Shounen really is a great demographic, for its versatility as much as anything. It’s not a “genre” of course – folks often get those two terms mixed up – but i’s certainly as broad a collection of genres as any demographic in manga and anime. If you’re a fan of shounen, it’s hard to beat a viewing of Ushio to Tora and Shokugeki no Souma back to back, because they’re both great and they could hardly be more different.
If Ushio and Tora is the quintessential old-school shounen, Shokugeki no Souma is a comprehensively new-school take on the demographic. This series is a thoroughly modern Millie, distinctive because it wraps the classic shounen tropes up with nods to pretty much every current trope and trend. This is a series that’s overflowing with “otaku” cliches, yet manages to avoid ever becoming a cliche itself. And yes, there is still a shounen heart beating under that runway-fashionable wardrobe.
The other reason why it was such fun to watch these two shows back-to-back was because of the unmistakable stamp Koyama Rikiya put on these episodes. Koyama is an A-list seiyuu for a reason, and I don’t think he gets the credit he deserves for his versatility. He sweeps back into Souma like a typhoon, and even as full of larger-than-life personalities as this show is, Jouichirou pretty much owns the episode every time he’s on-screen (and not just when he’s on-screen).
The training camp is over, of course, and it’s soon revealed it was as much an audition as a training camp. It’s no surprise that the carrot that lures all these successful chefs to close (or worse, turn the kitchen over to the sous chef) and return to help out Tootsuki isn’t altruism – it’s because it’s an invaluable chance for sizing up future talent for their kitchens. That’s something I’m guessing will become a big factor much later in the series, so look at it as an appetizer for now. We also get an interesting development when both Souma and Erina forget something at the resort and miss their buses home (what she forgot – a book – is an interesting revelation) and end up sharing a car ride back. Erina has been pretty much one-note so far, and that note is obnoxiously arrogant – but the fondness with which she looked at that photo of Jouichirou feels like the first signs of a spring thaw between she and his son.
Yes, there’s a big reveal with Jouichirou, and it’s that he used to be a student at Tootsuki – second seat, in fact, while Doujima was first – and went on to become a famous vagabond globetrotting chef-for-hire. My initial reaction was skepticism that Doujima (or anyone else for that matter) had never made the connection between father and son, but it turns out Jouichirou was known as “Saiba Jouichirou” in his student days. Why he changed his name is still a mystery for now, as is the reason why he never graduated. But while he didn’t graduate, it’s clear Jouichirou (“The Demon” – how ironic, in the Ushio to Tora context) made a big impact both on the school in general and Polaris Dormitory in specific when he was there.
I liked the father-son dynamic when we saw it in the premiere, and I still do – and of course, the notion of the son chasing the father could hardly be more elemental to shounen. There’s really funny stuff here, like the girls’ swooning over Jouichirou’s manliness, and then over the possibility that Souma might turn out to be just like him. It’s also a joy to watch these two cook together – there’s an easy familiarity here, rivalry tinged with an affection that’s always unspoken but ever-present. And the main course of this arc is certainly an informal shokugeki between the two of them – a chance for father to see how much son has grown (“or hasn’t”). We’ve literally been building up to that from the first scene in the series, and it should provide a great chance for Souma to provide a classic shounen moment through it’s own unique lens.