WarningMight contain spoilers.

Here it is: the final season. This time, the credits sequences fully establish Erina as a deuteragonist alongside Soma (and the shot in the opening credits of Soma walking away like Joichiro once did is enough on its own to make me tear up at the thought that the end is here). I like the image of Soma and Erina are facing each other with stars in the background (and with Asahi taking Soma’s place in the reflection under them). The succeeding shot of Soma and a smiling Erina standing back to back is lovely. There will sadly be no polyamorous relationship as… some… might have dreamt of, so it’s just as well that Soma and Erina’s feelings for each other take center stage. As far as I’m concerned, the resolution of this story begins when Joichiro tells Soma to Meet someone you want to dedicate all of your cooking to.

The beach episode that opens the season makes for an enjoyable change from the lackluster fourth season finale. The fanservice seems redundant, but I suppose the idea was to have a lighthearted, standalone episode as a buffer between the previous season’s climax and the beginning of this season’s arc. It’s satisfying to see the new Elite Ten (or at least the six present here—Eizan not being there is a blessing) squabble like children only to ace the exam together once they cooperate. They’ve certainly left all their friends far behind in terms of skill.[1] Soma’s would-be rival is just the right mix of pompous, obnoxious, sincere, and innocent. The moment when he declares no one could serve enough customers on the final day before Hayama points at Ryo, Soma, and even Takumi in their demonic avatars is hilarious.

The scene on the balcony is the first time Soma sees Erina not as a chef to battle but as a girl he likes, and I love his frank, confused admission that he’s forgotten what he was doing, as well as Erina’s flirtatious laughter.

The quick format of the preliminaries wastes no time, swiftly moving from an Urara still partly stuck in her demonic avatar to the judges continually losing their clothes in blissful laughter, from Isshiki gracing the proceedings with his laughter to Hayama losing without rancour after an effortlessly cool presentation. The only sour note is the reuse of an image from Soma’s ‘Yukihee-Land’ for one of the other contestants’ dishes. Takumi being one of the three Tohtsuki chefs to be accepted into BLUE is unexpected—he’s finally found his place as Soma’s peer. (I very much enjoyed his indignant How dare you get fired up without me, Yukihira? later.)

I’m not thrilled by Soma and Asahi’s argument after the latter helpfully explains his agenda to the former as well as, unwittingly, Erina. It’s essentially a debate over whose property she is. In addition to how distasteful it is to reduce her to an object to be owned, it’s strange that Soma immediately responds Erina is mine—I know it’s meant to be an unintentional confession of his inner thoughts,[2] but it feels premature, more so because it isn’t addressed by anyone else.

I do like that the next episode speedily dispenses with the required exposition, revealing the true story of Shokugeki no Soma: a battle for the soul of the world of food among the various members of two families, the Nakiris and the Yukihiras (or Saibas), which metamorphoses into an attempt by evil underworld chefs to overthrow the heroic regular chefs. It’s amusing that the examiners ominously predict only one person from the outside will pass, but half the outside chefs manage to get in.

Asahi makes for an excellent, despicable villain. Every time he moves too far towards camp, he’s reined in a touch to ensure he’s discomfitingly cunning rather than absurd. I did wonder at first whether pale brunettes are inherently evil in this world, but his resemblance to Azami is explained by the end, retroactively lending an inordinately uncomfortable quality to his pursuit of Erina. (I remember being worried at first that he might be Joichiro’s child, which would have been disappointingly trite from a storytelling perspective but not uncomfortable in the same way.) What if he had won and married her? I’m glad Erina slaps some sense into Azami later, but their family is an astonishingly unhealthy one.

Complaints about the new heights of absurdity the series reaches with the underworld chefs’ gimmicks and the worship of manual dexterity as the indicator of a chef’s skill seem churlish in the face of its wholehearted sincerity. Sergeant Sarge’s cooking methods, dialogue, and demeanour never flag in their consistency. Marcanto’s voice actor throws himself into being an opera-style clown (I didn’t miss the full vibrato on his lines, either.) The judges all look cute sitting at the table with their Christmas hats and waiting patiently for their dishes.

Naturally, the happenings around the competition are just as ridiculous, like the explanation of why Sarge is so devoted to Asahi, or Don Kama—an uncharacteristically queerphobic portrayal of a character who would otherwise be right at home in the world of the show—outright having Takumi waylaid to try to prevent him from winning their battle. Of course Kuga would come to Takumi’s rescue with his cadre of martial artists at his side. And of course Isshiki would watch them go to work accompanied by his enthusiastic laughter.

The central five Tohtsuki chefs are no slouches themselves. Tsukasa proves again and again why he is a towering figure in the culinary world, breezing through every challenge with panache until his memorable battle with Asahi, the outcome of which makes me feel for him—he may be obnoxious and elitist, but there is no malice in him, and he does have the skill to be proud of. Takumi and Megumi have left their contemporaries far behind in their quests to bring honour to their families and justify the hopes and dreams of everyone around them, respectively. Soma continues to be an unstoppable force of nature bent on proving himself so he can take over the restaurant from his father. (Although, as heretical as it might sound, his habit of diving in headfirst and embarrassing himself occasionally reminds me of idiot hero Ichigo Kurosaki from Bleach.)

Meanwhile, Erina has the greatest claim on the crown: she unquestionably clears the highest hurdles in her attempt to avoid a forced marriage, starting with taking on one chef after another in her very first challenge. One of the most triumphant moments on the show is her standing in the middle of circle upon circle of vanquished opponents as the Tohtsuki students reel from the discovery that she’s the chef battling all the losers, while a new variation on one of the musical motifs swells under the scene. (Incidentally, I’m glad she isn’t genuinely abducted as the credits suggest, or I would have been quite frustrated.)

And then, after a long wait, there are the heretofore missing mothers. We get both stories at the same time. Soma’s mother is pretty and cool; she makes herself an indispensable part of the Yukihira family in the span of just a few minutes. It’s plain to see how her unflagging confidence and optimism together with her love and complete unpredictability are the foundations of Soma’s cooking as well as his approach to life. In contrast, Erina’s family are all uniformly sociopaths at best, including her mother, and the God Tongue is a curse. It’s a wonder she grew up to be as normal and human as she is. I don’t blame her in the slightest for her panicked, furious, and manic state throughout the competition, considering the enormous pressure she’s under.

I’d like to say Asahi is a self-centered sociopath just like Azami, and he is, but it’s understandable that such a young child would feel betrayed by Joichiro’s return to Japan, and that his obsessive nature would shape his entire future around that resentment. Still, all I could think when he starts remembering his ‘teachers’ in the battle against Soma is that he must have fought them and stolen their tools too. Of course, in one of the most hilarious moments of the show, Sarge confirms my guess as the Polar Star members (who have shown up to support Soma) respond by yelling at him to stop acting like a damn protagonist!.

It’s smart to accelerate the plot in those last few episodes, just as with the preliminaries. Shonen anime suffers from repetitive action as it continues, but phrasing the fights as necessarily abridged cooking battles allows more flexibility. Where the Noir chefs enter the fray as invincible foes who overrun their opponents with ease through their convoluted gimmicks, the three Soma and Erina battle before reaching Asahi are shown only in brief flashes, with their special techniques implied rather than explained.

The highlight of the entire season is the eleventh episode: ‘The Taste of Failure’. Alice and Arato return. Hayama and Ryo return. The old Tohtsuki Elite Ten make an appearance (in uniform, for no reason I can fathom). The Gifting, as abhorrent a concept as it is, is used to tremendous effect with massive percussive sounds and the excellent musical motif to underscore just how incredible Soma’s dish is. Soma himself much better fits the image of a demonic agent of chaos than that of a noble hero, and he deserves every moment of the (even more terrible) subsequent Divine Gifting. It’s impossible not to tear up as he serenely explains his labour of love to a disbelieving Asahi:

I learned it from a chef I know. My mom… from one of her failed dishes.


The taste of failure.

Of course, the story has to end at some point. Two short seasons in succession feel like too little; there’s no telling whether that choice was the right one. Certainly, the finale is an eventful one, building in every way on the story so far. Everyone matures. Everyone reaches the heights they could not previously attain.

Once again, Soma uses battles as a tool to help people grow. He might make them re-examine their lives, but only so they can move forward, as with the blankly despairing Erina whom he rescues through sheer obstinacy in their final battle. That’s what makes him great. Even his ultimate defeat at her hands comes from refusing to leave anyone behind.[3] He wants to move forward with them. The last-minute revelation that Senzaemon was the Aizen of the show planned everything all along is silly but I can’t hold that against the series. It follows from what has come before. Oh, and the card at the very end is very sweet.

Truth be told, though, the only climax I would have been happy with is Soma telling Erina outright that she’s the one he wants to cook for for the rest of his life, and Erina smiling, calling him baka again, and walking into the storm by his side. I suppose the baka came in the previous season, Soma thought the first part to himself in a muddled way, and Erina admitted to herself that she loves Soma… but it’s not enough.

In any case, it’s worth addressing some of the vitriol directed towards the series. I do think the story of Asahi being Azami’s son should never have existed. I agree that the last season leaned heavily on superpowers and gave the supporting cast little to do—especially Megumi, considering that she came in first at the preliminaries. It’s sad to recall all the people left behind: Nikumi, Alice, Ryo, Hayama, Mimasaka, Arato, Isshiki, Kuga, Momo, Nene, Saito, Rindo, Megishima, almost all of Polar Star… at least they foil Noir with food (which makes sense, considering it’s a cult of chefs). Only Soma, Erina, Megumi, Takumi, and Tsukasa are shown cooking during the competition. The rest are absent or reduced to cheerleaders, as before. In addition, for all that it’s a cut above practically every other anime show in existence, Shokugeki no Soma is just as simultaneously hypersexualized and chaste as the rest.

I disagree with some other complaints. It’s wrong to say Soma never beats his father—he explicitly states that beating Asahi would mean surpassing his father. Erina implicitly (and explicitly, to herself) acknowledges that Soma’s food is delicious, as he declared he would make her do in the very first episode. And yes, we never see Erina’s final dish, but that’s missing the forest for the trees.

The true issue is that the show attains the rarefied heights that few other works can ever reach and, in doing so, offers glimpses of something even better. Perhaps there were other avenues to explore after the sublime second season: Tohtsuki and the world around it, sans culinary Nazis, underworld chefs, and superpowers. Instead of the Central and Noir arcs, it would have been worth examining the idea of the Generation of Prodigies. Why did the greatest chefs in history fail? Why did Senzaemon create the Prodigies?

In addition, competition from without Tohtsuki ought to have been impossible thanks to the nature of the school, but if Central and Noir can exist, why not rival schools that Tohtsuki refuses to acknowledge? The students could have defended their honour not against caricatures and cartoons but against other talented aspiring chefs with just as much of a right to consider themselves the heroes. It could all have remained within the almost-real-but-not-quite realm that the first two seasons inhabited, and might have been better for it.

Well, no matter. It’s easy to hypothesize about what might have been, but I can’t pretend I didn’t enjoy almost every moment of what is. I loved it right up until the end, and the sole elements of it I would excise without a second thought are Asahi being Azami’s son… and the continual sexualization of children. (And I really am somewhat heartbroken about Soma and Erina not openly acknowledging their love for each other.) Whatever quibbles I have with the direction of the story, I’m forever indebted to the person who recommended this series to me. Watching Food Wars!: Shokugeki no Soma was a wonderful, endlessly delightful way to spend a month. Would that I could do it for the first time all over again.

  1. I miss Nikumi.
  2. Oh yes, Soma, I’m sure you have business with Erina’s tongue.
  3. Though he ought to have been disqualified outright in that battle for not creating a new dish, only refining his existing dish.