「強者たる所以」 (Kyousha Taru Yuen)
“The Basis for Strength”
Perfect is not enough when you’re facing Yukihira Souma.
This final battle of the current anime run is vintage Shokugeki no Souma. It’s clear from the get-go that Souma is going to win; that’s fine. What matters is how he wins, and what it shows us about both Souma and Nene. Choosing to elevate cup yakisoba is certainly very Souma, but what I most loved is the perception and flexibility it showed. When characters started calling out the temperature of the arena, I knew that would factor in, but showing that it was the variable Souma realized and exploited—that he was thinking about his dish and his customers in a way that Nene was not—shows that Souma deserved this victory. He’s a diner boy through and through, and that gives him so many advantages, including complete comfort with the pressure that weighs down on other contestants, because he’s used to it. Best of all, though, is that he’s always focused on the customer. Always! It’s not about expressing himself, save for that being the best way to delight his customers. It’s not about him. It’s about them, the people who will enjoy his dish. And that makes Yukihira Souma a very easy chef to root for.
I also got a real chuckle out of how the other match was resolved off screen. Good! Like the current arc in another series I’m covering, I wouldn’t be surprised if the protagonists go up several matches, only for the antagonists to claw their way back when their heavyweights take to the field. How are nameless mooks going to beat established characters, even ones like Magishima Tosuke? That just makes him more likely to win—we need to learn what’s his deal! But they didn’t waste our time with a tedious match, and got a good punch line in too. Good.
The series ends on a huge cliffhanger, and I’m surprised it hasn’t already been greenlit for another season. (Granted, I don’t know how well this anime has been selling, but it feels as if we’ve come too far to stop now.) There’s much still to see—but this is the end for now. Let’s get to the final impressions.
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The current arc of Shokugeki no Souma was a huge gamble. It took the formula that was working—cooking battles and foodgasms in a sports anime vein—and turned it into a Good vs Evil struggle. That’s a risk, and at times it has threatened to poison the well of what makes the series work. There used to be a sense of unpredictability, especially in shokugekis with lower stakes (i.e. the ones where Souma wasn’t at risk of expulsion). Like, remember the Moon Festival? That might have been peak Shokugeki no Souma for me. Souma battling it out against Kuga with pride on the line was so fun, especially as he demonstrated the ways in which his philosophies of cooking and restaurant operation were superior to that of Kuga’s. It was a battle that could have gone any way, and so was tense up until the last moment.
In comparison, as soon as the stakes became the future of all restaurants in the world and the expulsion of all the main characters, the contours of the plot became easier to see. Curve balls were still thrown, and for that I have mad respect, but it seemed like Shokugeki no Souma was discarding its greatest strength.
And yet, what choice was there? Could Shokugeki no Souma have continued to do the same thing over and over again, evolving only by inches while its story stayed basically the same? I mean, yes. But would it have been best? I’m a firm believer of not messing up a good thing, but also of not being complacent until the thing you do stops working and your readers all leave. I know these can be mutually exclusive! So yes, the Shokugeki no Souma team had a choice of staying the course or changing things up. I think they way they changed things up damaged the story on the hole. I don’t necessarily think the change was a bad idea, though. Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water.
The issue, I feel, is not that the contours of the plot became easier to see. It was often easy to anticipate who would win, since expulsion was so often on the line. The problem came when the shokugekis started feeling unfair. There has always been a rightness to Shokugeki no Souma, in that if your cooking is good enough, you can surmount all obstacles. This season did not violate that rule, which is extremely good; had it, the series would have died. Yet it came close. The biased test administrators and the dirty tricks were frustrating in a way that almost made me want to stop watching. This series has always have bullies and bastards, but they always fought it out fair and square in the cooking arena. Those tricks were so annoying, and it’s only the fact that good enough cooking could still see the characters through that prevented the series from souring. But it was a near thing.
Not that this arc hasn’t been without its plus sides, including one that couldn’t have come about any other way. That plus side is Erina. Her depiction as an abuse victim still cowering at her abuser (her father) was heartbreaking, but to see her slowly gain the strength to oppose him was marvelous. It was only possible through her strength, yes, but also through the support of her friends and mentors and (non-poisonous) family, who stood by her and encouraged her and gave her that strength, their strength, by being there to stand beside her. They unlocked Erina’s strength, and when she stood up to her father, renounced her seat on the Elite Ten, and wholly joined the rebellion—wow. That wouldn’t have been possible without this arc I don’t think. Maybe Azami could have been used in another way, but without him being the principle antagonist, I’m not sure it would have had the same effect.
On the whole, this season of Shokugeki no Souma was fun. At its worst, this series is still a lot of fun. This wasn’t the strongest season, and I suspect the end game will be weaker than the preceding arcs after all is said and done, but even then, the season was fun. I hope another season will be greenlit soon, so we can get the end of the manga in anime form, and enjoy this series to the last drop.