I’m still on the fence with Shokugeki no Souma, even after six episodes. I like it, and in fact I liked this ep quite a bit. I know the manga does get better over time. There’s also the fact that it airs on a day when I have nothing else on my plate anime-wise, which makes it a more attractive follow candidate. But it doesn’t strike me as a show that’s terribly conducive to analysis – I don’t think Souma makes much secret of what it’s on about, and that’s one of the things that makes it enjoyable.
This week’s effort was thoroughly enjoyable, while illustrating the point. We start out with some almost slice-of-life moments in Polaris Dorm, which while seemingly atypical for Souma are actually one of my favorite sides of the series. Then we get some more manservice from Isshiki, this time tending the Polaris vegetable patch in a fundoshi (which barely covers his own patch). Nothing remotely subtle going on here, but there’s a heartfelt quality to the goings-on at the dorm I really like – these people are genuinely fond of each other as well as sharing a common passion, and Isshiki is a pretty funny character in all his peculiarities.
The central conflict of Shokugeki is likewise impossible to mistake, given that the villains do everything but twirl their moustaches (which I’m sure they’d do if they weren’t so far all hot chicks). The latest is the buxom Mito Ikumi (the two or three of you watching Tribe Cool Crew may take some amusement in the fact that Ishigami Shizuka also plays Haneru in that series – are there two more opposite characters on a resume?), who introduces us to the details Erina’s scheme to expand her empire by hounding and haranguing the less-powerful clubs into fighting hopeless shokugeki in order to try and save their meager holdings. The latest in her sights is the Donburi Research Society (Donmono) headed by the hapless Konishi Kan’ichi (a very funny Kawada Shinji).
Here’s the thing about Souma – I almost feel guilty giving a damn about all this, because it could hardly be more broadly played. Plucky sad sack poor kids being bullied by privileged ojou-samas with personalities from Hell? Yet I do, and that’s the peculiar alchemy of this series’ cooking. These snobs really are vile, and the good guys really genuinely likeable. Konishi is a preposterous lump, with his half-severed pompadour, fits of depression and his obsession with rice bowls, but you can’t not feel for him. And the food, as usual, is fabulous – and not just Nikumi’s A5 Wagyu, either. Everybody knows a cheap cut of beef actually has more flavor than a princely prime cut – or at least, she’s about to find out.
“Shameless” is the word that ran through my mind watching this ep, manifesting itself in many ways. From Isshiki’s exhibitionism to the Nikumi’s jiggling niku to the sledgehammer-subtle class warfare and most of the comedy, Shokugeki no Souma makes no apologies for what it is, and I think that’s the secret to why it works. It’s not easy to balance on the line between straight and parody so consistently that you find yourself wondering over and over which one you’re watching, but this series does it about as well as any I can remember.