My my! Look how far we’ve come. After last week’s somewhat disappointing conclusion to what I felt would be the highlight of the season, San no Sara has followed up with what can only be stated as an absolute delight. Indeed, the real appeal of the Azami arc is finally starting to show itself, i.e creating unique and interestingly unimaginable situations.
Before we get into the specifics, I think its worth mentioning that this week was a bit different for me than all the previous episode of the season. Last week, marked the point upto which I had read the Shokugeki no Soma source manga. So… Going into this week, I was very much an anime only viewer, which, to be honest, is a real breath of fresh air. A situation where the differences between the manga and the anime aren’t the focus of my viewing experience, is a situation I’ll always a cool a good one.
But, as with all good things, there are some caveats. Its entirely possible that this week’s episode was just as rushed and off quilter as the rest of the season. I simply can’t tell, and its definitely possible that whatever is in the manga, is potentially the better experience. To that end, my previous criticisms of the season are certainly suspect, and I want to lay that out there before I proceed to gush about this week’s episode.
I mean, this week’s episode was so much fun, so exciting and so thrilling. There’s a lot that happened this week for sure, but in a strange way, I was almost hoping to see more. The time really flew by this week, and it didn’t feel like I was getting short changed, as much as the story and the show itself were just accelerating.
After last week’s bomb shell that nearly everyone save Soma, Megumi, Takumi and Erina more or less failed their exam, this week definitely had some setup to do. The first phase of the Hokkaido arc is more or less done now, and with it, is the need to setup whatever comes next. The board has been ginormously shuffled now, with the heroes of the story being rather few in number. So the first thing the episode needed to do, was respond to the revelations we got at the eleventh hour of last week’s episode.
Soma’s reaction to losing basically all of his friends, is a pretty expected one. No one, I think, doubted that eventually Soma and whoever was with him and Erina was going to have to fight for the Elite Ten seats. The Elite Ten are what put Azami in power to begin with, so the only solution to this particular problem, is to control those seats.
In many ways what Soma proposes as a plan is something that you expect from him in adversity. Instead of crumbling at a loss, Soma’s immediate reaction is to always turn the tables in his favor. Its to fight, and to create some kind of chance to win again. We saw that when the Polar star Dorm came under threat during the establishment of Central, and we see it here once again. Soma is a fighter, and his plan to take over the Elite Ten seats is a sound one. There’s one problem, however, and that problem is that Soma and his friends really don’t have anything to wager.
The first solution, which Erina actually comes up with, is to beg her father to reconsider the explusions of all her friends. Erina’s certainly taken center stage in this arc, and I have to say, once again, I’m digging the way the story is using her now. Erina’s somewhere between series female protagonist, and a broken damaged victim that’s slowing making their way out of that particular abyss. Its no surprise to anyone, therefore, when Erina’s requests are coldly denied by Azami.
Of course, Azami, like any abuser, is keenly aware of how much power he has over his daughter. The scene with him basically breaking her down again, is chilling, but it leads to satisfying moment where Soma outright challenges Azami.
And here’s the thing, Soma is right with what he says to Azami. For all Azami’s declarations of being in the right, the guy’s a pretty big coward to not face Soma and his opponents fairly and head on. Azami is slimey no doubt, as his whole rise to power was not something that happened through proper channels. And such, despite how powerful and goading of a speech Soma makes, there’s still no real reason for Azami to actually face him head on.
Which… Is where Saiba Joichirou, Soma’s dad, comes in. I have to say, the second I saw a hand on Soma’s head, I knew what was coming next, and I couldn’t contain my excitement. Indeed, whatever the reason, Azami has some weird obsession with Saiba (something I suppose both he and his daughter share) and its that one thing, that beckons him to accept an actual battle.
The setup here is an intriguing one too, as Joichirou suggests not a shokugeki, but a TEAM Shokugeki called Regiment de Cuisine. Not only does this use the remaining characters in the story, in an interesting light, but it provides a rather unique opportunity; One where Joichirou himself can join the fray. I have to say, for how little we’ve seen Joichirou in the series, his dynamic with his son is something truly unique in shounen as a whole.
Generally, dads in shounen series are not all that great. They either abandon their children, are dead or are outright the antagonists in a lot of stories. Its rare to see a dad actually not only be actively a good likable role model, but actually be fairly involved in the core story. And its funny, because Joichirou definitely started off as the typical shounen dad.
In the start of the series, we saw Joichirou basically up and leave, causing Soma to have to join Totsuki. Classic shounen dad stuff. Now, as we’ve moved through the events of the series, its been revealed that Joichirou actually did that for his son, and his whole leaving his home was all in an effort to fund Soma’s expensive education. Plus, whenever we’ve seen Joichirou appear before Soma, its been in a very nurturing and encouraging capacity. The guy really cares about his son, and no where is that more evident than what he does this week.
In order to get Azami to agree to the Regiment de Cuisine, Joichirou wagers himself and his diner in the process. In many ways, Joichirou wagers it all for his son’s future, more so than for the future of the “Culinary” world. Which, I think, is why this setup really works. Azami’s whole thing about “changing the culinary world” is very outlandish and entirely stupid. Despite whatever power he may have, its hard to believe that the entire Japanese food industry would bend to some psycho in charge of their best school.
No, the only way the Azami arc can work is if its a personal conflict. Personal conflicts have personal stakes, and as such the story here is really about both Joichirou’s son Soma and the need to create a stable future for him. Its something that every parent wants for their child, for them to grow and be able to experience the best things in life. Soma’s time at Totsuki, making all those friends, its all irreproachable. So its no surprise that Joichirou would bet it all for that educational experience, shounen style.
Of course, after Azami agrees and leaves, the real fun begins. See, as Joichirou himself mentions, the team he has has no hope of winning as they stand now. Which, for anyone who’s familiar with shounen stories, can only mean one thing; a training segment. Training mini-arcs in shounen stories are an odd thing. I remember that when I saw my very first one in Bleach, all those years ago, I actively recoiled at the notion. All these years later, I’ve grown to know that training arcs can be some of the most entertaining parts of a shounen story. Indeed, even in Shokugeki no Soma itself, the Stagiere was more or less an internship, and thus a training arc.
And man, was that Stagiere a real highlight at the end of season 2. So, you can imagine the excitement that a training arc featuring Joichirou and Dojima Gin generates. And to the show’s credit, it wastes no time and basically dives head first into a three vs three mock battle. The pairings here are the real highlight, with Soma, Erina and Joichirou forming one team and Takumi, Megumi and Gin forming the other.
The Soma, Erina and Joichirou pairing is super interesting, if only because of all the shared history there. Its actually revealed via clever flashback, that Joichirou and Senzaemon basically decided to help Erina out whenever her father made his move. See for Erina, simply saving her isn’t going to work. As long as Azami is alive, he’ll loom over her life as a constant threat. So, the solution then is to empower Erina, and to give her the tools and the friends to fight against him.
Its a really nice touch, and it makes the whole battle that Erina is fighting feel really real. As I’m sure many of us have experienced in our lives, when we have a toxic relationship, its our close supportive friends that help us through them. For Erina, she’s now got Soma, Megumi and Takumi in her corner.
Which, no offense to the students that got expelled, is the kind of team I’d want watching my back. Soma’s a motivational powerhouse, Megumi is the most kind supportive character I’ve seen, and Takumi is fiercely loyal. The choice of characters to remain and fight beside Soma and Erina, are thus really sensible and logical. Beyond just being popular and likable, I think Takumi and Megumi really do well as supporting characters. Each of them, also have their own little challenges and demons to face, and with them, the cast feels particularly strong.
The last bit of the episode, which actually focuses on the Mock battle itself, is a nice cleverly built competition as well. Shokugeki no Soma has always had a flair for the dramatic. Shokugeki no Soma is definitely a cooking show yes, but its always been first and foremost, entertaining. The theatrics are what keep me interested, and thus having a competition where each team has to work together without speaking, is well… Pretty darn awesome.
As the episode comes to a close we see that both Joichirou and Gin are creating original spins on the theme of the battle, the Hachi’s Parmentier. And in a rather refreshing change of pace, despite the rather akward stop to all the action, Shokugeki no Soma actually had me really excited for what was coming next. It’ll be interesting to see how both teams approach the topic at hand, and how they all work.
Its been a while since I’ve honestly written this much about a Shokugeki episode. I remember back in the old days, that I’d easily hit 2k words per post, and this one certainly came close. There’s a lot to like about the current state of the show, which honestly, is not something I expected to say and mean to the extent that I do, after what we’ve seen recently. Next week can’t get here soon enough.
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