I have to hand it to Shokugeki no Soma Ni no Sara, that was a fantastic finish to the Autumn Elections story arc. An ending is something that’s really hard to nail in fiction, whether its the end of a story arc, or the end of a story as a whole. In Shokugeki no Soma’s case, the finishes this season, have rarely been as powerful or had as much impact as the journey that was taken to get to them. Build up is Shokugeki no Soma’s forte, but with this week’s episode and the conclusion of the Autumn Elections, the franchise, the story and the show has definitely improved upon itself, once again.
Which, I think, is interesting for me to say, especially after I slammed this series for what I called a downward trend in quality. In retrospect, that downward trend was less of a trend and more reminiscent of something akin to growing pains. While Shokugeki no Soma as a story is about its main character, Yukihira Soma’s journey through a Culinary school, there’s another auxillary story that’s out there on the side. The story of the franchise and manga itself as aa anime series, is particularly noteworthy, at this juncture, I feel.
Shokugeki no Soma, as a story and a franchise has always been a tale of consistent improvement and evolution. The franchise stated off with two episodes that gave a very bad first impression. It was so representative of the eventual core, that many potential fans of this series, were likely driven away in those first two episodes. Extremely ecchi, crass and with a main character that didn’t seem as likable as he ended up being, Shokukgei no Soma got off on the wrong foot with a lot of people.
Those of us who weren’t immediately offended or turned off by the series, ended up witnessing something that just kept on getting better. At first, The show felt like just another shounen series where the main character was simply unbeatable. We went through a few episodes with that particular idea, and then, at around episode 10 or so, the series started to deconstruct its central character, and add chinks to his so-called “unbeatable protagonist” armor.
And that’s the important point I’m trying to make with this little trip down memory lane. Shokugeki no Soma is at its best, when its plays around with what its main character is, and how he’s not perfect or unbeatable. The idea of Soma being unbeatable, of him being a genius, is something that the show has always been spoken against. In principle, the idea has always been there, but I don’t think that the series has never quite been able to articulate that particular concept properly.
Until now that is…. How do you prove that Soma is awesome and impressive, but that he still got room to grow? Well, the answer to that questions is most definitely, one of the finalists, Hayama Akira.
So yes… It was indeed Hayama who ended up winning the finals, and taking the top spot, not Soma or Ryo. Which again, is such an interesting thing, because of what I’ve been saying in the last few weeks. I said that Hayama was a character that didn’t make sense in the finals. That his “superhuman” power made him a lot less interesting, and that I personally found the contrast between Soma and Ryo to be a lot more tantalizing.
Well, in regards to my previous claims, let me say that there’s most definitely a reason for why I’m writing about Shokugeki no Soma, and not writing the story for it. Hayama being part of the finals was actually part of the long game, for the story, and not one that could ever have been immediately evident. Hayama’s clear purpose in the finals was to win, and stand above Soma. It never mattered whether the idea itself made sense from a logistics respective, and you could argue that Hayama’s dish itself wasn’t anything too impressive.
I certainly didn’t find his “Carpaccio” to be all that interesting. For me, Ryo’s dish or Soma’s porridge, rice, saurey gruel thing were definitely more interesting, and the sorts of things that I’d want to eat. That’s just gauging based off of visuals and descriptors alone though, so I suppose at the end of the day, its hard to say which dish was better. The judges definitely found each of them to be taste wise, pretty even. The thing that ended up determining the winner, then, was originality or a sort of “signature style” that was evident from each dish. Was Hayama’s really the most “original” of the three?
I certainly don’t think so, but at the end of the day, that’s a matter of opinion. Its a case of the show and story itself being a bit rough around the edges still, and not being able to articulate its main point properly. Individuality isn’t the point Shokugeki no Soma was trying to make this episode and Hayama’s win. Hayama, actually wining the finals, complete with a little flashback to his path and childhood, made for a very specific sort of illustration.
The major point here, was to highlight the key difference between the three finalists. That key difference? Well… It’s love. Yes Yes, I realize that’s fairly cheesy, but its what this series has been arguing for since the beginning. Since episode one, the series has been hammering on the point that what a good chef or craftsman needs, beyond just diligence and persistence, is to have someone they love, to provide inspiration and balance to their lives.
Love is what made Soma’s own father become as awesome as he probably is, and love is the thing that Hayama has, and the other two finalists don’t. The obsession that Soma talks about, the individuality that the judges speak of? Its just the fact that Hayama has someone that he truly cares for, and that he strives for. His relationship and dedication to Jun, the woman who saved him and brought him out of poverty, is second to none at the moment.
Sure Ryo has Alice, and they have a sort of dynamic going, but it isn’t even at the point of mutual respect, let alone something more. Soma, of course, doesn’t even have someone that he clearly likes, or cares for on such a deep level. Sure the series has thrown out potential romantic interests, but its unclear whether that is the solution to “complete” Soma.
I think the romance angle is the story’s big end game, but it definitely far far away. Even if Megumi and Nikumi clearly have some chemistry with him, Soma just isn’t as mature as Hayama was shown to be in this episode. There’s also Erin,a of course, who I suspect is the one that’s actually going to be positioned as Soma’s girl in the end, along with her own little maturity character arc thrown into it.
Futures aside, at the moment, we have Soma not winning, but still getting fairly close. Soma still snagged the second place spot, which, isn’t a terrible consolation prize. This was the key part, I think, where the show finally illustrated how Soma is both impressive and unexceptional at the same time.
The little scene we see, with Soma’s own dad talking about his initial lack of talent? That was the first time the series actually positioned Soma as someone that isn’t exceptional in the traditional sense. Soma doesn’t have some innate talent or genius like Hayama does, but what he does have, is the ability to work hard, be confident, and continue to push himself forward.
Its Soma’s consistent hard work and effort, that have gotten him to the point that he’s at now. But what the final match proved, quite aptly, was that Soma isn’t all the way there yet. Soma, himself, needed to lose to Hayama and be humbled. Its through the experiences he’s had at Totsuki, and his failures, that Soma is starting to recognize just how vast the world is, and just how much room he has for improvement. Which, honestly, is the best point to end a story arc on. Soma’s achieved a lot since he’s joined Totsuki in his first year, but he hasn’t achieved it all. And with people like Hayama and Ryo, he’s found rivals and more specifically contemporaries, that he can learn from and compete against.
One other thing the finals marked, was a point at which nearly every major player in Totsuki’s first year, is now in a sort of friends group. Well, everyone, except for Erina. Everyone else is pretty friendly, and Totsuki as an academy, has a real change of atmosphere from how it felt like in the beginning of this story. With Soma and all the newcomers, Totsuki feels a lot less like a cutthroat, unfair establishment, and more of like a collaborative space for learning and experimentation.
Of course, before I go, I do want to talk about the cliffhanger at the end. With the conclusion of the Autumn elections, it seems like all the first years are about to be sent on what be best termed as unpaid internships. Which, to me, is a very exciting prospect. I’m curious to see where each student ends up, and what that means for the story going forward.
Having said all of that though, the big problem, obviously, is that we have just another 3 episodes before this show ends. To say that’s a darn shame, is putting it mildly. Shokugeki no Soma, after some trial and error and some stumbles, is finally back to surprising and impressing. And now, its almost time for the show to end, probably for good this time, since it only got one cour instead of two, and disc sales haven’t been all that impressive.
I suppose its worth savoring this series for the next three weeks, before fans like myself will have to transition into reading the manga. With how good these two seasons of Soma have been though, and how well done this story arc’s ending was, I suppose the show has more than achieved its goal of promoting its source material. Unlike other shows that are airing this season, its showcased the best aspects of its manga, and made a very strong case for it.
Tags: autumn elections, final, food wars the second plate, food wars! second plate, Shokugeki no Soma anime blog, Shokugeki no Soma episode blog, Shokugeki no Soma Ni no Sara, Shokugeki no Soma Ni no Sara episode 10, Shokugeki no Soma screencaps, shokugeki no soma season 2, shokugeki no soma second series
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