I’ve been saying from the beginning that Food Wars was a series that definitely gets better and more interesting as it progresses, and while those of you that read the manga knew that was true, I suspect the TV-only viewers have come to realize it now too. And I think it’s been clear from my posts on this show that I genuinely like it. But I still feel as if I’ve been selling Souma short – it really does grow on you, and grow generally. I’m genuinely surprised that it seems ticketed for low disc sales (not that it will matter all that much to the production committee), because it seems to possess many of the qualities a strong-selling title might be expected to possess.
We’ve just now passed the point in the story which I’ve read in the manga, and things continue to develop nicely (I’m sort of glad to be able to experience it fresh, to be honest). This episode very much had the feeling of a season finale, despite being the first episode of a new cour. It’s the closest we’ve come so far to a conclusion, and the first time we’ve really seen the protagonist put in a bind (and one of his own making) that seemed sufficiently nasty that he might just not get out of it (though of course intellectually we know he will).
What’s happened here is pretty simple – Souma-kun has made a dumb choice about what dish to serve at the buffet. Be it inexperience, cockiness, or both, he’s acted unwisely in choosing a soufflé omelette – a dish perfectly suited to a controlled environment where a chef decides when a customer is served, but dismally suited to one where that choice is in the customer’s hands. It’s certainly the biggest mistake we’ve seen the main character make, and it’s nice to see him portrayed as being a little vulnerable for a change.
Meanwhile, most of the big names are breezing through, including everyone in Souma’s current harem (among whom I number Takumi Aldini). The top performers are unsurprising – Erina’s roe-infused Benedict is on its way to pushing her over 400 servings, while that girl we met last week – who of course is actually Erina’s half-Danish cousin Alice – has to stop at 380 only because she’s run out of ingredients. She’s made the most interesting dish of the day – each egg on her plate is more than it appears, a marvel of modernist creativity using one of the most basic ingredients in the kitchen.
It’s interesting to see both who’s invested in Souma’s struggles and to watch their reactions. Alice comes over to check things out, and of course Takumi and Megumi are beside themselves with worry. But in watching Souma gather himself and fight for his life, Erina’s behavor is the most interesting because she seems for the first time to genuinely show a flicker of respect. Even when he appears down and out her gloating is milder than one would expect, and when he stages his miracle comeback she almost appears to be rooting for him. Might one speculate that she’s realizing that her life would be less interesting without Souma around – and that he’s one of the few students at Tootisuki who might pose her a real challenge?
Also interesting is the way the series chooses to have Souma extricate himself from his dilemma. Rather than reshuffle and start over after realizing his mistake, Souma doubles-down on the soufflé omelette – in effect, rather than change, he does the wrong thing a lot better. Maybe doing so is a practical necessity (he is on the clock), but I think it’s also a bit of a comment on the sort of guy he is, too. Souma’s survival comes as a result of a display of remarkable raw talent and guts – turning his assembly line into performance art, selling his audience the sizzle to get them to try the steak. His speed is superhuman and the show he puts on mesmerizing, but he gets the job done – barely, and it gets pretty tense towards the end. Dare I say even Erina looked a bit relieved?
Fortunately, this marks the end of the training camp nightmare. For the 628 survivors (352 have been culled) all that’s left is a banquet prepared by the all-star alumni (though we are clued on the next big event – the autumn elections). And for all the absurdities that Tootsuki represents, Shokugeki no Souma reaches this point as a remarkably good show. I’m damn impressed with the job Yonetani-sensei and J.C. Staff have done here – OP and ED, visuals, even details like the eyecatches and end cards, all are really clever and well-done. The story is definitely more nuanced than it initially seems to be, but the anime is drawing everything it possibly can out of it – and that combination makes this show one of the more underappreciated of the year.