Why do I like this series? It’s unapologetically sexist (though you can safely preface every adjective with “unapologetically” where Souma is concerned), with some of the most crass fanservice you’ll ever see. It has an overpowered male lead who conquers everything before him no matter how impossible the odds. The conflicts that drive the plot are as subtle as the sweetness in a venti caramel Frappuccino. In short, it has more strikes against it than the French railway system.
Yet I do enjoy it – I can’t deny that. I enjoy the manga pretty well, and interestingly the things that make it enjoyable are both better and worse in the anime. The anime is even more crass and dumb and preposterous, but with Shokugeki, those are the merits as well as the flaws. This is such a sensual series in every way that it’s just bigger in anime form, because anime is a medium that plays to more of our senses and does so more dynamically than manga does. With some adaptations that can be a help, with others a hindrance – and with this series, I think it’s both.
What can you say about the shokugeki between Nikumi and Souma – obviously an important moment, as it’s the first true expression of the title? It pretty much speaks for itself. Nikumi plays the cartoon villain role to the hilt in her pointedly skimpy outfit, preaching tired elitist claptrap that you know Souma will rip to shreds with his Godly cooking. There is an actual philosophical divide on-display here, a style that values the quality of the ingredient above all (which is actually the cornerstone of much of traditional Japanese cuisine) versus one that relies on robust flavors and thrilling the palate. There’s something to be said for both – assuming you have the money to enjoy the former as it’s meant to be enjoyed – but this is Souma’s series, so there’s never any suspense as to how this is going to turn out.
That said, as usual the material itself is a feast for the senses. Between Nikumi’s luscious meat and Souma’s gutsy tower of flavor, one sure does get hungry for a don watching the shokugeki happen. And there’s a lot of amusement along the way, stuff like Konishi’s recollection of an earlier shokugeki with only wild dogs in attendance, and Souma’s cutting observation (I confess I was thinking it myself) that chefs who talk too much in the kitchen might be afraid their cuisine can’t speak for itself.
So how does it all turn out? After some food porn involving the judges, Souma of course wins – and that means not only is Nikumi forced to join the DRS, but she’s ruthlessly cut from Erina’s clique. And of course, she falls for Souma too – which is a bit of a problem as he’s announced to Konishi that he’s not actually joining the DRS himself. The epilogue closes in a way that perfectly epitomizes the lowbrow comic appeal of this series – “They say Nikumi got even more violent after that”.