Food Wars! Shokugeki no Soma: The Fifth Plate
by Rebecca Silverman,
How would you rate episode 11 of
Food Wars! Shokugeki no Soma: The Fifth Plate ?
For a second at the end of the episode, I thought that Soma was going to tell Asahi that the one flavor he was missing in his repertoire was the taste of a mother's love. It would have been a jerk move and deliberately cruel, but I can't say that Asahi wouldn't have deserved it. That Soma didn't stoop to that level is perhaps more important. Whatever personality flaws he has, cruelty has never been one of them (or even unprovoked meanness), and Soma's statement that Asahi has never experienced the taste of failure stands out not just because it's a refutation of the overall Food Wars worldview, which holds that the only proper dish is a perfect one, but also because it brings everything in the series full circle. From episode one of the first season we've seen Soma experiment with flavors that don't always work out, experimenting with taste as a base for his growth. He has consistently said that he learns just as much from his losses as his wins. Really, what Soma embodies isn't just the elementary school idea that “it doesn't matter if you win or lose, it's how you play the game,” it's the idea that playing in itself is a lot of fun.
It's an attitude that very few people have understood, even amongst his closest friends. It's not that Soma isn't a competitive person, because he absolutely is. But it's more that he actively enjoys the competition, the trial and error of cooking under pressure, than that he really cares about who wins or loses. That's an attitude that he almost certainly got from his mother, and one that his father fostered in him lest he succumb to the same pressure that drove Joichiro out of Totsuki. For the first decade (give or take a few years) of his life, Soma watched his mother happily churn out weird, failed dish after weird failed dish – and she never stopped smiling about it. It didn't matter to her that her husband was a world-renowned chef; Tamako enjoyed cooking even if she wasn't good at it, and that joy is what she passed down to her son. Cooking is fun, Tamako told him, and seeing how it turns out is the best part.
It's also a total anathema to the greats of the culinary world, so in some ways we could see Joichiro's insistence on Soma going to Totsuki as his way of trying to change things via proxy. Soma is truly a combination of his parents, a mix of Joichiro's skill and Tamako's attitude, and it's the latter that's really his trump card in this particular showdown. Asahi may be able to take the physical skills of other chefs by appropriating their tools, but he'll always just be imitating them. Soma's cooking comes from within, and that's what makes him a force to be reckoned with, even if he won't always come through on technical merits. So yes, when he tells Asahi that the taste he doesn't know is the flavor of defeat, he almost is telling him that what he lacks is a mother – just one very specific one, Tamako Yukihira.
If the episode had stuck to that and focused on cooking, it would have been much more powerful, but this is season five and they don't have truck with that sort of thing. Instead we get the return of the Nakiri Gifting, where everyone's clothes fly off when Mana tastes both dishes (and apparently doesn't barf them back up, so good job, boys), ludicrous challenges, and the return of several characters I would have been delighted never to see again. (Sorry, Azami, you don't get a pass because you were “trying to save” Erina and Mana; you still abused your daughter.) But the real shame in all of these shenanigans is that they almost eclipse the point of the series as a whole: that Soma's combination of his parents' cooking philosophies is what makes him a success, and more than that, someone who enjoys what he does, and if that's not shooting yourself in the foot, I don't know what is.
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