Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Food Wars! Shokugeki no Soma
Soma and Tsukasa's impromptu shokugeki over both the first seat and whether or not Soma will join Central as Tsukasa's right-hand man comes to its conclusion, with Erina and Hisako judging the final dishes. How will the outcome affect the future of those who resist Azami Nakiri's new rule? Will they finally give Erina the courage to stand up for herself and what she really wants?
Ever since Erina's father Azami Nakiri returned to Totsuki in an orchestrated semi-hostile takeover, the school has been in an uproar. Not only is he trying to remake Japan's culinary world in his own image, but he's also dedicated himself to stamping out what he sees as unnecessary and therefore inferior innovations in gourmet food, and when Soma learns that that is going to extend to restaurants outside of the school, he can't just sit back and let that slide. It marks the moment when he truly decides to go up against not just Tsukasa in their impromptu shokugeki, but also against Azami and his initiatives, no matter what it might cost him.
That this cost could be his creative freedom is actually less of an issue than it at first appears. Remember that Soma is the only person (or at least one of the few) who is able to see that a defeat is just as good a learning experience as a win, so even if he's headed into this particular challenge with the knowledge, or at least the suspicion, that he's fighting a losing battle, he's still likely looking to learn something from it. Then there's also the fact that if he's forced to join Central and work alongside Tsukasa he'll be in a perfect position to both learn from the first seat (and anyone else whose orbit he lands in) while being able to work against Central from the inside. When you think about it that way, it's actually a much bigger risk to both Tsukasa and Central if Soma doesn't win.
Perhaps that's why things turn out the way they do. Regardless, both Soma and Tsukasa have gotten each other's measure because of their battle, and even we readers have been reminded, both through Soma's actions and flashbacks to the time when Soma worked with Shinomiya, that Soma's greatest strength isn't that he never gives up, it's that he never stops learning and moving forward. That's also one of the major pitfalls ahead of Azami's vision for Central: if Soma's power is his ability to keep learning and growing, Central's weakness is that it's looking to stop that type of forward momentum by removing all innovation and learning opportunities from Japanese haute cuisine. By disguising it as a blow against the (admittedly unhealthy) meritocracy set up of Totsuki's previous curriculum, Azami makes it look as though is philosophy is a saner one. Erina, however, through her interactions with the students at Polaris and the deepening of her friendship with Hisako on a much more equal level, has realized that her father's methods, which she saw through his “training” as a small child, are instead going to suck all of the joy out of cooking.
That's a major thematic element for this volume. As Hisako watches both Soma and Tsukasa cook, she notes how they both enjoy what they're doing in different ways. Tsukasa may coddle his ingredients and coax their flavors out while Soma plays with his in order to get the taste he wants, but both boys truly like what they're doing as they try for their best results. Erina, meanwhile, remembers that she became attached to Soma's father because she could taste that he enjoyed crafting his recipes, even if he didn't know what the results would be. She met him when she'd lost any joy in eating and when cooking was no long something fun; both experiences had become mechanical. Her father's poisoning of her mind and the “duties” she faced as the divine tongue (and her grandfather is guilty of using her this way too) took away one of the most basic pleasures of life. This doesn't make what she did to Soma at his entrance exam any better, but it does help to explain the mindset she was in at the time – she actively resented Soma for not only reminding her of his dad, but also for enjoying something she was no longer capable of liking.
These last five-odd volumes of the series have devoted substantial time to making Erina a more likable character, and ultimately that effort pays off in this book. Having finally learned how to be “Erina” rather than “Divine Tongue” or simply “Daughter of the Nakiri,” Erina is able to decide what is important to her as an individual. The answer is a resounding “not my dad or his ideals,” and how she uses her new resolution is a major step forward for her as a character. Her restitution towards Soma for her earlier mistreatment of his cooking does feel a bit too little, too late, but a full apology would be drastically out of character for her. Thus far, her evolution has felt natural, and that's important to the integrity of the story.
While the fanservice has dialed back quite a bit from earlier days, Saeki continues to show a creative hand with it, particularly with one of the foodgasms, where clothes are peeled away as if to mimic how a chestnut is peeled. Soma himself is looking more and more like his father as the story goes on, and if Erina's hair seems to change lengths panel by panel, that's the only real complaint to be made. Food Wars remains one of the most exciting shounen series currently being translated, a story that frustrates, enthralls, and makes you really, really hungry.
Overall : A-
Story : A-
Art : A-
+ Erina's evolution feels organic and serves both her character and the story well, attractive art, tense story
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