Review/discussion about: Shokugeki no Souma

by BanjoTheBear

A bountiful buffet

A bountiful buffet

When I was a kid, I was one of the pickiest eaters known to man. My diet consisted of essentially three edibles: cheese sandwiches, yogurt, and liquids. A cheese sandwich is exactly that: two pieces of cheese resting between two slices of white bread (it had to be white bread). The yogurt was devoid of seeds and covered in sprinkles (it had to have sprinkles). As for the liquids, I stuck mostly to Coca-Cola because it was sugary, sweet, and caffeinated which, considering everything else, was probably providing me the most nutrition.

I did not eat hamburgers or turkey. I loathed fruits and vegetables. I rarely tried new foods, and even when I did, my first reaction was always to spit them out. Birthday parties forced my mother to create sack lunches for me so that I would have something to eat in case all that was served at the barbeque was hotdogs.

This continued for many years of my life, my daily cheese, sprinkles, and carbonated drinks the only foods my body knew. Until, one day, we pulled through a McDonald’s. I was distraught since literally nothing on the menu was “for me.” My mother suggested the chicken nuggets. I was mortified. No way, I thought. If I eat those, I know it will taste like pavement. I have never tasted the side of the road before, but my brain locked in on that being the only outcome. Still, my mother ordered the meal and I, rather reluctantly, took a bite.

At that exact moment, my mind unlocked. It was good. Really good. And from then on, I actually started to eat things. Cheeseburgers and roasted turkey were just the beginning. Tacos, spaghetti, pepperoni pizza were now available, and to this day I have no idea how I did not die from malnutrition.

So while watching Shokugeki no Souma, I thanked the stars that I had a deep-fried piece of chicken meat those many years ago because otherwise I would not have been able to fully engross myself in the delectable food presented by this equally delectable anime.

STORY

Shokugeki no Souma’s narrative is a refrigerator that works only half the time. When the fridge is on, the contents within are just as they should be: hyped, diverse, and silly, making leftovers fun to munch on. When the fridge is not on, the contents begin to rot, its weak themes and dramatic scenes stinking up the place. The anime never tries to fix its refrigerator, so the outcome is a mixture that is not always easily swallowed.

What is the figurative meat of Shokugeki no Souma? The narrative consists of essentially four courses: breakfast, lunch, a light snack, and dinner. More specifically, the opening festivities, the training camp arc, the “karaage” arc, and the so-called Autumn Elections. The purpose of segmenting the plot in this way is the first sign of the anime’s main mantra: hype it up. At all moments and at all points, the show is looking to build on its previous outing, one-upping what it did to entice the audience like a freshly baked loaf of bread. It starts normal, introducing the audience to the main cast of characters and how the “Shokugeki” battles proceed. Here, simple tactics such as Souma declaring his superiority and a nighttime taste test against one of the ten leaders plant the seeds of hype from the get-go. Then the plot improves on itself, where the training camp technically expels Megumi and Souma has an omelet disaster during a buffet challenge. Interestingly it tones down slightly, the chicken arc seguing the main plotline to give the viewer a bit of breathing room before the Autumn Elections. When they arrive, the oven’s temperature skyrockets, the intensity almost unbearable from the rapid-fire foodstuffs. Tiny details like the judges failing everyone but the main cast and huge details like having the competitors compete in contrasting carnage – Nao versus Hisako, Aldini versus Aldini, Souma versus Hayama, and so on – make it so that the tension and therefore the hype never falters. The show never stops trying to outdo itself, giving it that feel of ramping excitement that comes from stuffing one’s face on an empty stomach.

As it is with microwaves, Shokugeki no Souma also heats up on the micro scale. This is an anime about food. Food is a mundane subject, a natural and indeed necessary part of life. Meaning that the topic is inherently not exciting. Food can certainly be this way, but the majority of people stick to regular meals of sandwiches and salads. Food is also not normally erotic, calories and fat more nutritional than sexual. Again, foods like that exist: chocolate, whip cream, and strawberries immediately come to the forefront of anyone’s mind.

The anime focuses on this whole spectrum of food but with a twist. A giant monk fish here, a crunchy coating there, and peanut-butter-covered squid tentacles just for good measure. The anime takes both the common and the outlandish dishes and turns them into a sensual experience that affects not just the taste buds, but the body, mind, and soul. The show is never content with simply showing the food. No, the anime goes into ingredient-level details, spouting accurate yet useless information about the foods being presented. Useless in the sense that the facts are dry and unimportant to the audience. However, it takes these facts, puts them in a kettle to warm, simmer, and eventually boil over. By the end of each longwinded dissection, the food is not just a rainbow terrine or a cooked lobster but rather an adventure through fairytales and outer space that make the viewer feel as if the world is their oyster.

Zaniness is always just around the corner

Zaniness is always just around the corner

At times, the anime can get sentimental with specific scenarios – like the Aldini brothers’ disparity or Megumi’s struggles – but when these events are preceded or followed with magical girl caricatures or lewd happenings, it defeats the sincerity of these events. Worse still, these moments distract from the aforementioned hype, comedy, and sex, detracting from what the anime does so well to make room for what the anime does not-so-well. To be fair, the show is trying to provide a well-rounded tale. But since it is at the expense of its best material, it only hampers where it should help.

Shokugeki no Souma therefore sticks mostly to the same recipe: a new challenge is given, food is made, and ridiculous reactions are had. Such repetition is not automatically an issue since the show incorporates variety as much as possible to spice up its innards. Food selections, character combinations, and ever-expanding events keep the show surprisingly fresh since the scrambling and ballooning of its innards cause the anime to venture into new yet familiar territory. The occasional “ecchi” and harem antics further prevent the anime from blending itself into blandness. Parts from before also spill into others. For example, Nikumi’s don bowl downgrade expands her repertoire whereas Souma’s previous failings are reimagined in their reiterations. The show’s relevant themes also shake up the narrative: learning from mistakes, relying on others while also making sure to rely on yourself, the importance of pouring one’s all into every task, and so on.

“Relevant” because cooking requires these ideas. Cooking is more than following a few lines and measurements. Cooking is a process that might involve others, incorrect cups of flour, and most of all determination. It is a skill that teaches other skills in the process. Knowing how to use a mezzaluna or knowing the multitude of spices found throughout the world is not absolutely vital to live. But such skill, knowledge, and more is gained through cooking. It is something that people take part in not because they have to but because they want to. That is what Shokugeki no Souma tries to get at: the notion that cooking is what one makes of it. Plain or avant-garde, easy or hard, cold or hot; each character from Souma to Erina tackles cooking in their own way, subsequently demonstrating cooking’s influential properties. Sadly, the anime does not explore this theme outright. Shokugeki no Souma showcases cooking and talks about cooking indefinitely, but the show does not break down this theme to prove why cooking is as important as it makes it seem. Consequently, and perhaps ironically, the cooking does not have substance in the anime. The show is not wholly concerned with cooking’s “bigger picture.” Instead, the anime’s hype, comedy, and sexual content is all that matters, making its figurative carry-out less appetizing than it could have been.

Otherwise, Shokugeki no Souma’s narrative is tasty when it wants. The hype, variety, and cooking elements make it worth taking a bite out of even if not every bite is completely satisfactory.

ANIMATION

Shoukugeki no Souma continues treating its audience when it serves its art.

Most notable are the character designs. Each character is without a doubt attractive; the women are given beautiful faces, frames, and figures, and the men are sculpted into pristine statues. But they, like food, have more than superficial appeal. Each character has traits that match their personality and personal characterizations. Some are easy to spot: Megumi’s braided twin-tails give her that country bumpkin look and Marui’s glasses give him the aura of a bookworm. Others are deeper: Nikumi’s skimpy outfits and the emphasis on her breasts match her meat motif and Nao’s stringy black hair and hunching coincide with her warlock-like concoctions. Others still are esoteric: Erina’s purple eyes symbolize the royalty she has secured in the culinary world and Ibusaki, the master of smoke, has hair that acts as a smokescreen for his face. Souma’s fiery and spiky hair representing his passion and adaptiveness, Houjo’s Chinese attire following her similarly originated cuisine, and Alice’s red eyes with contrasting white hair equivalent to her contrasting style of “cooking” are more instances of the intricacies involved with the character designs, demonstrating just how savory they truly are.

Just as savory is the food. Each dish is jam-packed with details, from bubbling cheese to individual rice grains. The food is enticing to see, glistening, soaking, and resting in a state that is nothing short of mouth-watering. Knowing this, Shokugeki no Souma preps itself, taking shots of the food before it is devoured as well as shots of the inside to showcase what treasures are hidden within. For good measure, the aftermath is shown, just to solidify how scrumptious the food would be if it actually existed.

The reactions to the food provide some interesting scenes

The reactions to the food provide some interesting scenes

Existence is an interesting topic when it comes to the anime’s art because roughly half of the locations visited are not real. The show obviously takes place in regular locales: a huge kitchen filled with utensils, a fancy hotel lined with red carpeting, a local food market, and so on. It is when the food is consumed that all bets are off. Some characters go to cloud nine, the taste of the food floating the eaters through the sky. Others swim with the fishes, the food so tasty it sends them to a mermaid-filled heaven. Others still feel as if they are frolicking through a forest. In other words, the anime takes advantage of the overreactions to include backgrounds that would not normally be possible given the setting, thereby improving the diversity of the art and thus its execution.

Execution dips slightly when it comes to the show’s actual animation. To reiterate, the anime is always looking to maximize hype. To accomplish this, Shokugeki no Souma relies heavily on still shots of heroic poses and the different foods, meaning there is not much movement. Often times when there is, it is illusory, with camera shaking and “speed lines” to give the appearance that actions are occurring without actually showing them in full. Of course it can pick up when it wants to – especially during the “ecchi” moments and the big reveals – but for the most part the show’s animation remains at a passable level.

CHARACTERS

Shokugeki no Souma is one of those anime that has an enormous cast – somewhere in the garden of 78 separately named characters. Even eliminating the minor members and some of the side ones from the menu, the cast still numbers roughly 20 people or so. The result is that it is highly unlikely, and indeed highly unfair, to expect each and every person to have huge depth and development (given the episode and time constraints).

That being said, Shokugeki no Souma hits three areas: characterizations, growth, and widespread development. Many of the characters in the show follow the first idea. For instance, Hayama is an exotic man, known for his commanding use of spices and infallible nose. He also has feelings for Jun, his mentor. Houjou is known as a strong, independent woman, fighting the stereotype placed on women in the workforce. Nikumi is the meat master. Marui is the guy who nearly died from exhaustion. Hisako is the herbalist, and so on. Almost everyone has something unique or special about them that makes them standout from their competitors. That is a common but important directional decision: having characters who are unique, who can be differentiated, allows the audience to understand who everyone is and where they are coming from.

Simultaneously, many of the characters see small personal growth. Hayama started out in the slums with no friends and no family, until Jun saved him, thereby creating the emotions he has towards her today. Houjou looked down on “weak” women, becoming the kind of person she despised, until Megumi allowed her to realize that strength comes in all shapes and sizes. Nikumi started off as arrogant, but her time with Souma and the don bowl club allowed the tenderness of her person to finally break free. Marui, despite his initial perception, is beyond knowledgeable, leveraging the numerous books he has studied to become a sort of fake cook. Hisako is not just the secretary to Erina but instead her healer, protecting her from sickness and tribulation, making her position less managing and more cleansing. A long list, but it emphasize that the growth of the characters, while relatively small, is collectively a nice amount that is distributed to practically all of the known players.

Arguably, though, some of the characters do not receive enough attention. The biggest victim of this is Erina. She is bossy, arrogant, and mean, although she is shown to have a sensitive and embarrassed side. A connection between her and Souma’s father is alluded to, but it is never outright explored. Beyond these details, there is not much else given about her. This lack of information about a pretty important character can be viewed in two ways. One, that it is a mistake. Not delving into more of Erina’s past or having her around more of the cast so she can have more interactions and therefore more opportunities to grow is a glaring flaw that leads to the static character she became. Two, that it was inevitable. Given her position among the students and her impressive abilities as a chef, she never had the chance in the first place to undergo development. Either way, like someone watching a turkey cooking in the oven on Thanksgiving Day, Erina’s character remains mostly on the outside looking in.

Alice, Erina’s counterpart, is coincidentally in the same pot. Like Erin, she has a servant. She is not as bossy, but she is still rather arrogant. Her cooking style is off-kilter, giving her an edge over the others. But most interesting of all, she is a cousin of Erina’s, meaning their relationship goes beyond mere friendship and rivalry. Despite her mirrored yet connected characterization, Alice is not expounded on. Understandably, Shokugeki no Souma is not a complete tale, meaning that it is very probable that the timer for her development has yet to go off. Therefore, and being somewhat generous, she at least establishes herself as a tough antagonist, both to Souma and to Erina.

Megumi's character development is pronounced from start to finish

Megumi’s character development is pronounced from start to finish

A character that has to be investigated is Souma. For all intents and purposes, he is a self-insert character. Souma is super nice, he easily makes friends, he is funny, he is an amazing cook, and he is surrounded by beautiful women. But he is not perfect. Souma makes mistakes, the biggest being his near failure during the buffet. Souma does not always win, evidence being his over 400 losses against his dad and his second place finish in the Autumn Elections. Still, Souma does not change much throughout the season. He is challenged and he expands his culinary abilities, but as a person and consequently as a character, he remains more or less the same from start to finish. The main problem is the anime having to divvy up its resources between 20 or more characters, giving him less kitchen space to work with. Even from the very beginning, his presence and cooking was more to explain and characterize those around him. Erina trying his first dish, Fumio’s empty-pantry challenge, Aldini’s mini-duel, Megumi’s unofficial “Shokugeki,” his childhood friend aiding his hometown, and the entirety of the Autumn Elections are individual instances that feature Souma but are not designed with him in mind. Instead, he is a sous chef, not the head chef, acting as the mediator for the character or characters that really matter during those events. The only time where he actually takes the spotlight for himself is the buffet disaster, which makes sense because this is the only time the audience sees Souma in a weakened state. To put it differently, despite being the main character he is never actually the main character, lessening the impact he has on the series overall.

It is abundantly clear that the strongest character of the anime is Megumi. Before heading to Totsuki Academy, she was the best cook from her hometown, although she quickly discovered that that did not mean much among the cutthroat competition. Away from home and the other students noticing her poor performances, she became lonely, losing any sense of self-esteem. Just when she was about to throw in the apron, Souma appears to reinvigorate her passion for cooking. He becomes her first true friend, his overconfidence and carefree attitude rubbing off on her. For a time this worked. Her first encounter with Shinomiya, however, crushed her spirit. But she fought through this trial, finding her own strength – homely, feel-good meals – while simultaneously saving Shinomiya in the process. At this point, she realized that she had gone to the completely opposite end: where she once was doing everything herself and failing, now she was relying too much on everyone around her. Her past is eventually revealed, where she had always been a determined girl but she knew that she could not do what she wanted on her own. Thus, when the Autumn Elections roll around, she uses her newfound strength, consequently letting her find that sweet spot between all and nothing. Megumi goes from bottom of the barrel to cream of the crop, her developmental arc as palpable as possible. In other words, if the rest of the cast is the batter, then Megumi is the icing on the cake.

Megumi, alongside the rest of the characters, has a major theme: everyone can become better than themselves. People have weaknesses: mathematics, driving, and writing are categories where guys and girls alike will willingly declare their ineptitude. Contextually, Erina is bad at getting along with others, Alice is too prideful, and Megumi is easily flustered. But those same guys and girls also have that thing, whatever it may be, that they are good at. It might be organizational skills, hand-eye coordination, or endurance. The same can be said for the characters of Shokugeki no Souma. While each cast member’s specialty deals with cooking in some fashion, they still have one: Erina has her “God Tongue,” Alice has her gastronomy, Megumi has her home-style cooking, Ryouko has her sake, Yuuki has her hunting, and so on. Everyone has some kind of strength, something that separates them from (nearly) everyone else. So it is about using that strength to become a better person, to realize one’s full potential, and to reach those new heights that previously seemed unattainable. Doing so is never easy – practicing, training, and failing are unavoidable – but such hardship is what is required to become someone better than before. And the point is that everyone can do this.

Everyone can become a better person. It simply takes a little bit of elbow grease.

SOUND

The first opening theme nails that hype feeling. The strumming guitar and rising vocalist resonate with the listener, pumping up the audience as much as possible. The track is actually rather simple, with drums being the only other prominent part of the piece, but the simplicity precisely elevates it into a catchy and therefore memorable arrangement. The second OP somehow heightens the hype even more so than the first. While once again sticking to guitar, drums, and a single vocalist to power the piece, the guitar is harder, the flurry of drums is more energizing, and the vocalist is more emotional. The result: another stellar and exciting piece that stays with the audience long after an episode and the series concludes.

The ending theme is not like its OP counterparts in more ways than one. Putting it lightly, the first ED is arguably one of the best ever conceived in the medium. The track encapsulates all that food is: food is light, fluffy, and spicy; yummy, flavorful, and warm; simple, complex, and fun. The rising and falling guitar, the onomatopoeia, and the heartfelt vocalist, alongside the mellow beat and catchy lyrics, make these “feelings” known, ultimately creating a five-star piece.

Even when hummed horribly, the first ED is fun to hear

Even when hummed horribly, the first ED is fun to hear

As for the second ED, it takes time to warm up to, especially considering the juggernaut it had to replace. The vocalist seems incapable of carrying the piece and the instruments are all over the place. In short, it appears to be a disaster. However, when context is considered, the piece is quite clever: this is a track from and about Nao, the stalker, the socially awkward girl, the strangest woman at the academy. Knowing this, the track comes together, meaning its disjointed and disruptive arrangement not only makes sense but makes the piece ironically funny.

The remainder of the soundtrack is an orchestral feast for the ears, utilizing pieces of every part of the musical pie. Slice-of-life ensembles to keep the low-key moments light on the stomach and therefore lighthearted. Intense violin tracks accompanied by acoustic guitars to amplify the emotions. And suspenseful pieces coated in hard piano notes and ambient choirs to make those current, on-screen deliberations that much more tantalizing. Also, “Welcome to the World of Gourmet Foods,” with its churchlike sounds and opera-esque lyrics, is the only piece that could fit those majestic moments. The OST offers a wide selection, from the culturally influenced to the personality driven to everything in-between, making it worthy of seconds, thirds, and more.

Voice acting performances in Shokugeki no Souma are far above average, with each voice actor and actress providing well-done work across the board. Risa Taneda as Erina gives a pompous voice that captures Erina’s equally pompous attitude. Minami Takahashi as Megumi stars in her first big major role, switching accents and sounding cute to match Megumi’s similar disposition. And Mamiko Noto as Hinako for her mature yet childish voice aligns with Hinako’s own personality.

ENJOYMENT

Erina is one of my favorite characters from this show. Some might not like the 90-to-10 “tsun”-to-“dere” ratio she has going on, but when that outer shell does breakdown (however infrequent it might be), it was always hilarious and adorable to witness. Alice is another fun character because she is just so confident with herself all of the time that when people do not “get” her and her cooking, she likewise gets cute and it simply makes me smile. And of course, Megumi’s constant apologizing, clumsiness, and general affability never failed to make me laugh.

Surprisingly, each character is more or less likable. The women and the men are meant to be attractive, but each has their shtick much like Erina, Alice, and Megumi. Souma’s smug chuckle is super contagious. Hisako’s “yuri” feelings towards Erina are awesome. Takumi always getting cut off when he tries to act super-cool towards Souma never got old. Hinako fawning over Megumi is something that I wanted to see happen nonstop. Nikumi’s blushing whenever anything Souma-related was brought up was way too cute to handle. The list goes on and on. From the comedy to the “ecchi” to the food, the show always wanted, if nothing else, fun.

That is the anime’s strong suit: providing an impossibly fun time. The characters, the battles, the music; everything comes together in this neat little package that, when opened, bursts forth as this undeniably exhilarating anime. Hearing Souma and Erina hum the first ED interchangeably, watching the judges go overboard with their reactions, and seeing Yuuki acting beyond silly are designed to make the audience feel good about themselves and therefore feel good about the show. The anime is ridiculous – food is not that over-the-top – but that is exactly why it strikes a chord with nearly everyone who views it. The show is absurd. It is entertaining. And that is what makes it so gosh darn fun.

Shokugeki no Souma is a hearty meal that fills the stomach and warms the soul. The juicy, seared narrative is charred but tender. Corn-on-the-cob, slathered in characterizations and developments, sits nearby. Home-cooked art that is slightly sweet. An ice cool set of soundtracks to wash it all down. The meal is clearly not perfect but because it is filled with love these imperfections do not outright ruin what this plate offers. That is to say, not even a dude who only eats cheese sandwiches, yogurt-with-sprinkles, and Coca-Cola would pass this one up.

Erina and her "tsundere" behavior was always hilarious and adorable

Erina and her “tsundere” behavior was always hilarious and adorable

SUMMARY

Story: Fine, hype to the max, constant variety avoids gross repetition, but its lack of a purposeful theme and detracting sentimental material sours what should be sweet

Animation: Good, awesome character designs, mouth-watering food, interesting backgrounds, and about average actual animation

Characters: Good, majority of the cast is characterized and developed proportionally well, Souma is individually subpar but purposeful for others, Megumi is great, and the theme on betterment through personal strength is a welcome bonus

Sound: Great, great first OP, great second OP, fantastic first ED, good second ED, great OST, above average VA performances

Enjoyment: Great, the entire cast, and indeed the entire season, is never-ending fun

Final Score: 8/10

Thanks for taking the time to read my review. If you want, take part in the discussion below! :3