WarningMight contain spoilers.

Once more into the fray, without a moment’s delay! Keeping most of the Elite Ten anonymous in the previous season gives the writers a lot of room to manœuvre in this season, and the tableau of all ten members together in the first episode cleverly evokes the image of Soma and the others from the previous opening credits. It’s only to be expected that Soma would issue a challenge to the entire Elite Ten as soon as he met them and get himself into a new scrape. He continues to be completely at ease no matter what, and oblivious to Erina’s (gradually metamorphosing) dislike for him—he’s too busy having her and Alice taste his dishes, thanks to the offices of new convert Hisako Arato. Erina isn’t wrong to say he has a screw loose too in response to his comment about making people laugh with how good his food is and pass out in disgust at how bad it is, though. His being the only one not to know the school song is absolutely hilarious.

I’m touched to see that Nikumi didn’t just join the Donburi Society and sulk. Instead, remembering that it was Soma who told her to join, she puts her heart into it and helps make it a success, even decimating Sadatsuka Nao in a food battle for its honour like it was nothing!. Her sweetness when she sheepishly apologizes to Soma for not being able to help him because the society needs her is overwhelming. Only Megumi gives her a run for her money when it comes to being sweet. (It’s nice that Hojo’s respect for her has blossomed into a real, if not necessarily close, friendship.) Indeed, I waxed lyrical about Ishigami Shizuka’s performance as Nikumi last time, but it would be remiss of me not to mention Minami Takahashi’s excellent work too. I enjoy the nuances of her performance, especially the little fluting effect she deploys to great effect when Megumi is stressed. It’s enough to make even Erina backtrack if she thinks she’s scared Megumi.

Ryo and Hayama having to work together under Alice is oodles of fun. Only she could take over a club entirely by accident. I still find Ryo to be a one-note character—well, two-note, I suppose—but Nobuhiko Okamoto deserves recognition for just how much he conveys through the non-stop growling. He gets some great background music as well. I like seeing him grow by taking what he learnt from fighting Hayama and what he learnt from fighting Soma, then mixing in what he learnt during the stagiaire. Speaking of which, it’s clever to use glimpses of the supporting characters’ stagiaire days to show their growth.

Soma’s path to bonding with Sadatsuka Nao (over their shared love of disgusting food) seems so obvious in retrospect, I can’t believe it hasn’t come up before. I was in splits at her ‘Ring girl’ walk and her being in the background of every single shot of Soma as they eat and talk. I was only disappointed she didn’t show up upside down (or something equally odd) in later crowd shots, to compensate for her not having any dialogue. In fact, many characters—notably Mimasaka, Hojo, and Gin—have protracted, prominent appearances without dialogue during this season, presumably because the voice actors weren’t brought in.

The rousing scene with Takumi, Isami, and Nikumi showing up to help Soma at the Moon Festival even after he said he didn’t need any help (except, apparently, from Mimasaka) demonstrates one of the strengths of the show: there are so many compelling characters who have interesting relationships with Soma that it isn’t necessary to bring the entirety of the Polar Star dormitory, or of Soma’s friend circle, to help Soma—practically any subset of those characters can be added to a story and it will be a joy to watch. (Aside from that, Soma watching Tomito detonating the aroma bomb next to the people standing in line to eat Kuga’s food is a thing of beauty.)

It’s interesting that all the intense competition of the Moon Festival ultimately doesn’t matter—it’s a distraction from the main plot with Erina’s dyed-in-the-wool abuser of a father Aizen Azami, which casts Erina’s and Alice’s childhoods in a sad, new light. Introducing a culinary Nazi who ties chefs to poles for their beliefs seems a bit much even for this show, but I didn’t miss how every single person’s face brightens when Soma walks into Erina’s restaurant (apart from Erina’s and Azami’s, for completely different reasons) and has a confrontation with Aizen Azami that feels like something right out of Code Geass . I assumed Erina having to hide at the Polar Star dormitory would lead to the usual sitcom trope of someone walking in on the other person in the shower, but the show fortunately omits it.

Soma is incredible. The episodes pitting him against Eizan remind me of Isshiki’s conversation with the latter in the previous season. First Soma manipulates Eizan into fighting a proper food war. Then he cooks up a dish so appetizing and delicious that three lackeys paid to declare him the loser and even Eizan himself are all forced to admit it’s better (with the amoral Rindo[1] deliberately needling her fellow Elite Ten member, Eizan, to throw him off-kilter first, to be fair). Then again, how could he ever have failed to avenge all the falsely defeated students and all his Polar Star dormitory comrades? And how could he not deliver a stirring, rousing speech, tantamount to a declaration of war, directly to the camera afterwards? Even Erina can’t help but grow as a person because of him and all the Polar Star members. He makes her smile! (As does the wonder of the washing machine.) It’s no small thing for her to stand up to her father for the first time ever, and all her growth comes from meeting people who refuse to conform to her notions of the world.

What’s more, Erina knows at last that the chef she worships is Soma’s father Joichiro… who is, as you would expect, the root of all the current trouble. And she and Soma genuinely get along at times (like the lovely moment of the two of them watching the stars from that gorgeous train). She even starts to forget herself in her admiration of him by the end of the season. The opening credits only hint at their relationship, but the beautiful images of the ending credits show the heart of Shokugeki no Soma lies: all these young chefs, their craft honed by constant competition, working together instead of against each other, with Soma and Erina leading the way.[2]

After three seasons of him being a figure for Soma to chase, seeing Joichiro get involved and help Soma prepare is satisfying and enjoyable. They really are two of a kind in their complete lack of reverence and the way they make friends with everyone despite by rubbing them the wrong way. I can’t even think about the moment when Shinomiya senses Soma remembering him and immediately feels a vague sense of irritation without laughing. Joichiro’s history, as we learn, is interesting and nuanced. It’s amusing that the events that made Aizen Azami decide to become a culinary Nazi are essentially a footnote in his story.

Sadly, the last few episodes highlight an inherent limitation of Shokugeki no Soma. All the expulsions will presumably be rescinded soon, but this is the truth of Tohtsuki: only a small number of characters can progress, which makes it harder to find ways to include everyone as the protagonists climb to new heights. See how little Nikumi has to do this season, for instance, or how the supporting characters end up in a cage next to the stage just so that they can be present.

I could not stop laughing at Soma’s pulling out a category for his battle with Nene only for the card to show ‘soba’, followed by the few silent moments of just moving from one group of people to the next as everyone in the hall freezes. It only gets better when he obliviously churns out noodles with the pasta maker, to general derision or consternation, while Nene puts all her heart and soul into crafting her specialty by hand.

Isshiki is great. His faith in his classmates is endlessly touching (and the level of detail in his farm fantasy makes me giggle). Even Tsukasa notices that his opponent experiences only ecstacy after tasting the victorious Isshiki’s dish. Tsukasa himself is a unique, well-drawn character who moves with ease from humorous to serious and vice versa. Poor Takumi’s proclamations of rivalry with Soma continue to be dismissed by everyone around him. Kuga’s plan for rotating seats in the Ten once he helps Soma overthrow the current Ten is hilarious, and it’s equally hilarious for people to ask Soma if he’s ready to put his expulsion on the line when he does that in every single episode anyway.

I’m still reeling from the revelation that the Nakiri ‘Gift’ is literally stripping people against their will (such as the two teenage judges, Berta and Cilla, losing everything but their underwear in front of a crowd of men). I could also do without Momo’s ‘foodgasms’. She may be a second-year (if I recall correctly), but she’s drawn to look like a child and they know it.

I enjoyed the references I was able to recognize. I’m sure that was Ryo as Cloud from Final Fantasy VII and Erina as Saber from Fate/stay night (while she was being compared to Jeanne d’Arc). Nene’s design looks like one of the Vizoreds[3] from Bleach . What’s more, Eizan is a brilliant behind-the-scenes puppeteer… whose name is an anagram of ‘Aizen’… whose voice actor is playing another superhumanly talented, megalomaniacal genius and manipulator. And the finale’s quick reference to The Girl Who Leapt Through Time made me exclaim with delight!

I’ve always enjoyed the anime convention of putting sentimental reviews of the preceding events under their closing songs. It adds a lot to the emotion and catharsis. It’s sad to think there are only two seasons left now. I have to assume the rest of this arc will take up the fourth (and perhaps the fifth as well). I’m not particularly happy about the idea of the friends sitting in the cage for half of the remaining 26 episodes. Maybe it’s for the best that it ends after the fifth season, though—I don’t know how they’d top ‘culinary Nazi takes over Tohtsuki and expels everyone’. On the other hand, Shokugeki no Soma is defined by its ability to do the impossible.

The food is the least interesting part of the show, oddly enough. Bear meat sounds disgusting.

  1. The only female character so far not to be sexualized. The show seems almost reluctant to strip her, in a refreshing change. Even Fumio, though she is seen as past her prime, gets a flashback to show she was once a lustful young woman. (Incidentally, it was around the tenth episode that I found myself thinking about how the show was being more restrained lately, just before a card showing a preview of the next one, which was simply Hisako in lingerie.)
  2. And Nikumi, Megumi, and Arato are all clearly in love with both Soma and Erina, so the polyamorous relationship is on the right track. And Hayama has been properly accepted as well now. Soma has never been as emotional as when he tells off Hayama after defeating him.
  3. Vizards?

Next in series: (#4 in Thoughts & Spoilers: Show: Food Wars!: Shokugeki no Soma (2015))