Food Wars! Shokugeki no Soma: The Fourth Plate
by Rebecca Silverman,
How would you rate episode 9 of
Food Wars! Shokugeki no Soma: The Fourth Plate ?
Just when you thought Azami couldn't get any creepier we find out that he's been basically courting (or stalking?) Tsubasa for years. Even if we discount the fact that this full-grown man was following around a teenage boy, that he zeroed in on a student as a way to infiltrate Totsuki is in itself a seriously troubling idea, and that he then decided to manipulate said teenager's own insecurities to weasel his way into his affections is a clear sign that he never had any intentions of doing anything aboveboard. It's a clear pattern of behavior when added to his mistreatment of Erina, and not only does it confirm that Senzaemon was absolutely right to show the man the door years ago, but it's also a pretty good argument (in fiction at least) for a restraining order preventing the creep from interacting with kids ever again.
Interestingly, from an education standpoint, it also shows the ultimate failure of Totsuki's Elite Ten system in that it allowed Tsukasa to travel on a school-sanctioned journey without any, or enough, administrative supervision. Possibly the jobs he was going to were supposed to provide that, but he's a kid at a boarding school; no matter how elite, it still has a duty to function as an educational institution, and that means keeping the students safe. The stagière system clearly has those safeties built in, so what precisely went wrong here isn't clear. But it's still worth noting, because while competition is fine for some students, as are opportunities to travel, it isn't the sort of one-size-is-safe-for-all situation the school seems to treat it as. And yes, this is a show about teenage superchefs, but it acknowledges enough other bits and pieces of school realities that it feels like allowing Azami to exploit a loophole in the system is deliberate.
It also points to an underlying theme for this particular episode: actually enjoying cooking. It started a bit last week when Isshiki and Nene had their talk; this week he flat out tells both her and Tsukasa that what he likes about cooking is that he likes cooking as an activity. It's the same kind of delight Soma and his dad take from experimenting with new flavor combinations on a less gross level, and originally it was what Rindo enjoyed as well. It's too simple to say that the philosophy espoused is “if it's not fun, why do it?”, but there's certainly an element of that, because what Takumi picks up on during his match with Rindo is that she's no longer actively enjoying the art of cooking, and that scares her. She started this whole journey because she wanted to keep having fun cooking with Tsukasa. If that's not possibly anymore, then what has she gotten wrapped up in this mess for?
And it is starting to feel like a long, drawn-out mess. Partially that's because of the uneven pacing, sometimes awkward art (Erina definitely inflates and deflates a few times this week), and lack of actual cooking footage, but it's also feeling like maybe this whole team shokugeki was just too ambitious. There are far too many characters with way too many cook-offs, and if twelve episodes wasn't enough to fill it, twenty-four is way too many. Even the roughly sixteen it will have taken to get through it between last season and this is feeling like too much, and that's really not a good thing when the story needs to maintain its momentum to make us care about the results.
That's where Azami actually works as a character. He's awful, but he's the right kind of awful to make you mad every time he opens his snide mouth and says something irritating. This week it's his disgusting notion that Erina needs to be “purified” in order to be of use to anyone (i.e. him). That's a dangerous word to use in any situation, but particularly for a woman, because it trades in the linguistics of female sexuality. Even though we know he's talking about food, when paired with the ideas of Soma tainting her and Azami's wish for her to be his “good girl,” there's an even creepier undertone that's hard to ignore. As drawn-out as this storyline has been, watching Erina kick his ass really could make it all worth it in the end.
Food Wars! Shokugeki no Soma: The Fourth Plate is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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