Review/discussion about: Shokugeki no Souma: Ni no Sara
I love Pizza Hut.
My brother and I used to always go down to the one close to us, sitting in the restaurant to talk and simply eat a tasty pie. Gooey cheese, flaky crust, greasy all around. The plastic, red cups filled with Pepsi, and a side order of the regular garlic and cheesy breadsticks, completed this delicious package – and made us feel entirely too full afterwards.
If I could eat just that whole meal for the rest of my life, I would. I would not say something similar for Shokugeki no Souma: Ni no Sara, the sequel to Shokugeki no Souma. But I wouldn’t mind having it every now and again.
This season of Shokugeki starts literally where the first season left off. Souma, Megumi, and the rest of the crazy chefs are competing against one another in the heated Autumn Elections. Doing what they can to prove their culinary worth and take one more step forward towards those coveted seats and, ultimately, the top of Totsuki’s food chain.
While many sequels are arguably “only” for those who liked the originals or the prequels, it goes doubly so for this season of Shokugeki. For the first ten episodes are almost entirely dedicated to the food wars and almost nothing else.
Compare this direction with the first season. The huge number of people met. The daily life at their dormitory. The intense training they received at the resort. The shake-up in the who, what, where, when, and why of the food wars themselves.
This tournament arc creates a format that pushes Shokugeki down a path where its slow-roasting pot is filled with all manner of dishes. Sushi bento boxes. Turtle burgers. Mish-mashed meat stew. But it also creates an inherent problem for Shokugeki.
All right, maybe not a problem, but it certainly affects what the anime wants to do or even can do. Due to the large focus on the tournament and the food, only a small portion is set aside for anything different. The same battles are almost always had, boiling down to everyone wanting to win the whole thing. The same characters almost always take part, cutting out or reducing the side cast to a hefty degree. The same reactions sprout forth with the director baring his chest or the judges going through yet another spiritual journey.
Even the dialogue takes a hit. The anime does a lot to describe the huge number of foods created, and it gets points for going into meticulous detail. But the anime likes to swing back to umami this and umami that. It may be the case that umami does, indeed, make up nearly every grain, meat, and vegetable on the planet. But, again, this sameness only serves to turn these exciting wars into uninspired plates.
Now, it’s not exactly repetitive. The anime does just enough to mix up the different duels, like when Subaru (the stalker) forces his opponents to a Shokugeki or the finals turn into a three-way bout. And, to be fair, the food wars are the crux of the show, so it makes sense that they would receive the most attention. However, “variety is the spice of life” (as Hayama would most likely say). Sticking to just the food wars over and over and over doesn’t lend itself to a more diverse offering.
Which is why the final arc of the season, the Stagiaire arc, ends everything on a high note.
It deviates away from the tournament, placing the students in a public setting. It reintroduces the rigor of the school (a joke that Souma points out) and just how tough graduating can be. It pairs specific characters together with the intention of camaraderie and mutual understanding. It makes the motivation more about improving themselves rather than simply winning. It gives Shokugeki the chance to blend in more of its slice-of-life, comedic moments given the down-to-earth presentation.
Granted, this arc lasts for only three episodes, and, once these episodes are up, the arc officially concludes. Meaning it will not appear again should a third season eventually pop up. But, for its short stay, this arc performs much better than its Autumn Elections counterpart for being what Shokugeki always did best – using food as a means to an end rather than the end itself.
Throughout both arcs, a theme on losing takes precedence. That losing isn’t the end but rather the beginning. The audience sees it with Subaru and turning a new leaf. With Alice and Ryou in their constant duels since childhood. With Erina’s secretary in how she does not feel worthy of following Erina. With Erina herself and how her position has pushed her away from nearly everyone. And, of course, with Souma and how he views his losses as more experience than he had before.
Nobody wants to lose. That’s the obvious part. What is not so obvious is that losing leads to understanding. Of one’s self and of the field they are in. So, while winning is the most ideal outcome, losing has its own merits, too. Because, although Totsuki may frown on failure, it is only through loss that these students achieve what is beyond their reach. Namely, a brimming, delicious future.
One final note. This season of Shokugeki lessens the total amount of ecchi content. The evil Subaru, the final round with its more serious tone, and the Stagiaire arc do not give the anime the opportunity to present its ridiculous sexual material, moving away from what made the series a standout to begin with. It does appear occasionally, but, when Alice rotates while naked or Megumi juts out her butt, the finesse, the inspiration just isn’t there like it used to be.
Shokugeki’s art and animation remain at relatively the same quality as its first season. That is to say, it’s pretty good.
Chief among its strengths are the imaginative scenes when the characters eat, the overall designs of the characters themselves, and the mouth-watering food on display.
For the imaginative scenes, they branch out per usual (unlike the ecchi content this time around). The judges have fun at the Souma Land amusement park. Hisako dresses up as a turtle. And Hayama duels Ryou with their own respective swords. Alongside Subaru’s twisted depictions of the devil and villainy, Shokugeki adds its signature flavor to the various scenes once more.
For the character designs, they (obviously) do not change and, indeed, they do not need to since they are already quite attractive. Erina, Alice, Leonora, Megumi, and Hinako have the eyes, hair styles, and figures that are tough to say no to. And Kojirou, Gin, Hayama, Takumi, and Jouichirou are some combination of buff, handsome, and rugged.
A special shout-out goes to Sonoka Kikuchi’s design. Her long, pink hair with a side ponytail and ribbon, her big bust, her soft teal eyes, her white blouse with a contrasting black skirt, and her laced heels. Ultimately simplistic yet extremely eye-catching. She was only around for a little bit, but she always became the focal point whenever her beauty was on screen.
For the food itself, Shokugeki once again delivers a delicious, veritable buffet of goodies. Rice glistens, meat steams, and vegetables shine, creating a myriad of meals that make it almost impossible to watch the show on an empty stomach.
Actual animation remains the same, too. While the anime clearly puts almost all its attention on the artistry behind the imaginative scenes, character designs, and food, fileting, pouring, and cooking support the wars when the show is not trying to sell itself on looks alone. Plus, the reactions from the characters – be it elation at eating something exquisite or another funny face for comedic effect – further give Shokugeki a spoonful of animation.
Shokugeki sets its cast up for many chances to experience growth as a person. The format – two chefs battling it out with cooking – provides the give-and-take necessary to let one learn from the other and vice versa. Then, when needed, the anime delves into the backstory during the cooking before getting into the juicy commentary on the food itself.
A strong example of this character exploration is Hisako – who is arguably the best character that this second season plates.
Hisako (as both the academy and the audience know) is Erina’s secretary. Hisako dotes on Erina as much as possible, doing everything in her power to make Erina’s life a bountiful one. To this end, Hisako is content with following in Erina’s huge shadow, wanting nothing more than to tail Erina as she continues onward to greatness.
But her duel with Hayama serves her a cold, spicy dish of reality. That gunning for second place will only ever hold her back. She loses without question to Hayama, and her sudden defeat causes her to step away from her role as Erina’s right-hand girl due both to pride and a feeling of worthlessness.
It’s not until the Stagiaire arc that she appears again. She just so happens to team up with Souma at a popular diner, and it is evident that the loss she took and the separation from Erina she has endured has deeply affected her.
Initially, she looks down on Souma. Be it the fact that he irritates Erina or that she refuses to take orders from someone as “low” as him when she feels she is perfectly capable of handling herself, she does not see Souma as anything other than a nuisance. Simultaneously, she expresses her current state of mind in relation to Erina. That, “If a loser like me stays at her side, I’ll demean her.”
When the customers roll in, though, she starts to realize that she’s out of her element more so than she would like to admit. And, once Souma begins to give her orders once more, she begrudgingly follows them. She is angry – angry at herself for being too weak.
As Hisako spends more time at the restaurant, she is content with the place and its staff. But, listening to Souma’s thoughts and words, she discovers that something about the diner must change. She insists that, “If there is something you really want to pursue, you should cling to it without worrying about appearances!”
At this point, it becomes apparent how wonderful of a parallel the restaurant is to Hisako’s character. For she is exactly the same way. She has the potential to grow, the drive to change herself. To become the ideal that she could always be.
With the restaurant saved, her and Souma finally seem like friends. But Hisako’s final talk with him solidifies their relationship. For Souma explains to her rather simply: become someone that can walk beside Erina instead of just behind her. Using her own words from earlier against her.
After giving her the metaphorical With Heart manga series to deliver to Erina, she runs off with gusto. And, come the end of the season, Hisako takes her place not behind the person she has aided all this time. But rather right next to Erina, striving for her own ideal self as best she can.
Hisako represents the best that Shokugeki delivers. Other characters, however, are worth mentioning.
Certain characters are set up well. In particular, Subaru, the show’s new villain and resident, talking copycat. His style is frowned upon due to its lack of class, but it is fair within the rules of the academy. His later loss to Souma opens his eyes, teaching Subaru that his approach does not represent the chef that he himself has the power to be.
Other characters are given the stepping stones for later development. Namely, Takumi and Erina. Takumi’s loss to Subaru serves not only to introduce Subaru’s evil ways but also give Takumi the opportunity to go through some self-reflection. As for Erina, Shokugeki clearly has something in store for her in the future. For, at several points, like when Hisako leaves her or when she stares out at Souma and his friends all laughing and having fun together, Erina seems lonely at the top. That her abrasive attitude and inability to connect with people “beneath” her has left her without the relationships she most likely craves.
Some are simply given more. Ryou’s tough upbringing and his constant food bouts with Alice give them and their relationship a stronger fork with which to lift. And Kojirou’s time as mentor to Souma during his part of the Stagiaire demonstrates that he has overcome his mental block, maturing both as a chef and, more importantly, as a person.
And one would be remiss to not speak about everyone’s lovable protagonist: Souma. His friendly personality keeps him grounded and continues to gravitate others towards him. He even won the moral victory in the Autumn Elections when the other students finally begin to acknowledge him and his cooking.
But it’s his willingness to put his career on the line for his “rival.” His ability to bounce back with a smile on his face. His perseverance to better himself in the face of hardship and overwhelming pressure. Souma may not be a complex character, but he is certainly someone worth aspiring to be.
Nowhere is this statement more evident than in the new path he chooses to follow. His loss to Hayama in the finals of the Autumn Elections does not deter him. Rather, it reinvigorates his passion for cooking. He sees now that what he needs is not just to make great food – but to have a reason for making it.
Putting it another way, he realizes he must find something that makes his cooking, his way of living, his own. Not his father’s or someone else’s at the academy. Just Souma’s.
This mentality is seen not only in Souma but also in every character. Hisako converts from cooking for Erina to cooking with Erina. Subaru changes from copying his opponents to taking on his own style. And Hayama (despite the heavy-handed, seconds-before-winning backstory) embodies this point, doing it all for Jun (calling back to Souma’s father’s early words on finding someone to cook for; possible foreshadowing for Souma eventually doing the same for Erina given the chemistry between them).
Yes, the anime teases a lot of the what-will-be with its characters. Yes, many of the side cast members are barely present in this season. And yes, most of them are a lot of build-up and backstory without largely noticeable changes. But they are no doubt a diverse group of chefs, friends, and people, crafting a strong set of characters suitable for the Totsuki brand.
The first season of Shokugeki had a stellar set of opening tracks and ending tracks that were filled with hype, fun, and catchy tunes. The OP and the ED for this visit are not as strong, but they have their positives.
The OP leans heavily on guitar and drums to rock its audience. The song never seems to stop, coinciding with the anime’s own push and constant “action.” While the piano in the background is drowned out, and the vocalist does not have the best range imaginable, it’s a cool piece that fits Shokugeki’s style.
Like the first season, it’s the ED that comes out on top, though. It does use a similar set of guitar and drums when compared with the OP as the basis for its beat and its tone. But the ED has more going for it. A slightly more methodical approach. The emotion in the final stretch. And nano.RIPE’s instantly recognizable vocals which add their unique sound to the mix.
The original soundtrack and the voice acting performances maintain their same level of high quality (which is to be expected, considering everything and everyone remains the same). The tracks are hyped up when they need to be, personable when they need to be, and grandiose when they need to be. And Nobuhiko Okamoto as Ryou, Chinatsu Akasaki as Alice, and Yoshitsugu Matsuoka as Souma bring the fire, the cuteness, and the affability like an all-you-can-eat buffet.
And a shout-out to the various sound-effects. Sizzles, clanging pots, and chops ring out in the kitchens as each chef rushes to make their dish, adding weight and believability to these scenes.
For me, watching a sequel goes one of three ways: I like it more than the previous season, I like it about the same, or I like it less. Unfortunately for this one, it sits in the latter camp.
A few reasons make this so.
One, Erina is hardly around. She is my favorite character in the show, so seeing this season focus about the bare minimum on her did not make me happy.
Two, the reduction in the comedy and slice-of-life segments. The tournament got extra serious and dramatic, so it never felt as if the anime spent (or even could spend) time on more lighthearted material.
Three, Souma didn’t win. I feel like he has lost a lot: Erina’s first taste of his food, the draw against Takumi, his near expulsion at the resort training area, his pseudo-loss in the makeshift Shokugeki with Kojirou. He has won smaller events, like with the karaage back at his hometown. But he has yet to win something big. So it seemed like it was high time for that to happen after almost forty episodes.
Don’t get me wrong. Despite my gripes with the narrative’s structure and my more personal issues here, I had a fun time with the series again. Souma is a cool guy to root for, the small, cute moments with Megumi and Alice had me laughing and smiling, and the food battles, even if they are no longer fresh, maintained their over-the-top mentality.
Overall, though, this season does not live up to the magic and interest that the first season cooked up.
Shokugeki no Souma: Ni no Sara may be a teaspoon compared to the tablespoon that is its first season. But that does not mean it didn’t bring something to the table. Some strong character introspections, a diverse visual palate, and impressive voice acting curtail some of the imperfections in this seasons’ narrative. It’s like eating Pizza Hut pizza without the breadsticks. Yea, it’s yummy food, but it could have been even yummier.
Story: Fine, an overabundance of food wars counterintuitively takes away from the variety, intrigue, and ecchi content that made the plot fun to begin with, but a theme on losing and the Stagiaire arc are there to provide a meaty backbone
Animation: Great, imaginative scenes, attractive character designs with emphasis on Sonoka Kikuchi’s gorgeous look, mouth-watering food, and about average actual animation
Characters: Good, Hisako represents the cast at its best, and she, Souma, and the others highlight how individualism and personal goals lead to one’s improvement
Sound: Good, okay OP, good ED, good OST, above average VA performances, and nice sound effects
Enjoyment: Fine, less Erina, less slice-of-life, and still no major wins for Souma, but cute, silly, and hype moments are still had within this wacky series
Final Score: 7/10
Thanks for taking the time to read my review. If you want, take part in the discussion below! :3