Food Wars! Shokugeki no Soma
by Rebecca Silverman,
How would you rate episode 17 of
Food Wars! Shokugeki no Soma ?
Another episode of Food Wars, another truly unpleasant female character. This has steadily become more of an issue in this series than the early, objectifying and sexualizing foodgasms (although an unfortunate early one from the first episode makes a reappearance this week), largely due to the fact that “competitive woman” is often, though not always, synonymous with “bitch” in anime. (See Inari from Princess Jellyfish or Yukino from Yakitate!! Japan for other examples.) While this is not always the case, it certainly has been present in Food Wars with characters like Erina, Alice, or the land shark from the early episodes, and now we add one more: the owner of Mozuya, a karaage (fried chicken) chain who has set her sights on conquering Soma's home shopping district. While she makes for an excellent villain, she is continuing a trend that is problematic within the series, although she is offset by the return of Kurase, Soma's middle school classmate, and Nikumi.
So yes, this is the fried chicken story mentioned for the last two weeks for its change in place as far as the manga's time line goes. As you may recall, at the end of last episode, Soma's dad asked him to go home and air out Yukihira during his break, so off Soma goes. Once there he notices that the shopping district has far fewer patrons than normal, and a depressed district chairman tells him that this is due to the renovation of the train station's shopping mall, which has drawn away customers, specifically from the restaurants and food stalls. Mozuya, a Kyoto-area fried chicken chain, is the main reason for this, and the store owners are in despair. Fortunately for them, Soma is not a guy to sit idly by when there's a cooking competition in the offing, and he decides, along with a totally-forced-into-it Kurase, to challenge Mozuya's superiority. But to do that, he'll need some help, preferably from someone with an expertise in meat...so as you might have guessed, he calls in Nikumi. Together the three intrepid kids set out to bring down The (Wo)Man.
What's delightful about this particular storyline is that it's more varied in tone than the previous arcs. Soma's not fighting for his (or someone else's) place in Totsuki; he's involved in something that he cares deeply about on a personal level. The fact that both Nikumi and Kurase have major crushes on him (to which he is naturally oblivious) adds a little something we haven't really seen in this show thus far, and while the typical rom-com antics of the girls sizing each other up (poor Kurase can't seem to look away from Nikumi's burgeoning bosom) and trying to guess if they have a chance with Mr. Oblivious are fairly tired, they work here because we haven't been subjected to them for the previous sixteen episodes. More importantly, there's an air of camaraderie that we haven't experienced as Nikumi, Kurase, and Soma all put their issues (and crushes) aside and work on something that they feel strongly about. Granted, at this point it's only important to Nikumi because Soma cares about it, but she's still able to focus and work together with the group towards a mutual goal, something that we don't see much of in the ultra-competitive world of the show.
Visually this episode does decently well, although there is something seriously off about the way Nikumi's short skirt clings to her lap...when she's standing and technically doesn't have a lap to cling to. It looks like there are a fair amount of repeated faces and outfits in the crowd scenes outside Motsuya, and at times Nikumi's breasts seem to move independently of her. On the other hand, that karaage looks really tasty and some of the cooking scenes look very nice. Also impressive is our villainess, who can contort her face into a mask of horror with the best of them, going from “kitsune” to “snake woman” to “yakuza wife” and back again. Her voice actress, whose name is not in the Encyclopedia as of this write up, also deserves credit for some very interesting noises over the end card.
The karaage story, which will continue for one more episode, is a nice break from the high tension and self-promoting tales of Totsuki the show usually delivers. It also is leading up to the Fall Election (or Fall Classic if you prefer the manga term, which I do) story arc in a sufficiently ominous way: not only do we have the looming shadowy figure of Motsuya's business adviser, but we also have Isshiki wearing clothes, which shows us the seriousness of the upcoming plot. This episode has its issues with visuals and yet another “evil woman” character, but it's also a chance to see cooking competitively in a different way...and to really start to crave some fried chicken.
Rebecca Silverman is ANN's senior manga critic.
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