Ramen is a subject near and dear to my heart.
It seems as if the second season of Shokugeki no Souma is taking a more direct approach than the first did, probably because it’s only going to be one cour. There isn’t a whole lot of preamble to these battles, and based on the first two episodes it looks as if we aren’t going to get many that spill over (though we did get a cliffhanger as to the result this time). There are pluses and minuses to this approach, and I would imagine it’s going to deliver a different (not necessarily better or worse) sort of satisfaction than the first season did.
A challenge here, I think, is going to be keeping things from becoming too predictable. It’s not as though the results of the shokugeki from the first season had many surprises, but there was a lot of other stuff going on. If we’re going to buzz from battle to battle in a predictable routine, some of the results have to be surprising or the series as a whole will become too routine. The first week was a no-brainer – Nakiri Alice as an opponent notwithstanding there was no way the title character was being eliminated in the first episode. Now we have Megumi vs. Kurokiba Ryou, another primary vs. secondary character battle – and the first chance for Shokugeki no Souma to spring an unexpected result. I don’t think it’ll happen (that’s why it’s unexpected) but we’ll find out next week.
Ramen is a perfect battlefield for this shokugeki to be fought on. It’s not by chance that this Japanese (by way of China) peasant dish has become one of the trendiest foods in the world. Ramen does indeed have seemingly limitless possibilities, and I’ve come to think of it as almost the perfect food (apart from what it does to my stomach). It’s where soup meats meal, subtle meets powerful, a kind of symphony of flavors and textures in a bowl. And just like classical music, there’s no one style or creator – a symphony can be Mozart or Beethoven or Copeland or Elgar. Pork, chicken, seafood, power or finesse, thick and robust noodles or delicate thin ones – the possibilities with base, noodles and toppings are limitless, and how they’re married together means everything.
Given the contrast in personality between Megumi and Ryou, it’s no surprise that they chose the approaches they did. Both being from harbor towns went with a seafood broth and tried to focus on umami, but that’s where the similarity ends. Kurokiba delivered a frontal assault built around lobster and shrimp shells pounded into a powder, served atop a mound of Jiro-kei thick noodles. Megumi, by contrast, went for a clear and clean broth built around a kozuyu – gentle extraction of scallops and dried vegetables, paired with two light soy sauces, served with thin vermicelli-style noodles. And both delivered the goods.
This is indeed one of the classic divergences in ramen. I’ve had sublime versions that rely on sheer richness and power (the Jiro style is the obvious example), and ones that shone most because of how clean their taste is (the shio ramen at Santouka is a prime case). There’s no right or wrong answer here – which I personally want depends on my mood. So we don’t have a situation like last week, where Souma-kun won because he clearly understood the theme better than Alice. Both Ryou and Megumi have delivered bowls that are true to the spirit of ramen, so it’s really just a question of who delivered more in terms of the sensory experience (and ramen is indeed a sensory experience – it’s about much more than just taste).
Of note here, certainly, is that Megumi has improved substantially in her composure under pressure. Even with the Chairman and judges staring over her shoulder and the most confrontational opponent she could have wanted (indeed, the entire shokugeki is a festival of Jojo references) she stayed focused on the task at hand, and I would suppose she’ll likely win. We also got a longer look at Ryou and Alice’s original meeting – apparently he was a head chef when he was about ten years old (which is pretty far-fetched, but this is Shounen Jump). He’s likely a speed bump here just like Alice was, but Kurokiba is kind of an interesting character, and seems as if he’ll be a vital part of Alice’s character arc if nothing else.