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 – 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 – 12

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Hannah: You know Zane, there wasn’t even a battle in this episode, but I was still bowled over by how much power lay in the deliberations, judgement and, aftermath, along with the surprise resolution that actually served both parties, thus transcending the typical Good Guys Win, Bad Guys Lose formula. A Food Wars episode without a Food War might sound transitory, but it sure didn’t feel that way. Instead, what it felt like was a masterpiece.

Zane: I’m inclined to agree, Han, that was an emotional spin cycle right there! Even with the cookoff concluded, it still had all the elements I’ve loved from previous previous showdowns, what with the highly-detailed analysis of the dish and its unique, metaphorical effect on the alumni-judges. At least in this Shokugeki, 7 > 9!

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Hannah: I like that; and I’m no math whiz, as you know. I also liked how the warm, earthy, nurturing flavor of Megumi’s terrine each evoked a different benevolent deity forthe judges. It spoke to them in different ways, but it spoke to them all, touching their hearts in a way Shinomiya’s simply didn’t.

Zane: Yeah, those Megumi gods were the best! I also appreciated how Megumi decided her best option was to try to put forth the best damn veggie terrine she could, freed of the limitations of Shino’s recette. Her Mature-vs.-Fresh treatment impressed the judges, and also laid the groundwork for the excellent character work to follow.

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Hannah: Was your heart, just warmed by the effect of her food when she’s on her game, suddenly cleaved in two upon the sight of those three coins on Shinomiya’s plate, indicating our heroine’s defeat? Even though I knew this wouldn’t be the end for her or Souma, mine certainly was.

Zane: Absolutely. I also knew Shino’s far more technically proficient, real-world-tested, award-winning cuisine was going to blow Megumi’s earnest but sloppy effort out of the water. I mean, the guy has the Pluspol. The PLUSPOL, fer cryin’ out loud! And yet, the suddenness of the judgement, and the look on Megumi’s face as she realizes she’s done, still had impact.

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Hannah: That brings us to the Deus Ex Doujima [Gin], which turned out not to be what I thought. When he put his coin on Megumi’s plate, breaking the rules of the Shokugeki, I thought we were in for a predictable-ish 12 Angry Men scenario in which he convinces the other judges to change their votes one by one. What happened instead was…much better.

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Zane: It was…it so was! Last week Doujima opined that Shino was holding back against a student, and now we see why: he graduated from Totsuki, moved to France, and became the chef-owner of a restaurant, i.e. got to the top so frikkin’ quickly, he finds himself at the top of a precipice, unsure of his next move.

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Hannah: You gotta stop agreeing with me…it’s kinda freaking me out. Anyway. His stagnation is regression. He’s moved forward so forcefully by sheer will and talent, he’s left the heart behind…a heart he finds when he finally takes a bite of Megumi’s cooking.

I’m glad to see the tripartite Megumi-deities show up again, but I’m even more impressed that rather than a goofy ridiculous fantasy played for laughs, which is often how people react to Souma’s food, Megumi’s food creates a pang of nostalgia for Shinomiya, transporting him back to a simpler, safer time, before he was on a “knife’s edge.”

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Zane: It’s a beautiful memory, to be sure. And as you say, the other judges don’t change their votes. Doujima puts his coin on Megumi’s plate, followed by Shino himself. He scoffed at Doujima’s apparent “pity vote” for the loser, but now sees that the power of Megumi’s food must be acknowledged. …Then Hinako, who isn’t even a judge, puts a 500-yen piece (these guys are rich, after all!) on the plate, making the Shokugeki a tie. The rules are bent, but Shino not only approves of the bending, but is a dang part of it.

Hannah: The flashback of Shinomiya with Hinako and the others gives us a glimpse into how far back these guys go, and how they continue to want to look out for him. Doujima allows this shokugeki because he sensed Shinomiya was in a rut and crafted an opportunity to show, not tell, him what he was missing; what he lost sight of: caring for the customers. Showing hospitality, of which Megumi is apparently the goddess, at least in her class. Shinomiya found a way forward, while Megumi found her strength.

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Zane: Well said. I also enjoyed the little scene between Megumi and Souma on their way back to the hotel room. Free from the oppressive concrete and stainless steel of the basement kitchen, they now walk in a cool, soothing night, a great weight lifted. Megumi no knows without a doubt that Souma is a good person, someone she wants to keep cooking with for a long time yet, and thanks him for helping her get that opportunity.

Hannah: Yes, if it weren’t for his reckless gambit, she’d be packing her bags for home. But to his credit, Souma doesn’t take credit; he only provided a nudge—breaking through the light mesh of Shinomiya’s unfairness—in order to bust through the brick wall and inspire both the judges and the chef who would’ve expelled her, Megumi herself had to rise to the occasion and show what she’s made of…and she did.

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Zane: So, all’s well that ends well! Except when Megumi goes ahead, Souma expresses his intense displeasure with losing, smacking his fist against a wall so hard his friends notice it when he returns to the hotel room. However well things ended, he still drew, rather than beat, Shino, and Doujima saved both their asses. Even as the sous chef, he takes responsibility, and will likely take the draw as a bitter pill of wisdom: as we saw from Shino’s rise, you don’t always win.

Hannah: And that brings us to the midpoint of this awesome show that blends your love of cooking with my love of intense battles. I’m really looking forward to the second half, which I’m sure will be just as entertaining a watch.

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Shokugeki no Souma – 11

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Shinomiya concedes that shokugekis of the type Souma proposes aren’t unprecidented, but like any other shokugeki, they requite the consent of both parties; consent he’s not willing to provide. That would be that, but Doujima Gin, who is running this show and its venue, and Inui decide otherwise.

Gin authorizes an unofficial or “street” shokugeki in the basement kitchen of the resort annex. If Souma and Megumi wins, they’re both still in Totsuki. If they lose, they’re both expelled.

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Not suprisingly, Megumi feels responsible for putting Souma in this predicament, but he won’t have her blaming herself for a choice he made. He says he made it because it’s not time for her to drop out yet, but the unspoken reason is, of course, she’s a dear friend who he couldn’t stand by and watch get unfairly washed out. They’re in this together now, because that’s what he wanted.

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When the contestants, Gin, and four other alumai judges assemble in the basement kitchen, Gin sets the rules: two hours, veggies leftover from the day’s training sessions, and most importantly, Megumi is the head chef who will be going up against Shinomiya. Souma will be a sous chef, nothing more, who must follow Megumi’s vision without alteration.

The reason for this is both plain and very welcome: if Souma is in charge and wins the shokugeki for Megumi, she’ll remain a tagalong, and continue to need to be saved by him. By putting her in the chef’s seat, Gin is hoping this shokugeki is the crucible through which they’ll finally see what Megumi’s made of, and whether Souma is justified in believing it’s worth un-expelling her.

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I loved the playful banter and horseplay between Gin, Shino, and the judges; all of whom are old classmates, if not friends who’ve known each other a long time. They also keep each other in check, the same way Aldini’s more reasonable brother kept him in check as his character was built, so not even Shino can become a full-blown villain.

Of course, the fact she’s going up against a seasoned, up-and-coming French chef-owner straight up freezes Megumi, until Souma slaps her hands together with his, a trick that always stops his hands from shaking, but require two people to do it. The message is clear: he’s here for her, only this time he’s behind her rather than the other way around.

She needn’t be concerned about her opponent or what he’s making, all she can do is put everything she has into her dish, using the skills she’s honed since she used to watch her mom cook as a young girl. Watching her stride proudly into battle with Souma as her trusty sidekick was a great image.

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Also a great image? DAT CHOU FARCI. Honestly, I’ve had cabbage rolls before, some delicious, some gross, but never anything like Chef Shino prepares. The judges put on a clinic in gastronomic know-how in analyzing his dish, and the animators do a great job whetting my own appetite by showing us the intricate step-by-step of its preparation.

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The foodgasm fantasy of the week is the four judges playing off of the fact it tastes like Shino put a spell on his dish, turning them into a magical girl team, complete with Gin in drag. I’ll admit, I’d probably watch a couple episodes of that show!

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Alas, this battle is not settled this week; in fact, we only catch a passing glimpse of the fruits of Chef Tadokoro’s labors, though we saw that she and Souma are like a well-oiled machine, with him supporting her in everything without making his own tasks suffer or taking over. You can literally see Megumi’s confidence surge as they cook, but she gets nervous again when it’s time to present.

Again, Souma gives her the push she needs to approach the alumni with her dish: an elaborate and delectable-looking terrine, this time not limited by Shino’s recette. We won’t know how they feel about it until next week, but we do know one thing: Shino held back, believing he could beat Megumi without breaking out his signature dish (or food bankai, if you will.) While Gin doesn’t think it likely Shino will lose, he does wonder if Shino’s arrogance is his Achilles Heel.

My take? It probably is. If Megumi really put everything she is and has into that terrine, while Shino just kinda half-assed things (at least by his standards), I believe the judges will be able to taste the difference.

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Shokugeki no Souma – 10

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Somewhat predictably based on how we’ve seen her act around Souma before, Erina is not particularly prepared to bump into Souma in the hallway after taking her bath. To whit: she denies she was humming the ED (she was, like Souma) and claims she’s not interested in playing cards later (which she is, as Hisako procured cards from the front desk). Still, it was nice to see a slightly more vulnerable side of her, even if she tried her darnedest to keep up a hostile front.

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Souma, who is perfectly comfortable expressing his happiness at being through the day’s trials, maintains his “whatever” attitude, and is surprised to find Doujima Gin already in the bath, stretching and making manly noises. While Gin oozes super-manliness, Souma isn’t intimidated, and the two actually bond, with Gin telling him more about Erina and her “God Tongue.”

Souma, not the sharpest tack with non-cooking-related things, realizes Erina beat him to the baths. He also learns Isshiki was the first back last year. He’s among greatness everywhere he looks, and fulfilling his wish to graduate at the top of his class will be no small feat.

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Thankfully, Souma’s whole dorm of first-years are able to survive the first day, and while many of them are all gung-ho about enjoying their fancy digs and playing through the night, those same people fall asleep quickly. Megumi doesn’t, though: fighting alongside Souma and rising to the occasion both with the first challenge and with dinner, she’s so full of confidence, she’s wide awake even though she’s exhausted.

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So naturally, the second day consists of a challenge that immediately puts that newfound confidence to the test by taking away her security blanket (Souma) in an every-person-for-themselves battle to prepare the best nine vegetable terrine for one Shinomiya Koujirou, who washed out 30 students in the first day.

Megumi initially freezes up at the sight of the bedlam before her, but clenches her fists and joins the fray, grabbing all the vegetables she needs…save one: the only cauliflower left when she gets to them are discolored due to oxidation. And in a dish where looks are as important as flavor, discolored cauli will sink her.

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I liked how Shinomiya gave Souma’s dish one bite, pondered it, and said “Pass.” No foodgasm, no elaborate fantasy; this guy is all business, and you don’t get any extra fanfare or praise for doing your job. Even Souma seems surprised by the lack of reaction.

But this isn’t Souma’s show this week; it’s Megumi’s. The A-part ended with a portentious scene of Megumi’s dish failing and Shinomiya expelling her, and that’s exactly what happens here. Yet even though we were fairly warned it would happen, when he brings the hammer down my heart sinks right along with Megumi’s.

The kicker: Shinomiya, while a dick, has a pretty ironclad reason for washing her out: she changed the chef’s recipe without his leave. Sure, the resulting dish was a success, but the point of the exercise was to show whether one was quick and tough enough to secure the freshest ingredients the fastest, and in this Megumi failed.

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But again, Shinomiya IS a dick, because there was no reason to include unfresh vegetables other than to increase the number of students who failed. Had she gotten a good cauli, she would have surely passed. Basically, Shinomiya’s logic is flawed, because in a restaurant situation, with a hungry customer waiting for a terrine, you’d probably do what Megumi did…though not necessarily in haute cuisine

At the end of the day, I’m siding with Megumi because I like her and don’t want her to go away, even if it’s unrealistic to expect everyone Souma knows to make it past the training camp, let alone graduate. It’s a bullshit reason to expel someone, and I’m glad Souma is standing up for her, even though the last thing she wants is for someone else to get expelled on her behalf—by challenging Shinomiya to a shokugeki. 

Shinomiya is by far the toughest foe he’s ever gone up against, so it should be a hell of a fight.

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