I suppose I’m close to the point here of needing to make a decision about Food Wars, and it’s not an easy one. For just about every thing I like about the series there’s something (or someone) about it that annoys me – but of course, that can be seen as a glass half-full (of “rice juice”) thing too. There are a lot of contrasts with this show, the most elemental of which is that it’s as formulaic as any shounen out there, yet has many elements that are very distinctive. It seems like a contradiction, but if you’ve been watching (or especially if you’ve read the manga) I think you’ll know what I mean.
I would have to say that on-balance, this was my favorite episode of the series so far, because it’s the one I think comes closest to letting what’s genuinely charming and likeable about it show through. The thing is that Souma is a cast full of tropes, virtually top to bottom – not least of which is the overpowered MC (creative casting on that one, J.C. Staff). That’s not an insignificant problem and there are times when it annoys the hell out of me, but it’s not the deal-breaker (among others) that it is with Sword Art Online. Why is that? In part, I think, because this is a comedy first and lacks the ponderousness of SAO, but also because Souma is much more of a regular guy apart from the whole overpowered thing.
We see that pattern a lot with this series. There’s a degree to which its treatment of fanservice borders on the offensive – like when it settles into the pattern of endlessly showing female characters in close-ups either of jiggling boobs or butts. Yet it’s an equal opportunity offender to at least some extent. Girls, boys, old ladies, yakuza – all are sensual beings who get carried to heights of pleasure by food. There’s a universality to the love of great cuisine, and Souma does a very good job of showing that (almost as good as the best food anime of this season, Eikoku Ikke, Nihon wo Taberu).
That segues into the introduction of the cast at Polaris Dormitory, which is a motley crew of weirdos (and Megumi) starting with the old lady house manager Fumio Dimidou (Yokoo Mari having way too much fun). This is a pretty (squid) stock shounen scenario – the outcast dorm in the scary old building which used to be the king of the hill but has fallen on hard times, the weird initiation ritual, the closely-knit bonding of outcasts. Yet again, it’s not quite what you expect it to be. Whether intentional satire or merely innate creativity exerting itself to lift the material above formula, Polaris and its inmates are different. There’s a genuine affection between them, and a genuine charm to the lot of them – the party scene was terrific, very natural for all the bizarre goings on. This house and its tenants are not, as Chimera-kun might say, a mass-produced model.
I won’t list off all the cast for now, though it’s full of big names – Natsuki Hanae, Kobayashi Yuusuke, Kayano Ai, Uchida Maya for starters – and these are a pretty interesting group of people. Most important for now is Sakurai Takahiro as Isshiki Satoshi, who makes his appearance popping his head through the ceiling of Souma’s new room to invite him to that welcome party. Isshiki is a weird guy but seems gentle-mannered and well-liked – even his naked apron dance isn’t met with horror by the girls. But he drops a bomb on Souma when they’re alone – he’s #7 in the Elite Ten, and Souma is utterly astonished at Isshiki’s cooking. I’d just not quickly here that while I like Sakurai-san a lot, with him it almost always comes down to whether he’s right for the part – and here, he’s not. Sakurai playing 16 year-olds is almost always a mistake these days, and he’s probably second only to Kamiya Hiroshi in the “ridiculous falsetto” department. I get where they thought they needed someone like this for the character, but it’s a pretty big miscast.
I suppose I’ll give Shokugeki no Souma one more week before a final decision on covering it. It does have the luxury of the day virtually to itself, but on the flipside there is a certain amount of repetitiveness to the series – even if it tweaks formula it still relies on it a lot, and tends to recycle the same gags over and over. But on the other hand (there’s always an other hand with Souma) in a very real sense the good part of the series only started this week.