「荒野を拓く者」 (Kouya o Hiraku Mono)
“The Pioneer of the Wastelands”
I really respect stories that set out to do one thing well. This episode seeks to do one thing: paint, in its full frustrating, overwhelming fury, the pressure under which Joichiro labored and excelled, until he finally burned out. It paints well a picture of a father similar but different than his son, and gives solid reason to how Joichiro became the man he is today—and through him, why Souma is Souma. He truly is his father’s son, but different in crucial ways.
This episode reminds me of Endless Eight, in a way. Everything boiled down to getting us to understand one character’s situation, only this time it (blessedly) only took a single episode to do the job. It’s designed to disabuse us (the viewers) of a notion: that of genius. It’s one that’s easy to fall into early, because Joichiro really does have some level of talent and skill that’s beyond most people. That’s real. But when his accomplishments are dismissed as genius, as a way for others to give reason to why he’s so much better than them in a way that’s not an indictment of their own effort and commitment (as one chap found out most rudely—and deservedly), it’s easy to see how that wears him down. It’s easy to see because they drove it home, showing how his release valves were shaved away, his fun times disappeared, and how he left everyone behind. He was really harmed by having few who could seriously challenge him—something that the current generation, fortunately, does not have to struggle with. No one is running amok in the younger generation, and anyone can lose given the right (or wrong) circumstances.
Which goes to show how Souma has benefited from failure. With Joichiro as his father, he (for the longest time) was at such an experiential disadvantage that to expect to win their cooking matches would have been folly. This taught him to learn from failure, and to enjoy the competition even in the absence of success. That’s invaluable, as Joichiro himself realizes. Souma might not be as talented as his father, but he would have enjoyed the challenge Joichiro struggled under more. He would have been smiling.
- The big puzzler is why the story went out of its way to bring up Ebisawa Riko, a character who (correct me if I’m wrong) we haven’t run into yet. That speaks to foreshadowing. In the context of the episode, I’d even be inclined to guess she could be Souma’s mother, if not for that last name. I’m sure she’ll be important eventually, though. Conservation of detail and all that.
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