I find my feelings for Shokugeki no Souma the anime are very much in-line with those for the manga. That is to say, I started out liking it modestly as a fun diversion, and found that it got substantially more interesting as it progressed. More evidence that this is among the best sort of adaptation, really – it’s religiously faithful to the letter and spirit of the source material, yet it utilizes the tools only anime has at its disposal to make the experience even better. J.C. Staff is rightfully known for faithful manga adaptations, but this stands among the more stylish and visually impressive of the lot.
What stands out to me about this episode – and Shokugeki no Souma generally – is that it manages to surprise you with its tonal and thematic diversity. It never stops being what it seems to be in the early episodes, but it turns out that there’s an awful lot else that’s coexisting with that series. It would have have seemed unlikely a few episodes in that Souma could pull off developments as unapologetically earnest and lacking in irony as the ones in this episode, yet it unquestionably does. There’s a lot of warmth underneath all the food porn, snark and soft ecchi – the first clues are the scenes in Polaris Dormitory, but that heart extends to places where you wouldn’t immediately assume it might.
I won’t lie – the ballad of Shinomiya and Tadokoro is unabashedly hokey stuff. I won’t say Shino’s heart grew three sizes that day, but as it turns out this story was really about him more than Megumi – his struggles to rise to the top of the French food world, and the stagnation he felt after he got there. I don’t know much about the specific circumstances of Japanese chefs in Paris, but I do know the French can be highly resistant to foreigners encroaching on their cultural bastions. There’s a fierce pride in the French arts (like haute cuisine) and a fierce desire to protect them – as there should be. But that can make things pretty difficult for someone like Shinomiya, who got his own restaurant in Paris at 24 but soon realized that was the easy part.
Megumi’s Rainbow Terrine as a memory-trigger (featuring the great Kobayashi Yumiko as young Shinomiya and Terasaki Yuka as his mother) had the air of Ratatouille to it, but that can be forgiven as an homage. I do think there’s something to the notion that any good chef’s cooking will reflect who they are as a person, so – corny as it is – I rather like the idea of Megumi’s showing her as a nurturing and protective soul (which is in turn a reflection of her mother). It may have been rough around the edges but it was honest and creative – all of those also being a reflection of the chef. Does one expect a first-year high schooler to offer cooking as refined as a Paris-based Michelin chef? Of course not – but that’s not the point. The point, as it turns out, was Doujima looking out for an old friend who needed a kick-start to his soul.
Not to be lost in all this (and it certainly wasn’t lost on Doujima) was Souma-kun’s reaction to losing, once Megumi and the others had left. Even acting as a silent sous chef, this is a guy who hates to lose. He does suffer the faults of the overpowered protagonist, but at least Souma is a hard-core genius – something like a Honda Gorou (Major) of the youth cooking world. I do tend to prefer the protagonist to have a more comprehensive character arc rather than start out as advanced as this one, but the series does a good enough job of filling in that gap with the other, less-formidable characters – and Souma is genuine enough that he never becomes an insufferable Kirito (and thank goodness for that).