I’ll give J.C. Staff credit here, because they’re delivering the goods with Shokugeki no Souma for better and worse. This is a studio known for faithful adaptations (along with Pierrot probably the most faithful on average, I’d say) and with a manga as popular as this one, they were smart enough to realize that no major tweaks were necessary to sell it to an anime audience. Not only are there legions of manga fans, but the material is among the most anime-friendly of any series in WSJ.
That entails some frustrations for me, but they’re the same ones as with the manga so it’s no discredit to the anime. The characters are generally stock (and not soup stock, either), flat-out archetypes we’ve seen a thousand times before. The plot is cliched and utterly unsubtle. But the extent to which Shokugeki carries out these cliches is part of what saves it, because it ranges into the realm of satire a lot of the time. That, and the fact that it delivers the goods in terms of pure sensory delights. Shamelessly.
The waifu wars are already raging hard among viewers of the anime, just as they did when the manga started. Having introduced the ultimate vile tsuntsun stereotype in Erina, Shokugeki now (naturally) gives us her diametric opposite – the mild, shy, nervous and timid Tadokoro Megumi (Takahashi Minami). She’s certainly no less a trope than Erina, but for me at least a lot easier to like. She’s a small-town girl gone to the big city to try and make her village proud (yet another chestnut), and always on the verge of flunking out. She’s almost as aghast as Erina at Souma’s appearance during the orientation, and vows to avoid any contact with him so she can lay low – so naturally, they’re assigned as partners in Souma’s very first class.
Erina and Megumi stand as markers on either extreme of the character spectrum, with the rest of the cast destined to take places somewhere in-between. The French cooking class with Roland Chappelle (Mizushima Yuu) – the “teacher that never smiles” – is pretty predictable. Souma has no idea how to make Beef Bourguignon but is fully confident in his ability to wing it. A couple of resentful fellow students sabotage the dish, forcing Souma to adjust on the fly – and in the process he makes a dish even more delectable (using protease-rich honey to tenderize and flavor the meat quickly). The chef is impressed as hell, and the saboteurs flunk.
Here’s the thing, though – when you order an item off a menu at a restaurant, do you complain when you get what you ordered? No – not if it’s prepared well. And as with cooking, even with mediocre raw ingredients you can deliver a pleasant anime dish if the execution is good enough. All of the food porn sequences, the exacting detail of the cooking process itself, Souma’s relentlessly unruffled badassery – it’s very well-executed, and occasionally even inspired. I think in that way this series is quite like the humble teishoku-ya Souma’s family ran – the menu may be humble and familiar, but the experience itself is surprisingly pleasant. The hardest thing for me is dealing with the borderline LN-level cliches, but ultimately I think the final product is good enough to suffer through.