Shokugeki no Soma (Food Wars!) (Chapters 165-169) – Review Discussion

Food Wars! (Shokugeki no Soma):

Chapters 165-169

Reviewed by: Tom

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Boy the plot keeps getting bigger– *ahem* more intense every issue.

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 becoming 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?

Review:

Chapter 165 Review:

Soma’s ready to challenge Tsukasa with his dish, and Tsukasa is moments away from finishing his when the two realize they never picked judges for this shokugeki (talk about thick.) But that’s okay as Soma already knows Erina and Hisako are watching right outside.

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Glass: how does it work?

Erina and Hisako are antsy about judging the match, as they’ll be the one’s who’ll be sending Soma to join central if he loses (or rather when). However Soma refuses to back down, not when Azami’s goal ultimately puts his family’s restaurant on the line.

Hisako takes a bite of Soma’s dish and we’re treated to what Tsukuda does best, the sexy disrobing of Hisako’s foodgasm. Hisako is literally blown away by Soma’s dish and even Tsukasa is surprised at how good it is, despite the fact that charcoal grilling, the method of preparation used here, normally produces a bitter taste. Erina reveals that Soma avoided producing that flavor by utilizing coffee in his cooking. Even Erina is forced to admit that Yukihira’s dish is impressive as she too suffers the same fate as Hisako and foodgasms.

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Lots of plot this issue I see.

We’re laying it on a bit thick here, really pumping Yukihira’s cooking with praise after praise and as the formula for Food Wars! goes this is ultimately a bad sign. Tsukasa has a moment to himself in quiet contemplation (and we learn what he was most likely thinking about in the next chapter) before he presents his dish to the ladies. Hisako tries it and is stunned with how Tsukasa has managed to blend every aspect of the dish together producing a kind of harmony.

Erina delves deeper, giving the audience a truncated understanding of how difficult it is to produce such amazing flavor and balance the ingredients properly within his sauce. It’s this kind of development the manga needed to solidify the power of central and Tsukasa is really driving home the skill difference between Yukihira’s first years and Azami’s central.

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This manga makes me glad every day I never desired to be a gourmet chef.

It comes time for the judging and the ladies are forced to choose between the two dishes, although they already know which is the clear victor.

Chapter 166 Review:

In a development that shouldn’t surprise avid shonen readers Soma loses. Both Erina and Hisako feel awful, their decision pushing Yukihira right into central’s clutches. This is really the only satisfying development of the three options: victory, loss or tie. A victory would’ve simply continued to undermine the already questionable threat of Azami’s rule. A tie would’ve merely kept victory within striking distance of Yukihira’s potential. A loss ensures that Azami and his crew stand so much higher than Yukihira and establish Azami and central as a threat that will require a lot of effort to defeat.

Of course the question is then: How does Yukihira get out of becoming a part of central? It could’ve been a bold move to force Yukihira onto the bad guy’s team, and who knows how a bizarre development such as that might have played out, but as with any major bet that sees the main character of a shonen totally and completely lose– it gets nullified.

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Have you– not been paying attention at all to this kid? You’re only just realizing this now?

Tsukasa reveals he’s no longer interested in Yukihira as his personal assistant. He’s too unpredictable and would only stress Tsukasa out. I suspected something like this would happen, but it leaves me feeling no less like it’s a cope out. A way to have some drama but without any long lasting negative side effects.

Erina calls Tsukasa out for showing mercy to Yukihira, but Tsukasa claims it’s instead Yukihira’s unwillingness to bend (this is what he was probably contemplating in the last chapter.) Tsukasa then internal monologues how he’s feeling like something is off about the first years, which will come up again in a bit.

Flashing forward, central mops up again with another series of solid victories only interrupted by a few stand out matches from Megumi and Ikumi. Both manage to save the Home Cooking Research Society and the Donburi Bowl Society respectively. (Which is great because I love Donburi Bowls.)

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Ikumi displays her plot– Intense cooking skills!

Meanwhile Azami and Tsukasa discuss how they’ve both noticed something odd about the first years, the raw talent and how that spirit centers around Yukihira. But Azami isn’t concerned, as he’s taken steps to separate each of our heroes and crush them one by one. His plan involves the upcoming Advancement Exams.

Chapter 167 Review:

The Advancement Exams look to be our next major step in this arc, our next upcoming battle that’ll bring with it loses, victories and plenty of challenges for our heroes. But before we get to it we need to set it all up, along with some much needed character development for Erina.

Tsukasa does a broadcast to the student body, explaining the Advancement Exams. We learn that, in the past, the Exams decimated the student body from 190 to 76, but with Azami’s plans things are different. Instead the exams are more like refresher reviews to see if you’ve picked up the skills they’re teaching. But for anyone who’s refused to fall in line this Exam will be the end of them.

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Tedious conformity?

How exactly? The manga doesn’t really delve into how Yukihira and the rest are in trouble, it would seem all they’d need to do is complete the exams (which sounds far easier than the original I might add) so clearly there’s going to be some kind of foul play? If anything I’m sort of with Yukihira, beyond Tsukasa’s ominous message this exam doesn’t seem all that bad. But the rest of the dorm realizes that they may be facing expulsion in these upcoming exams.

Stepping away from the first years for a bit, we watch as Azami has dish after dish presented before a panel of judges. Students show off the quality of their work. The judges are amazed and claim Azami has produced an army of top chefs. Azami’s ideas are sound in theory and I can easily understand why they’d become so popular. Unlike the entertainment medium (which has its own problem with formulas and tropes) cooking does not immediately scream creativity. Most people see cooking boiled down to “tastes good” or “tastes bad.” The nuances of the dish, style and flavor are all things the ordinary man might not immediately consider as sitting beyond a two point scale.

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Well that’d drive any man insane.

Mr. Chapelle actually brings this point up as he’s forced to admit that Azami’s method does produce results, but lacks creativity as I said above. Azami reproduces his vision of delicious food, creating a uniform idea of quality and taste. I can’t help but think Azami’s methods resemble some of the ideas behind fast food. Producing the same dish, the same quality across a wide number of locations, ensuring that no matter where you go you receive and taste the meal you expected to. Azami’s idea is perhaps even more frightening. Imagine entering a pizzeria and finding your cheese pizza tastes like every other cheese pizza in any other establishment. Taken to an extreme, as we know Azami desires, it creates a terrifyingly uniform future with only one concept of taste guiding every single restaurant.

Flashing back to our heroes, the dorm is in a panic; save for two. Erina goes to meet with Yukihira and asks to speak with him. Finally we’re back to Erina’s long gestating character development.

Chapter 168 Review:

Erina starts the conversation by telling Yukihira he can’t blame her for choosing Tsukasa’s dish over his. Yukihira isn’t one to deny the truth however, and is quick to admit that Tsukasa’s dish was indeed better, completely defusing Erina’s pretense for being there.

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Boy Erina is bad at this. I’d hate to see the results of her trying a Netflix and Chill strategy on Yukihira.

She finally comes clean, briefly recapping her childhood again and her lack of passion for cooking. She was the Divine Tongue and that meant tasting dish after dish everyday, killing her interest in preparing food herself. But it was Yukihira’s father, Joichiro who reinvigorated her interests.

We learn how Erina and Joichiro met, a cute little incident where Erina stumbled upon him serving her grandfather. She quickly became infatuated with him and his cooking, taking a greater and greater interest. This leads Erina to admit she’s confused, struggling between her love for Joichiro’s unique style, but at the same time willing to admit that Azami’s ideal speaks to her after having had to endure so many bland and uninspired meals as a child. This is where I feel a bit of a disconnect with Shokugeki. As for right now the manga seems interested in propagating the idea that the institute’s methods for and their results are the true path, and that Azami’s is the evil path. I feel like both ideologies are destructive, almost like we’re looking at the Chaos vs Law path choices in Shin Megami Tensei games: Neither is actually all that great and leads to a future where there’s always someone who gets screwed over. I’m kind of hoping the arc will shift around, to Yukihira and our cast perhaps rejecting both ideologies in favor of one not so strict and less imposing. Azami’s breeds conformity, and the institute breeds elitism, neither path a righteous or reasonable one.

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Middle ground? Can we strive for a middle ground? Is that not on the table?

Erina gets ready to leave, flustered by her honesty when Yukihira gets up and tells her he’ll show her some true Yukihira family cooking to bring her around again.

Chapter 169 Review:

This chapter starts off with a flashback, I assume from the dialogue anyway, it’s not super clear exactly when this moment takes place in the series’ timeline. Joichiro meets with Erina’s grandfather and we learn Joichiro really only sent Soma to the Institute at the ceaseless urging of Senzaemon. In fact, the two actually knew of Azami’s pending plans and their fear for what Azami’s involvement in Erina’s life again would mean. Joichiro apparently felt that Soma and the others might be the only people to keep Erina safe: friends to open her eyes from Azami’s corrupt teachings.

Hisako panics as she can’t find Erina, getting the whole dorm to go searching for her. They find Erina in Soma’s room and spy on the two, listening in through the door and communications system. The group immediately becomes concerned that Soma will cook her one of his gross concoctions.

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So he’s planning to kill her?

As Soma works on his dish, Erina can’t help but reflect on her past, remembering, thanks to Soma’s efforts, how much she enjoyed cooking as a child before it was ruined for her by all the taste tasting she was forced to endure. Soma tells her to wipe the gloom off her face. He sees this moment as a rematch, and this time he’ll force her to admit that she likes his cooking.

I think Tsukuda is doing an impressive job with Erina’s backstory, development, and fleshing her out in ways that makes Erina very likable and relatable. I’m sure the end result will be subtle, and she’ll still be her harsh, bordering bitchy self, but at least she’ll be more or less aligned with Soma and the gang. You know, realizing it, she’s kinda the series’ Vegeta.

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 12 (Chapters 93-101) will be released on June 7th, 2016. Chapters discussed today (165-169) will be compiled in Volume 19 to be released sometime next year.

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