Shokugeki no Souma – 08

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This week’s Food Wars leaves the confines of the school for an elaborate “training camp”, held on the premises of Totsuki’s famed (and very highly-priced) resorts. Isshiki warns his juniors that the purpose of the camp is to thin the herd; in some cases half of the students who participate end up on the expulsion block.

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Predictably, Megumi’s a nervous wreck, while Souma is perfectly relaxed, as he even calls out to “Nikumi” (a nickname he’s decided to use and she’ll just have to accept it) fresh off his victory over her. While I hope not every girl he beats gets the hots for him, I do like how nicely her haughtiness has been neutralized.

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Once at the resort, the students learn their various camp tasks will be judged by Totsuki alumni, all of whom went through this themselves and survived to graduation, and celebrity restaurateurs, who will be treating the students no differently than they treat their staff. If they’re no up to snuff, boom expelled. One judge makes their meaning plain by kicking out a kid just for having scented hair product.

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She’s paired with Souma again, to her sweet relief this time. The first time she thought she’d paired with a troublemaker who was all talk; but now she and many others know differently: he’s a troublemaker who is more than all talk. In fact, most of the talk is directed at him from one Takumi Aldini, who along with his fraternal twin bro Isumi, work at their family trattoria in Italy. Like Souma, he’s already a pro who’s served and satisfied thousands of customers.

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On top of their alumni judge Inui Hinako (a bubbly yet ruthless Noto Mamiko)’s challenge that they forage the resort grounds for the ingredients needed to create a Japanese-style dish, Takumi makes it a battle between him and Souma, with Inui deciding who’s best. In a nice character moment, Inui refuses, leaving Takumi stranded on his high horse, with even his own bro laughing at him. I like how everyone on the show is aware of Takumi’s overzealousness, as if he knows he’s in a shounen battle anime.

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He may be fiery, but he and Asumi are also one hell of a team, being the only students to find a duck, then perfectly timing their work to finish first with a Japanese-Italian fusion dish that makes Inui imagine herself in a Pavarotti-like opera singer’s arms as he serenades her while wearing a duck hat of sorts, in another bizarre foodgasm.

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Nikumi fell into a trap of “the best ingredients always win, period” and got clobbered by Souma, but these Aldini boys are a lot sharper and scrappier. The more limits you impose on them, the more creative and amazing the food they dish out. They’re a lot more on Souma’s level. On top of that, the brothers operate like a well-oiled machine, an efficiency we haven’t yet seen with Souma and Megumi.

Not only does Souma have to use river fish—the same thing everyone else is using—but he also has to properly coordinate its preparation with Megumi in the time remaining. Hopefully they Aldinis don’t try to sabotage them on top of all that, because their hill is steep enough as it is. Will Souma be able to turn Takumi’s loathing into grudging respect? I suspect so. What I look forward to is watching how.

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Shokugeki no Souma – 07

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Let’s face it: We all knew exactly how this would end. For all her bluster, trash-talking, attempts at mind games, and peerless A5 Wagyu Beef, Nikumi was going to loooooose. Souma wasn’t getting expelled, and the club he stood for wasn’t going to be shut down. The haters were going to hate. Souma just cooked; and outcooked Nikumi on the only field that matters: the field of a don battle.

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Her precious meat may be singular, and she may have formidable skill, flair, and grace in butchering, searing, roasting and slicing said meat (Erina compares her to a pianist, equal parts strength and delicacy). To the show’s credit, Nikumi IS a phenomenal chef, especially with meat.

But while here meat is fresh and beautiful and marbled six ways from Sunday, she’s been spoiled by it. Her arrogance and refusal to take Souma seriously cost her dearly, though you can’t blame her when Souma whips out discount half-off discount sirloin from the supermarket, seemingly spitting on the entire Shokugeki institution.

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Her meat is so lovely, laid out like a flower atop garlic rice, Nikumi tries to make it the star of the don, litterally sitting on top like oil on top of water. The rice is just okay, but the dish suffers in its essential don-ness, or cohesiveness, because the meat clobbers everything else in that bowl. The judges are impressed by the ingredients and preparation, as they should be, and are highly skeptical Souma’s dish is even worth trying.

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But this is Souma we’re talking about: not only is he sneaky as all hell when it comes to how he’s going to make something out of nothing, but that particular talent works far more in his favor than Nikumi’s mad eat skillz. From the pickled ginger in the rice to the onions sauteed in juices and wine, to the thick yet delicate sauce tickled with burnt soy, all the components of the dish work together to elevate one another out of the supermarket and into the stomachs of the venerable judges, who literally can’t stop eating it and are sad when it’s gone.

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And that’s why Souma wins the don battle: his don beat Nikumi because it didn’t put on airs and intimidate you with its pedigree, it merely welcomed you to eat as much of it as you wanted. The judges didn’t even finish Nikumi’s rice, nor could she have bumped it up with beef, because she’s already maxed out with the A5 on top, and would have been left with competing flavors. Her ingredient saved her from total embarrassment, but she was clearly out of her element here.

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Souma’s other knack is for neither looking up or down at people, but looking straight at them as an equal. To this end, he prepared a bowl for Nikumi as well (something she didn’t do for him), and one bite of the welcoming don transports her to the day her dad ripped her teddy and told her as a Mika woman she could not be ladylike, but must be strong and aggressive to succeed in life. Nikumi hadn’t thought of that day in years, or the pain of leaving her girly side behind, but Souma’s don took her there.

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Far from a sore winner or a gloater, Souma not only fed her after a tough battle, but complimented her nickname when spelled in hiragana. A combination of the shock of a defeat she didn’t think possible (and all the consequences that come with it), and Souma’s basic kindness and friendliness—matching the personality of his don—leads to her becoming all flustered and smitten with him.

Whether Souma intended for her to assume he was joining the Don RS to burn her, the point is you don’t run out of the arena until you figure out what’s really going to happen: She’s to report to the Don RS, which she dutifully does, trying to look cute for Souma, only to find that he never had any intention of joining himself; it’s just her and the hair guy.

Nikumi is thus humanized, and thankfully, their battle didn’t have any lame sabotage or cheating. Both played by the rules, and Souma beat Nikumi fair and square. Watching Erina, Megumi and the other Polars watch and react to the battle added to the stakes. Even the cute, two-faced MC was a nice touch. All in all, great first Shokugeki. I look forward to more.

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P.S. Yup, That’s Christina next to that 9, indicating yours truly will be handling most Shokugeki no Souma reviews henceforth. Now I just wished he’d cook some of this stuff for me. —Hannah