As per usual, there was a lot packed into this week’s Shokugeki no Soma. Unlike every other episode of the show thus far, however, this week’s episode felt like it had the right balance of content, with pacing that was brisk, but felt just about right. Its becoming quite clear that the story and the arc that this third Shokugeki no Soma series is so interested in telling is that of the Nakiri family, and now that we’re at that point, things are finally starting to fall into place.
I feel like in the last 5 weeks or so I’ve harped on and on about all the problems that this show has had, and appreciated it a bit less than I probably should’ve. Even at its lightning fast pace, Shokugeki no Soma is a really good show, and one that I think everyone should watch. As someone who has already read a good chunk of the story in the manga, my enthusiasm and excitement for the show has been a bit more muted, but what was so great about this week is that changed.
This episode in particular, did a good job of splitting up the story content in such a way where it became both palatable and downright interesting. To that end, there was a definite focus this week, and that was more or less on Erina and her relationship to series vampire and albino father, Azami.
Azami himself took a bit of a back seat this week, as his plan for Totsuki was more or less happening in the background to everything else this week. I touched on a bit last week that Azami is a pretty good villain for the story as a whole, but this week didn’t really support my claims all that well. For his part, Azami seemed to be doing everything on the up and up, in a similar way to how a new CEO at a big company will come in and give everyone a glimmer of hope.
As anyone who’s been part of a huge restructuring will tell you, that initial meeting or response is just fluffy stuff that should hardly be taken at even face value. Its only after the new leader settles in, that the heads roll and the sweeping changes happen. To that end, Azami’s rise to Director of Totsuki felt very similar to me. After his rather dark and twisted outburst last week at Erina’s restaurant, the guy said all the right things this week, shocking everyone who had seen him the night before.
There’s this sort of tension around Azami, this dread of when the other shoe will drop. And that tension, I’d say the anime conveyed that pretty darn well, almost better than the manga when I read it. Nailing the emotional core to the particular story point that you’re adapting, is I think one of the things that I’ve been sorely missing from this series until this week.
And what’s funny is that the whole Azami thing wasn’t even the focus, as everything was actually centered around Erina and her past. The way the show told HER story was equally impressive, using now Ex-Director Senzaemon’s first meeting with Soma to do it. Again, the show hit on all the right notes here, even doing a rather funny animation for Senzaemon’s “morning routine”.
As Senzaemon himself puts it, this really was the first time that he and Soma chatted face to face. With this particular conversation, came some interesting bomb shells, the first of which, was the fact that Soma himself had a pretty key connection to the old man. See, it was Senzaemon who originally convinced Soma’s dad to get him to enroll in Totsuki, which itself is a pretty big deal. I loved Soma’s reaction to it all, because it was, if nothing else, pretty complex.
I think a lot of people forget that Soma, at the start of the series, wasn’t interesting in moving outside his particular diner. Joichiro basically didn’t give him any choice, since he closed up shop and practically forced Soma to enroll in Totsuki before everything was said and done. Now, to a teenager who’s kind of started to figure our their goals and path in life, that kind of upending can really mess with you. It turned out great for Soma in the end, but I’m sure some of the discomfort he felt initially was thanks to Senzaemon himself.
At the same time, its worth noting that Soma has benefited immensely from his stay at Totsuki, so there’s an element of gratitude in there as well. But, of course, the conversation that Senzaemon wants to have with Soma is hardly about him, but rather about his granddaughter, Erina. And with that topic, we finally get to understand the character of the potential “heroine” and leading lady of the show.
Now… If you’ve read my episode blog posts about Shokugeki no Soma, particularly those relating to season 1, you’ll know of my distaste for her as a character. I’ve never really quite liked her, and compared to girls like Megumi, Nikumi or even Alice, I found her whole character to be a bit lacking. It sometimes confounded me, why Erina was being propped up so much, and being built up to be this important character.
Thankfully (not to mention FINALLY!), this week’s episode did the job of providing some context to her character, and actually made her decently sympathetic. The way Azami, her father, basically brainwashed and abused her as a child, was downright sickening and twisted. And given all of that, I’d say Erina actually turned out a lot better than she’d be expected to.
What’s interesting is that the show actually danced around the topic of abuse here, never flat out calling it what it very much was and is. Erina was abused by her father, and Azami, displayed the very sure-fire traits of an emotional and physical abuser. He isolated her from everyone, making her need him, he hurt her (both emotionally and physically) whenever she diverged even a little bit from his wants, and the whole childhood flashback scene was more than a little grim.
It cemented, I think, just how despicable of a person Azami is, and just how horrifying he can be. What’s worse is that Erina, for her part, is definitely still barely even a little over what happened to her as a child. As is often the case with victims of abuse, when they come in contact with their abuser, things start to deteriorate rapidly. Erina, for her part, was so broken around Azami that she could barely utter a word of protest, even as he removed her only real friend and companion, Hisako, from her.
Of course, in classic Shokugeki no Soma fashion, the show had its more likable characters rally around Erina and get her out of that terrible situation. It started, of course, with Hisako, but soon after, Alice came into the picture and things immediately got even better. I’ve always liked Alice as a character, and her fascination with Erina has always been a central part of her character. This week, I think, really cemented both her back story, and the unfortunate tragedy that befell two really close cousins that, were torn about their family politics.
Its interesting to note that the reason Alice actually went on her overseas trip and ultimately met Ryou, was because of Erina. And so, it wasn’t surprising, therefore, to see Alice jump to Erina’s rescue when the time called. It was also just, great to see that sense of comradery and friendship from these kids, which is something that the show has been developing for a good while.
To that end, where Erina ultimately ends up after she “runs way from home”, is none other than the polar star dorm. And the Polar star kids? They’re just as awesome and welcoming to Erina after they hear what’s going as her own close friends. In fact, for Erina, in a strange way, this is the first time she’s actually able to behave like a real high school student, and have fun with people her age.
One scene in particular, an anime original one at that, really stood out to me. As Soma and Hisako end up heading outside to chat, the Polar Star kids talk about playing cards, to which Erina herself perks up, super excited. This is a nice call back to a moment in the first season, where Erina desperatly wanted to play cards with Hisako, but was too embarrassed to actually push for it. The fact that Erina gets to experience things like that, for the first time, points to just how troubled her childhood has been thus far.
And speaking of childhood, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the fact that the very start of the episode, actually reveals a connection between Soma’s father, Joichiro and Azami himself. It seems that whatever situation happened at Totsuki, Azami was, at the very least, in the same crowd as Joichiro back when he was the second seat. Given Joichiro’s connection to Erina, and the hints from Senzaemon, I wouldn’t be surprised if we see some larger and deeper connections, once everything is said and done.
And that really is it for the episode. The episode ends with Azami kind of revealing his plan for the academy to the Totsuki teaching staff, but we don’t really find out the specifics. There is a bit of not so subtle foreshadowing to the fact that whatever this new plan is, its not all too great, but we’ll have to wait on that next week. Speaking of foreshadowing, Hisako also lets it be known to Soma, that while Erina may have run away, the Azami problem is far from over.
So… Overall, I’d say this was a particularly strong episode for Shokugeki no Soma San no Sara. If nothing else, the show accomplished the monumental task of making Erina both sympathetic and redeemable, and took another step towards establishing Azami as a real villain. The show also relaxed its pacing a bit and adapted three chapters this week, which helped immensely I’d say. Here’s hoping that Shokugeki no Soma keeps at this pace, and continues to deliver the goods, in a palatable and well “seasoned” manner.
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