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This Week in Anime
What the Hell is Happening in Food Wars!?
by Nicholas Dupree & Jacob Chapman,
Food Wars! The Third Plate has ramped up the stakes and the steaks this season in unprecedented ways. This week, Nick and Jacob are still reeling from this dramatic shift in Soma and Erina's story.
Disclaimer:The views and opinions expressed by the participants in this chatlog are not the views of Anime News Network. Spoiler Warning for discussion of the series ahead. Not Safe For Work warning for language.
And I Fucking Love It. Production limitations aside, this Central Arc is better than the show has ever ever been before, I will fight anyone on this. And I have just one thing to say to you Nick, about your weird love for Erina.
Only pretend that's a happy face because I love Erina so much now. Man, I wasn't prepared for any of this.
I don't think anybody was prepared for Erina's arc in Food Wars!, especially not after two full seasons of her being the show's epitome of Food Snobbery. But at this point I'd go so far as to say Erina is easily Food Wars!' most well realized character.
I just thought she was a bitch. But no, she's a Warrior.
Turning Erina's God Tongue from a generic symbol of elitism to a defense mechanism that was pounded into her by her terrifying authoritarian father was an inspired choice that changes absolutely everything about how I saw the character. I realized that not only did I not hate Erina, I've been Erina. I was raised in a very similar family, only replace food with, you know, Jesus, and it gave me an acidic tongue and an abrasive judgment response that I will probably have to wrangle with for the rest of my life, because it can be both a talent I'm proud of and a symptom of trauma I'm recovering from.
But enough about me. To make a long story short, Totsuki Academy is now under the thumb of a Literal Food Fascist who wants to make it so that poor people and anyone who disagrees with his sense of taste can't dine out anywhere in Japan. That's his absurd manifesto.
And before any of us knew about it, Erina had been his first victim in this endeavor. I'm not gonna lie, hearing her detail how her father shaped her understanding of food hit me really close to home.
It's definitely a hard turn, and to be honest it originally felt somewhat out of place in Food Wars!. Like the series has always had its sentimental side, but there's still a pretty big leap in tone from food orgasm competitions to a brutal detailing of child abuse. But I think it works because of how Erina's arc progresses after we learn about all this. While Azami is busy consolidating power at Totsuki, Erina's friends and loved ones manage to give her shelter at Polaris, and being surrounded by a house of loud weirdos and the ever unflappable Soma offers her the chance to break out of her father's influence.
Though she's still not entirely sure how to react to this whole "having friends" thing yet.
Right. Shonen manga loves to bust out "child abuse" as a dramatic twist, I've seen it done a million times, but Food Wars! is one of the very few to get the portrayal right. (See also my favorite shojo manga of all time, Fruits Basket.) First of all, Erina isn't a damsel to be rescued from her situation, because when it comes to emotional abuse, the calls are always gonna be coming from inside the house. She has to be the one to break the cycle, and all her friends can do is support her in this endeavor.
Fortunately, they've all got something to rally around together when it comes to her dad, because he's just become Food Hitler. To defeat your enemy, you must know your enemy, and nobody knows Azami better than Erina, who miraculously summons the courage to Step The Fuck Up.
The show spends the time necessary to explore how difficult this is for a victim to do to their abuser, but it never becomes too dour or distracting because fighting Central's Food Nazis is extremely satisfying work. For the first time, I felt like the "Food Wars!" being fought had something massive at stake.
On the one hand, Polar Star Dorm is fighting for the future of all Japan's chefs, but they're also fighting for Erina's freedom, and she has to lead the charge in both of those monumental struggles. It's grandiose and intimate all at once, and I am extremely into that fight.
In a macro sense this arc is rather strange, because it's basically a changing of the guard. Up until now, other characters have gotten moments to shine or develop, but it's always been about Soma charging toward the top. But now not only is the story firmly about Erina, she's become the emotional center of the whole thing.
And frankly, Long Live The Queen
She looks confident there, but it takes Erina seven episodes to go from fearing that her God Tongue was only used to hurt people to giving up her seat on the Elite Ten just to tell her dad "screw you, my talent and my life were never yours." She's terrified underneath the surface, but she's risking everything to fight for what's right.
She's a true survivor.
And we haven't even started to touch on what Azami did to my POOR SWEET BABY BOY
That BASTARD stole Akira's hair tie!
HOW DARE HE, Akira's perfect nose must be clear to intercept the maximum amount of spice particles at all times!
(And also blackmailed him into becoming his enforcer by threatening his only family.) But that hair is truly unforgivable.
Sweetie, I know you're trying to look like a hardass, but you just look like somebody who forgot to finish packing their Sephiroth cosplay for the con.
"And I will cup that prize gently until it comes to me and me alone."
Jake, how could you possibly insinuate that there's any subtext to this battle?
All rainbows aside, if Food Wars!' incisive exploration of child abuse wasn't surprising enough, it's pretty damn good at depicting the insidious creep of fascism too. Azami successfully plays to Akira's sense of personal pride and fear of authority to turn him to the dark side. My poor Baby Spice is convinced that he's doing the right thing by trying to work within Azami's control, but you can't beat dictators by playing their game. In order to rebel, you have to refuse their authority entirely, like Erina did when she gave up her own seat in order to revolutionize the entire Elite Ten. Soma and (surprisingly!) Soe help remind Akira of this by asking him what good his cooking is doing for anybody right now, if he can't use it to feed or inspire the people who actually matter to him.
(But come to think of it, if anybody values emotional honesty toward their loved ones, it's Soe...)
I especially appreciate the conclusion with Jun. The joke's always been that the difference in their heights and personalities make it seem like Akira is the responsible one taking care of her. So it's easy to forget that he's still just a teen who's been placing way too much pressure on himself out of some sense that he owes it to his guardian.
So Jun walks right up and slaps some sense into him.
Goddamn, Food Wars!. Come for the food porn, stay for the Epic Student Rebellion Against Food Hitler, led by his incredibly strong daughter. It's excellent shit.
Though if I may nitpick that particular shokugeki for a moment, it did introduce what is indisputably the dumbest god damn concept in all of Food Wars!.
I will suspend my disbelief for food being so tasty it makes you feel like you're at Disneyland. I will roll with soup so delicious your underwear falls off. But an ancient bloodline power that psychically forces people to strip because you had a really good burger is a step too far for me.
I mean, Akira has that effect on me, and I've never even eaten his food before!
(although I'd certainly like a taste iykwim)
Anyway, even after all that D R A M A, there's no time to catch our breath, because it looks like the future of Totsuki rests on one last mega-bout, between Azami, Saiba, Polar Star, and the Elite Ten. Jiminy Christmas.
There's a lot on the line for everyone involved. Not only do Erina and company have to save their friends while fighting Azami's strongest enforcers, but if they lose both Erina and Saiba will be conscripted into Central for life. So I really hope these kids learn their herbs and spices before things kick off.
It's a sticky situation for sure, but if Soma's taught us anything, getting messy is part of the fun.
(Though I am somewhat disappointed that the first version of his plan didn't pan out.)
There is certainly room for hope. For as strong as Azami's side seems, they're ultimately on the side of stasis, and if decades of shonen rivalries has taught me anything, the best way to improve is to clash with someone else's perspective.
And if that's the case, the rebels are invincible.
Variety's the spice, after all! Now if you'll excuse me, I must have gotten some of those spices in my eye...
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