Shokugeki no Soma (Food Wars!) 201-203 – Review

Food Wars! (Shokugeki no Soma):

Chapters 201-203

Reviewed by: Tom

Cooking’s never been so masterful.

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. 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?

Review:

Chapter 201:

Picking up from last time, Chapter 201 focuses a bit on Aldini and the emotional journey he’s gone through in order for him to achieve the level of ability he’s displaying as he helps Chef Dojima in this training contest.

Aldini, Megumi and Dojima are hard at work, already displaying a level of teamwork that Soma, his dad and Erina can’t quite seem to grasp. While that group is struggling to pull themselves together, and learn how to balance and add to one another as Chef’s, Aldini is doing some reflecting and we learn just how humiliated he was when Soma had to save his behind during the fall classic. It’s a great little bit of character development, although the flashback really feels like something we should’ve seen back when it happened. This could’ve just then been a call back to that hard hitting emotional moment, but if my memory’s correct we barely touched on Aldini’s feelings during that whole period. I think I would’ve liked to see this in a more full form, but unless the anime adaptation expands on this, assuming we ever get a season 3, I think this is the best we’ll get.

Those two are going to need to take the special ed version of this practice exam.

Everyone is impressed as Aldini manages to keep up with Dojima’s plans without needing a single word between the two. Aldini is able to improve upon the dish they’re making almost instinctively.

Aldini looks Yukihira’s way and issues him a non-verbal challenge, that this practice match up to prepare them for taking on Azami, is, in fact, their battleground. Seeing that Aldini is now a step ahead of him, Soma whips out his bandana and prepares to get serious.

Chapter 202:

As Soma prepares himself, Erina’s still trying to ascertain what the hell Soma’s dad is making. While she’s able to realize he’s making crepes, she can’t understand, like the spectators, how the heck that could been a main dish rather than a dessert. How is she supposed to help with whatever weird concoction he’s creating? The focus on Erina here, and the way Food Wars! explores her character development is great and I feel really sells the idea that Erina is learning a valuable lesson about thinking outside the box and challenging her elders with her own ideas.

Hey, I’d eat crepes for dinner.

Meanwhile Azami gets his ducks in a row as he gets the elite ten on board with his plans. Including a few members who have really big scores to settle with Yukihira. This is all set up, all to prepare us for Chapter 204 and beyond as these two forces prepare to clash head on. It also, just a bit, acts as a reminder to the audience which characters are going to be positioned as final villains for this arc.

Speaking of Yukihira, he snaps into action and begins to aid his dad by mixing in his own creative touches on the dish they’re preparing. Erina’s still stumped, but then she thinks back to her brief time in the Polaris Dorm and how everyone was always bouncing creative solutions off one another. She snaps into action and begins to broil a steak! As the adults note, this is the first time Erina has really ever had to train. Again, this chapter does a solid job of taking Erina and forcing her to confront/realize all the encouragement and new ideas she’s been exposed to from the dorm. It’s really great to see the manga doing something with her character and here we get to witness the culmination of all that.

Jumping back to Azami, we learn that in just a short while they’ll meet up again with our heroes to lay out the details of this upcoming challenge. Finally, both teams are done cooking and it’s time to see which dish is superior.

Chapter 203:

Both dishes look impressive, and unique. Just as the former dean is about to do the taste test he stops and hands that duty over to Yukihira and the others, telling them they must each taste the opposing teams dishes and ascertain for themselves who won.

There’s a lot of chatter about the dishes, their ingredients, how they all came together, and finally everyone takes a bite. Everyone seems to foodgasm from the first bite alone, and the former dean calls for them to pick the winner. But all four aren’t in agreement. Yukihira and Erina believe that Aldini and Megumi bested them and vice versa. Neither is willing to accept that judgement and argues the merits of the opposing team’s dish. Each dish is described as either a work of elegant art or an abstract mess of stunning vision.

Oh what sick gender equality is this!? There’s no point in reading if only the guys are going to disrobe! 😛

But three of them are in agreement though, that Erina’s use of the steak in the crepe dish was stunning brilliance and completely out of character for her. Despite that brief alignment the group continues to argue as to who was better. Meanwhile the adults watch on and the Dean is overwhelming pleased with this first round of training as the group has proved their strength to one another.

The dean then talks to his granddaughter, and explains to Erina that the lessons she learned today, watching Soma challenge his father, are exactly what she is missing from her relationship with her own father.

And with that realization we snap to the next morning, just as Azami and his core group arrive to meet with Soma and the rest.

Overall I’m generally pretty satisfied with these three chapters. I’ve been quite critical of Shokugeki of late, as I still feel like it’s stumbling. It’s digging down into an arc that, until recently, had been floundering quite significantly, especially when looking at the Shonen Jump Weekly Rankings in Japan. It’s rebounded a bit since the last article I wrote, possibly due to the flashback that ate up a handful of chapters, Soma’s match up with one of his biggest rivals, etc. It’s hard to say. But I’m not convinced that the manga has addressed it’s deeper issues, which is its over reliance  on its food match ups. This arc has proven that the series has little ability to reinvent competitions between its characters, at least not with the right ideas that are equally as gripping as a straight up Shokugeki. In fact, if the rankings mean anything, it’s only when the series returned to that tried and true formula that its appeal rose again.

While we’ve been introduced to a potentially new kind of match up that involves characters cooking together in tandem, I wonder if the series will be able to do this new concept justice, enough to stem any dwindling interest. What’s here in these chapters is solid character development, but when it comes to the ‘action’ I fear that this series still doesn’t have a solid way of mixing things up.

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 16 (Chapters 128-136) released on February 7th, 2017. Chapters discussed today (201-203) will be compiled and released sometime next year.

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