OP2: 「シンボル」 (Symbol) by Luck Life
「進級試験」 (Shinkyuu Shiken)
Welcome back to the wonderful world of Totsuki Academy! As Cherrie is continuing her hiatus this season, I, Stilts, will be your guide for the second cour of this season. I don’t know much about cooking (I wing it like Souma, but without his crazy experience or skill), but what I do know is drama, and since Shokugeki no Souma is a stunning example of great dramatic (shounen-style) storytelling with stellar characters and plenty of funny bits, I’m stoked to talk about it.
This episode accomplishes two things, and it does them well. First, it’s a bit of a refresher for what happened at the tail end of the previous cour. If this episode had immediately followed episode twelve, it wouldn’t have been necessary, but it didn’t, so it makes sense why they took some time to remind us of the high points. I’m not sure it was as necessary here as it would have been in other places, given how seismic the Souma/Saiba revelation was to Erina, Azami, and the story, but neither do I think it was a waste. That’s because the reminders didn’t get in the way of the episode’s other goal, and may have padded it out so that we could focus on the one big thing and end in the right place.
The second thing this episode did was show Erina finding her resolve. The tug of war between Saiba’s and Azami’s competing visions of food—even if Souma’s father has no idea he’s party to any of this—is the internal struggle that has roiled Erina for years, as it embodies whether she’s going to cook for herself (Saiba-style) or for her family and the betterment of food culture (Azami-style). And here’s the glorious thing: Azami isn’t totally wrong. To tangent slightly, take his education philosophy as espoused by Central. In a way, I actually agree with him. The traditional dog-eat-dog, succeed-or-be-expelled style of Totsuki Academy makes for GREAT manga/anime, but it’s not necessarily a good education philosophy. At such a high-powered institution it’s inevitable that some would flunk out, but Totsuki has always gone way super far with it. That makes a Totsuki degree extremely valuable (scarcity and all that), but it’s still discarding a lot of potentially good chefs in the process. The fact that the antagonists have a point is really good, because it makes the antagonists more believable since they’re not fighting for something cartoonishly evil. It’s just that Azami goes too far with his make-everything-gourmet-or-else-it’s-trash ideas. This is what Black Panther did with Killmonger. It’s not that he was entirely wrong, it’s that he went too far. Same idea.
So it’s not that Azami doesn’t have a point. Erina has tasted, firsthand, a lot of inferior food. That’s what makes this a good internal struggle. She could have very well chosen to pursue a more Azami-style philosophy of food and, as long as she got rid of some of his more dickish ideas, it would have been both character growth and resolve. She would have been seeking to redeem her vile father’s philosophy and do it right. She was in a state of real flux, which is why she talked to Souma. Fortunately, Souma knows exactly what to say in this kind of situation.
He talks with his cooking.
I love the parallels both to the entrance exam and one of Saiba’s dishes. It was also so like him to use a cheap ingredient to show that her worldview is limiting, which gives the message even more punch. It also has plenty of that good ol’ Shokugeki-style innovate cooking and foodgasms, which is what we come here for, right? It’s a battle anime with food. What’s not to like!
But most of all, all of this allowed Erina to make her decision, and it all comes down on one side: that of creativity (freedom), and of fun. Totsuki Academy perhaps goes too far—maybe they should have a lower tier academy with a less prestigious degree where those who can’t survive Totsuki can graduate from, so at least they can continue learning instead of being discarded—but it’s undeniable that, though it’s harsh, the old Totsuki system was fair. That’s why the Polar Star characters were reminiscing about the training camp from hell and the other events. Those were difficult, but they knew they could survive with the power of their cooking. It’s far different than being targeted for execution, as they are now. Erina has decided that the freedom and fun as embodies by the inhabitants of Polar Star Dormitory is worth protecting, and encouraging that kind of cooking—and doing it herself—is what she wants to do. Her resolve is set, as the final scene shows. Best part: Souma doesn’t get his answer as to whether his dish is delicious. That would have been too easy, Souma-kun. Better luck next time!
Next week it sounds like we get to find out why there are so many trains in the OP and ED. I can’t wait to find out. Speaking of, manga readers: please remember to label and tag any spoilers, because as a wise young chef once said:
“If you know exactly where you’re headed, it’s no fun at all.”
See you next week!
- Wait, did Souma always have a kitchen in his room?
- My theory: Megumi only falls victim to Souma’s grotesque dishes so often because Souma likes to tease the girl he likes. MEGUMI X SOUMA 5EVER!!
My SECOND novel, Freelance Heroics, is available now! (Now in print!) (Also available: Firesign #1 Wage Slave Rebellion.) Sign up for my email list for updates. At stephenwgee.com, the latest post: Book 3 Progress Report.
ED2: 「アトリア」 (Atoria) by Fo’xTails.