「誰が為に」 (Dare ga Tame ni)
I called it. Last episode I called it in saying that the sauce would make up the difference. Really it was underlying issues/truths that were embodied in the sauce, but it remains that the tide turned when the sauce got in on the action. I say this not to gloat, but to remark upon something more essential: knowing it was coming did not matter. The episode still landed, because food was used to touch on character and theme, and because it was done well.
I often hold up Boku no Hero Academia as proof that tropes are not bad (trope!), and how what really matters is using these familiar ideas and motifs so that they feel not like clichés, but like elemental truths imparted in a fresh way. Shokugeki no Souma is not as good as HeroAca from a pure thematic/execution standpoint—which is not to say one or the other is better, there’s more to a story then how the tools are used, I’m simply saying that one is more consistently better at executing upon its vision—but this series illustrates the same thing, especially with this episode. As soon as Hayama’s dish came out last episode without everyone having tasted Souma’s sauce, it was clear what would happen, but the way it happened still landed.
The reason is character and theme. The characters weren’t just cooking, though it’s been fine when that’s all they were doing in the past—I think about the early episode where Souma bested Nikumi over the fate of the Don RS, where the truth imparted was just a cool philosophy about cooking, and that was fine for that episode. Here, though, the dishes were avenues to illustrate character growth and to explore the characters’ current paths, i.e. this was a conflict that shows what these people are truly made of. So even when it becomes doubly clear that Souma is going to win, the question is why, what lesson will Hayama take from this defeat and where will he go from here. It was about showing Souma’s growth as a chef and exposing Hayama’s regression. Surprise about the result was immaterial. That emotional payload was the point of this whole thing.
As far as emotional payloads go, a three-pronged strike was what really got my feels pumping. First was where Dojima accurately diagnosed that Hayama was adrift without his support. In writing there is an idea referred to as the First Reader, which I first learned of while reading Stephen King’s On Writing. The idea is that the novelist doesn’t write the book for everybody, but just for one person, and then writes a book they will enjoy. It provides clarity of purpose. Well, chef’s have First Tasters, and Hayama was adrift without his. Without Jun, he was unmoored, unable to turn anywhere for counsel. By comparison, Souma had plenty of helpers, and he kept his clarity of purpose. Which brings us to the second prong…
“It was for you! All for you! It’s because I was gonna make you eat the dish, of course!”
Souma’s First Taster was Hayama. Not literally—they were opponents, so they didn’t taste each other’s dishes ahead of time—but he had his sights set squarely on Hayama the whole time. He wasn’t cooking to move on, he was cooking for Hayama, to help him regain his feet on the path whether he wanted it for not. Souma is like Izuku in this. Even if it gives him an even stronger rival, he will make you better, because stronger rivals make him better too, but also just because he wants to, dammit, no matter your opinions on the matter! That was a good moment of a friend smacking his friend when he knows he needs it.
Speaking of, the third prong was Jun. Jun clearly loves him—in whatever fashion you prefer to see, whether as a parent or a potential lover, their love is clearly deep—and she revealed to his stunned and dumbfounded face, the obvious truth that she probably tried to tell him before: she doesn’t care about the lab. She doesn’t care about research or a budget. That’s all swell, but what she really wants “… to see is you really enjoying your cooking and devoting yourself to your craft with lots of friends your own age.” She wants him to be happy! All that took an episode that could have been formulaic and unsurprising, and elevated it to something much more compelling.
Of course, there were surprises still to be had. I didn’t know how the Tsukuda-sensei would go with the results of the other Elite Ten challenges, but the answer is in: it’s a blood bath. Even strong contestants who had a real change of passing were cut down. It makes sense, right? Souma had the weakest competing Elite Ten member (Hayama was 9th, and Erina is 10th), and he was barely able to come out on top. Isami wasn’t going to beat the 1st. Hisako wasn’t going to beat the 4th. In time they might, but they haven’t had enough time to catch up, and these people are serious about knocking out the rebels. That Souma got through shows that they underestimated him, if we’re being honest—and Hayama got expelled as well. The real question is what happened with Megumi and Takumi, since they weren’t among the casualties. Were they able to best the 2nd seat, Rindou? She’s the most engimatic of the Elite Ten. I’m curious about how that will play out.
- You don’t eat chicken-fried anything like that! Use a fork and a knife you crazies!
- Gotta love the reality-defying nudity. Doesn’t make sense, don’t care!
- Also: Souma using Hayama’s subtract and emphasize dealio against him was choice. Souma is a spicy little bugger, and he learns. He’ll be a good influence on Hayama after they both get back to campus and—oh.
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: Forbidden Island, coast to coast.