The hits just keep on coming, as Food Wars continues its quest to check off every shounen cliche in the book. You can add the fated rival and the training camp arc to the list this week, though as usual the series tweaks the recipe just enough to where the taste seems somewhat fresh and original. You’ve also got the knowing nods to its own formulaic, such as the “death flag” caption over the two guys whose names I can’r even remember classic “Redshirts” in the Star Trek tradition.
This being Shokugeki, of course the training camp is a lot more than just seishun bonding and trying to peek in the girls’ bath (though maybe we’ll get some of that). Rather, its main function is a ruthless killing field where as much as half the first-year students will be culled from the flock in a series of brutal challenges by esteemed Tootsuki alumni, now running famous restaurants all over the world.
I don’t know why the Japanese seem so fixated on these kinds of cutthroat high schools, but I think you could look at this one as the perfect vehicle for a time when TV viewers all over the world are obsessed with food-based reality TV. All of these battles and challenges are like a manga version of Chopped or Iron Chef, with expulsion as the penalty for failure. And the relevant battle this time is to use the ingredients of the forests and rivers around the Tootsuki hotel to create a dish suitable for serving at the high-class Washoku restaurant of Inui Hinako (the utterly unmistakable Noto Mamiko).
It’s in Inui’s challenge that we meet a character who represents something a little different than the students we’ve met before, who fall rather neatly into the “friend” or “enemy” camps for the most part. He’s Aldini Takumi (Hanae Natsuki), who along with his utterly mismatched twin Isami (Ono Yuuki) worked at their father’s trattoria in Italy. Takumi is an obnoxious brat (Isami is much more mellow), but he’s the one rival we’ve met who respects Souma for what he is – someone who’s actually produced cooking for the common people to spend their hard-earned cash on. And the respect is mutual – Souma is far too smart to let Takumi’s abrasive personality form his view of his fellow student. He recognises a true talent when he sees one, and understands this is someone to watch out for.
Inui’s challenge is an interesting one – again, straight from Food Network – and for the first time, we see Souma apparently aced out in terms of cleverness. He (paired with Megumi, much to her relief) manages to catch a couple of rainbow trout, but the Aldinis think outside the box in a way Souma only talks about – they manage to secure a duck while everyone else is chasing fish, and incorporate the local ingredients into a kind of Japanese salsa verde that produces a final result which screams of fusion cuisine. It’s Japanese enough for Inui’s tastes, though to me the dish seems Italian on a visceral level – high-risk and high-reward cooking which really throws the gauntlet down for Souma. And that’s nice to see, because Shokugeki is a better series when we see him really pushed, especially by someone who’s not a cartoon villain.