At last, a chance to breathe.
I’ve been heartily enjoying Ni no Sara, though in a slightly different way than I enjoyed the first season of Shokugeki no Souma. It’s a testament to how good the anime staff is that this season hasn’t suffered due to its breakneck pacing – indeed, the anime has used that to its advantage rather than be thrown off by it. Nevertheless, there’s a palpable sense that its flying through a lot of material in every episode, which gives the viewer a bit less of a chance to savor the taste of the dishes the anime is presenting.
It makes sense, though, that even with only 13 episodes to work with Ni no Sara had to give this shokugeki between Souma and Mimasaka the space to breathe. This is a major battle involving the main character and the first antagonist that the series has built up almost into a real villain. There was no way it could have been powered through in a single episode, especially given how much of Mimasaka’s formidability is tied into an ability that hasn’t really been looked at with a skeptical eye yet. Just how far does this “profiling” superpower of his really go, and what’s the key to throwing him off?
To that end, this entire episode is dedicated to Souma-kun’s preparations for the big event, and it’s framed using the device of Soutsuda Mitsuru (the unmistakable Yamashita Daiki), a reporter for the school paper who’s convinced he never gets good assignments because he’s still in middle school. He badgers Souma into letting him follow him during his beef stew experimentation phase for an “exclusive”, and Souma eventually agrees in the name of getting a free taste tester out of the deal. And beef stew is something of a specialty of Souma’s, having been the first of his recipes to win his father’s approval at the diner.
The secret? White miso – the mildest form of miso, an umami-laden ingredient whose assignment is to tame the acidity of the beef stew (from the tomatoes) and make it more palatable for Japanese tastes. It works of course, or his father would never have signed off on it. But the requirements for designing a recipe at a diner are built around literal comfort food, because you want people to return over and over again to eat it. At a shokugeki at a cooking academy, it’s all about grabbing the judges by the throat with bold and awe-inspiring flavors. And to that end, Mitsuru-kun – though his heart is in the right place – isn’t discerning enough as a judge.
That’s where Nakiri Erina comes in – and fortunately for Souma she’s jonesing for Vol. 9 of the shoujo romance manga she’s hooked on. Her “God tongue” is a much harsher measure of Souma’s dish, and while she refuses to directly advise him (as well she should, given her position) her disdain does offer him a clue about where his aim is off and what audience he’s trying to please. Also helpful is the care package from Meat-san, which nudges Souma into the direction he’ll eventually go in trying to marry an even richer and bolder dish with the gentleness of the white miso – the ultra gelatin-laden oxtail.
I still have my doubts about the idea of Souma winning back all those chef’s tools for their prior owners – that doesn’t seem to have any poetic justice to me – but the battle with Mimasaka is certainly shaping up to be an interesting one. Mimasaka’s “image training” (really a spin on method acting) is just as creepy as everything else about him, but his ability to predict the course his opponent will take borders on the unbelievable. Souma can hardly lose this match in the context of the story, but it’s still going to be interesting to see which special move is going to be the one that finally catches Mimasaka with his pants down.