitude and optimism.

An all around triumph, this episode. Souma, Megumi remained largely their own likable selves, Erina kicked her usual ass, and most importantly I gained an entirely new and welcome appreciation for Arato Hisako, who no doubt will be less dismissive and confrontational towards Souma in the future. Seeing her in glasses was icing on the cake.

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