Shokugeki no Soma (Food Wars!) 173-176 – Review
Food Wars! (Shokugeki no Soma):
Reviewed by: Tom
Synopsis: Soma Yukihira dreams of becoming a full-time chef at his father’s neighborhood restaurant and to one day surpass his father’s culinary skills. But just as Soma graduates from middle school his father, Joichiro Yukihira, shuts the restaurant down to travel around the globe and cook for the privileged. Joichiro issues Soma a challenge, that if he can survive the most elite culinary school in Japan, where only the top 10% manage to graduate, then Joichiro will acknowledge him as worthy of taking over the restaurant.
(Warning: Spoilers to Follow)
Since that time Soma has faced countless challenges at the Totsuki Culinary Academy. He’s overcome the student body thinning training camp, competed in the school wide tournament, survived the Stagiaire event, and more. But the Totsuki institute faces a major upheavel as Erina’s father, Azami, returns from banishment. He sets about turning the elite council of ten against the Academy’s head, Erina’s grandfather, Senzaemon Nakiri and electing Azami as his successor. But Azami’s plans don’t stop there. He sets into motion the complete dismantlement of all the Academy’s clubs, all in an effort to bring about a perfect, uniform cooking where only the best chefs create new dishes and the masses have but to learn them.
When the Polar Dormitory is also in danger of being shut down, Soma strikes back, challenging council of ten member Etsuya Eizan and defeating him in a Shokugeki. Despite this victory Soma and the Polar dorm crew are a long way from stopping Azami’s far reaching plans for the Academy. After a series of Shokugeki’s, many of the Institute’s cooking societies/clubs have been dismantled and Azami’s plans are put into full affect. Can Soma and his friends return the institute to what it once was or will they too eventually be crushed beneath Azami’s far-reaching ideals?
Chapter 173 Review:
Right from the get go we’re into the Advancement Exam’s first phase. It turns out this phase involves putting people into groups of five and having them work together to complete a dish. It’s been awhile since we’ve had a group assignment and it’s a welcome change from the constant one vs one battle system we’ve been harping on of recent.
Apparently it’ll be Soma, Megumi, Alice, Yuki and Ryo on one team. As the characters note, it’s looking like Azami has put all the resisters into their own groups. Soma speculates that the other Polaris members are located in a different room and we then discover that Erina is still being pampered by Azami, as he puts her onto a team that assures she’ll be passing the exam.
The instructor, Ms. Hiroi, comes into the room and reveals the exam is based on Salmon. Yuki thinks this makes them a shoe-in thanks to Ryo’s talents, but Ms. Hiroi reveals what we already knew, the exam isn’t to make any Salmon dish, but rather the exact dish Azami had taught everyone else in the Preview exam. It’s a manga of course, but I feel like an institute like this in the real world would quickly catch major flak for handing its students exams on a silver platter.
However, Soma, Alice, and Ryo all realize that there’s something odd about Salmon being the main pick for this exam. Salmon season is in the fall, but it’s winter in Hokkaido. As the ingredients are wheeled in Megumi gets caught up in the high quality fish they’re bringing in. It turns out that Soma’s group is receiving lesser quality ingredients. The tables are really staking against them and this chapter is doing a fantastic job of showing how much effort Azami is putting into washing Soma and the rest out of Totsuki.
Ms. Hiroi goes from being a stand in, to a pretty over the top and unnecessary villain. I don’t know that her depiction as a “ho ho ho” laughing mad woman is all that amusing either and I think makes her depiction a minor, disappointing choice. Either way, she taunts the crew that they can go fish up new ingredients if they like, but what with it being winter there’s no hope of that working out for Soma and the rest.
Yuki wonders if Soma can just whip up something amazing using shit ingredients like he normally does. I’m really glad the manga addressed this, as it’s a pretty tried and true outcome for the series. We’re given some food science explanations for why Soma’s techniques won’t work and it helps to build up the obstacles.
As it turns out even the rest of the student body is on Azami’s side. The class is laughing at our heroes but I feel like this heel-turn wasn’t set up all that well. Prior to this the rest of the student body seemed appalled or afraid of Azami’s new ideals. I wish we’d seen a bit more of the student body switching mentalities before an over the top moment like this. But it’s all to sell Yuki’s growing despair as she fears this is the end of everything they’ve strived for (It’s not.)
As if we weren’t laying it on thick enough, Ms. Hiroi comes by Erina and assures her Soma and crew aren’t fit to be a part of Azami’s new Totsuki. Of course, Erina isn’t concerned, and we shouldn’t be either, as Soma, Alice, and Ryo still have a plan up their sleeves.
Outside of laying the menace on a bit thick (can we just have a balance between not menacing enough and too absurdly menacing?) I’m liking this classroom/exam direction change quite a bit and with such stacked odds I’m eager to move onto the next chapter and see how the crew handles it.
Chapter 174 Review:
Soma, Alice, and Ryo, with Yuki and Megumi tagging along, burst into action and talk of finding a special ingredient freezing technique Erina taught them. Meanwhile Ms. Hiroi begins passing the other groups that conformed to Azami’s teachings. Erina is sitting this out, allowing her ‘team’ to finish the cooking for her.
There’s an interesting little panel here as one guy questions why they need to add stock to the dish at this point, but he’s quickly shut up by another student, telling him not to question Azami. I actually like this little touch quite a bit, providing a bit more nuanced depiction of the student body, more nuanced than last time anyway.
Ms. Hiroi is gloating, believing she’s achieved victory over Soma’s team, when they arrive back into the cooking hall with an amazing-looking salmon. It’s apparently a Toki-shirazu Salmon, an extremely rare kind of Salmon that’s potentially fished out of season. Thanks to flash-freezing this fish has been perfectly preserved too.
Ms. Hiroi is initially shocked at their find, but quickly recovers, reminding the team that they have but thirty-minutes to cook and serve it. By combining their skills, Soma, Alice, Ryo (with Yuki and Megumi acting as a B team support) cook this fish up in no time. I’m very glad that the manga skims over this process as it’s already painfully clear they’ve already won this round.
Ms. Hiroi tries the dish they prepared and is forced to pass their entire group. I guess this is where I’m struggling a little to suspend disbelief. I mean, if Azami was smart he’d rig the entire exam to expel them outright, with no chance to win. Of course we wouldn’t have a manga that way, but I guess moments like this make me feel like we’re playing the “overconfident” card too heavily for our big baddie. It’s a minor issue however, and I don’t think it at all ruins things. It’s just a flaw with the stories trajectory.
Chapter 175 Review:
Picking up from Soma’s victory, it turns out every other group passed as well. I think it’s a little bit of a shame we didn’t get to see that, but I suppose its better to keep the story moving at a brisk pace than bog it down by giving everyone page time. Despite the celebrations Erina reminds everyone that there’s far more to come.
we get some rather, on-the-nose, P.A. announcements that provide information more for the audience than the student body concerning how they’ll be traveling between the exam stations. Soma and Co. head to the train station and discover they’ll be traveling over night via an express sleep train (I’ve been on a sleeper train in Japan, but this is, of course, a damn sight more impressive) filled with all kinds of luxury furniture and accommodations.
Erina gives us an internal monologue about how Azami’s administration will become harsher and more desperate to expel them during this exam period. I fear it’s all talk though, as shonen aren’t known for changing up the status quo or leaving characters with bad ends. I’d love to be proven wrong, but this monologue reeks of the hype talk used to impress readers without the need to deliver actual consequences and harsh realities.
As Erina goes over her notes to prepare for the trials ahead, various characters pop in to try and distract her, offering her tips on the accommodations in the rest of the train. It’s clear they’re trying to repay her for all her hard work. However it takes Soma explaining it for Erina to get that. I think it’s a little disappointing Erina couldn’t get that herself, and I don’t think we actually needed Soma to explain it to her. It would’ve worked better if she’d come to this realization on her own.
Forming the back end of their conversation however, Erina does get a more personal realization of how her feelings about Soma have changed. She used to loathe him and now she enjoys spending time with him, or at least doesn’t revile his presence.
Meanwhile Ms. Hiroi is still extremely irritated that they managed to pass her exam. I guess I’m disappointed to see Ms. Hiroi, who feels very B-tear villainish, is going to be our main antagonist for awhile longer. She just isn’t all that compelling and her character feels wholly shallow. She hears a news story on the news and realizes she has her plan for the next day. She then promises to get rid of every last one of them even if it’s the last thing she does.
Chapter 176 Review:
The chapter opens by explaining where Soma and crew are headed next, to a Western styled mansion just outside Sapporo. Despite Ms. Hiroi’s menacing talk at the end of the last chapter, she’s not featured her as the next instructor. Instead we meet Endo, stage two’s lead examiner. At it turns out stage two is a solo exam phase and the theme is noodles dishes, rather than an ingredient.
Endo tells them that they have every type of noodle they might need, as well as other basic ingredients, but the main components of the dish they need to acquire themselves. It feels odd that we’ve got an exam like this considering Azami’s ideology. Students are a bit freaked out until they realize how easy it is to take a trip into town and snatch up some ingredients there. As everyone is split into separate cooking halls it starts to become apparent that all of the resistance members are being left until the very end.
As it turns out Soma and Co.’s hall doesn’t even have the prepared ingredients promised by Endo at the start of this phase! I think this chapter does a good job of making us question how exactly Soma and co. are going to be screwed over. Initially we struggle to understand how the exam is going to become unfair for them and then, once revealed, it feels painfully obvious and like something we should’ve expected from page one.
Soma, Megumi and Takumi figure out their plans and get ready to go grab ingredients only to discover there’s a massive snow storm standing in their way and no taxi is willing to make the drive up. Endo sits back and wallows in sickening bliss at having defeated our heroes, until he gets a call that Soma and the rest have started cooking. Did they go to the city and come back already? Through the storm? Did they find left over ingredients laying around? We don’t get an answer just yet, but Soma taunts Endo and tells him they’ll cook him the best noodles he’s ever tasted.
Moving forward I really would like Ms. Hiroi dropped as a character. Also, Endo feels like little more than a stand in for her. Neither has personality extending beyond a sadistic villain hellbent on destroying our heroes, but easily defeated at every turn. They’re a bit too over the top, and not in the good way. That said, outside of our villainous stand ins, I feel like this exam arc is off to a solid start. I’d still prefer we lose a couple heroes along the way, but even if we don’t this change in dynamic has really helped to bring some fresh air to the Azami arc. Now Food Wars! just needs to convince me that Soma and Co. won’t just trounce everything Azami throws at them. That’s my one big fear, that Food Wars! won’t deliver the tension it needs to.
Thanks for reading and please let me know your thoughts on Food Wars! in the comments section below!
Food Wars! (Shokugeki no Soma) is published weekly in Shonen Jump. Volume 13 (Chapters 102-109) will be released on August 2nd, 2016. Chapters discussed today (173-176) will be compiled and released sometime next year.