Food Wars! Shokugeki no Soma: The Fifth Plate
by Rebecca Silverman,
How would you rate episode 9 of
Food Wars! Shokugeki no Soma: The Fifth Plate ?
The outcome of this week was a foregone conclusion. The minute Megumi and Takumi were informed that they were up against Asahi and Erina respectively, anyone who's been watching since season one could make the educated guess that the former two would lose, because frankly Soma has to go up against one or both of the latter in the final showdown of the Blue. That didn't have to make the cooking portions of the episode worthless, and in an earlier season they wouldn't have been, but as presented here…well, once again, I think we all knew what to expect: an explanation of Noir's really-it's-not-magic technique, full dishes presented, and then the barely-there judging. And guess what? That's precisely what we got.
Even if we ignore the annoyance of the Megumi's sidelining (we didn't even get the full story of her fight against the Southerner at the hot springs, which the manga does provide), the cookery has been on a downhill slide, to the point that I've resigned myself to it as each episode trims yet more off of what used to be the chief allure of the series. This is the worst yet, without even naming the dishes that are produced with one exception, and then not even going into the feelings Takumi put into his hachis parmentier in his attempt to break through the walls Erina has erected around herself. It just feels like adding insult to injury that the new Noir weapon basically functions like Sarge's chainsaw, with each of the knife-claws on the chef's fingers having a different flavor associated, like how Sarge loaded the chains of her saw with seasonings, because if Noir is recycling methods, Asahi is basically kneecapped at this point, since he relies on the tricks of the tools to win.
The more important piece of the episode, which is also a bit predictable, is the reveal that the Bookmaster who has been so hard on Erina is, in fact, her mother, Mana Nakiri. She seems to have it out for her daughter because both Nakiri women share the same special ability: Erina inherited the God Tongue from her mother alongside genetically cowlicked hair. (I'd call the show out on that except that my hair slides out of an updo to the right exactly like my great-aunt Sayde's, so weird hair things really do get passed down.) The God Tongue apparently ruined Mana's life because it made her too sensitive to taste to the point where she only takes in nutrients from IVs now, so her harshness towards the daughter with the same gift could be framed as a tough-love attempt to save Erina from the same fate. On the surface, however, it just looks like Erina struck out with both of her parents, with her father abusing her and her mother shunning her. It's kind of amazing she turned out as well as she did.
More pressing, however, is the question of how Mana can remain the Bookmaster of the WGO and the head judge for the Blue if she doesn't actually eat food. She could be saving her taste buds for the final showdown, but this episode flat-out says that she can't consume regular food at this point, so that doesn't seem particularly likely. Wouldn't she then be forced to step down as Bookmaster, or at least be barred from overseeing the most prestigious cooking competition in the world? If nothing else, it makes it feel as if she's running the Blue specifically to harass her daughter, which is as problematic as the agreement Megumi makes with Asahi about how she can't be Erina's friend anymore if she loses.
This brings me to the real issue with this episode beyond the usual Food Wars problems: everyone is ignoring the fact that Erina has agency. It's up to her who she's friends with, what she does with her cooking skills, and who she dates or marries. That last may be a bit more up in the air since she's still a minor, but she's not some wilting flower to just go with someone or something she hates. Only Soma seems to realize this, and his declaration against Asahi is as much based in his dislike of how his “brother” is treating his friend as anything. If there's one thing Soma has always been willing to do, it's stand up for what he believes in, be that cooking, his dorm, or his friends, and that's what he's doing now – because it doesn't matter what her mother says, if Erina doesn't want to marry Asahi, he'll stand by her right to refuse his creepy proposal to an underage girl.
Watching him destroy Asahi in the end may make this season worth it, although I'm not holding my breath.
Food Wars! Shokugeki no Soma: The Fifth Plate is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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