Shokugeki no Souma is one of the best shows I’ve seen in recent years. Granted I came to the cooking party a bit late, but off the top of my head the only show that I might like better since it came out was One Punch Man. This is some seriously top tier shit. However while Shokugeki no Souma is most famous for it’s foodgasms and general over the top-ness, I think the real key to the show’s success lies in the characters and the central character dynamic more than anything else. There will be spoilers ahead.
What makes Shokugeki no Souma’s food battles really interesting, assuming you aren’t there for the crazy recipes, fiery shounen attitude and fanservice (all of which are much appreciated by the way), is that most of the battles boil down to the gifted vs the experienced. Typically, by which I mean in other shounen anime, this kind of rivalry manifests as talent vs hard work, think Rock Lee and Neji/Sasuke way back in the Chuunin Exam for a good reference. Shokugeki no Souma takes that premise a step further and focuses on the gifted or the fortunate vs the experienced. The most prominent rivals Souma has to overcome in the anime are Erina and Hayama, people who have been blessed with a gift, in this case hypersensitive senses, which give them a huge edge over any competition. They didn’t earn these gifts, they were just born with them. In addition to these gifts, though they still have talent and hard work boosting their cooking skills. This isn’t some Sharingan copy-skills-you-see-effortlessly-bullshit, these are people who have incredible gifts and talent but also work hard to perfect their craft. By comparison Souma is described by his own father as someone without talent, but he has more experience than any of his peers, often by huge margins. Much like Rock Lee, Souma’s only real gift is the ability to just never give up no matter how many times he fails, which is hardly a gift only he can have.
What makes this dynamic interesting though is that most shounen shows would ultimately favor hard work over talent whereas Shokugeki no Souma is less certain in its answer. People with lots of experience tend to do exceptionally well, but the gifted are nearly insurmountable obstacles and the show constantly goes back and forth as to which of these two arbitrary sides is winning. For example, Nikumi’s gift is her ability to pinpoint the internal temperature of meat, as well as being filthy rich because that’s it’s own kind of gift, and she loses to Souma. But on the other hand Souma loses to Hayama in the Autum Elections Final. Gifts and experience prove their worth throughout the show and they are constantly beating each other. The gifted are certainly more venerated in-universe but the show spends a lot more time showing us the audience how impressive the experienced are, balancing the two out and making them appear equally valuable. In addition to gift vs experience, the food battles put a ton of emphasis on tactics, personality, ingredients and equipment. Especially in the second season, the dishes being served have a lot less to do with being better responses to specific challenges, like for example in the first Shokugeki where Souma makes a beef don that is easy to eat and tastes delicious in comparison to Nikumi’s more expensive but less well-coordinated wagyu don, and becomes a battle of personalities. The tactics become less widely applicable, like how in the training camp Takumi and Souma pass because one makes a duck dish instead of fish dish while the other gets creative to make the only uniquely textured dish, and more focused on who the specific opponent is.
Once the Autum Elections roll around the cooking and tactics get much more personal. Kurokiba brings power to the table, Alice brings chemistry, Hayama brings fragrance, Sadatsuka brings stench, etc. The battles and trials of earlier episodes were already great, the buffet and Megumi vs Shinomiya were especially good, but the intensity gets turned way up as things get personal. For starters everyone’s dishes tend to get more focused on playing to their signature style, but more importantly, the other parties’ tactics begin to play a bigger role. Prior to the Autumn Elections, the tactics used are generally only focused on the dish and making it as good as possible without too much thought being on the opponent’s tactics. It’s not that opponent’s dish is totally irrelevant, the Nikumi vs Souma match is predicated on the idea that she’s bringing the best meat to the table, but they have little influence over the tactics used. By comparison the battles of the Autumn Elections feature tactics that are very much aimed at specified opponents. Megumi creates her ramen specifically to go head to head with Kurokiba’s powerful seafood ramen. Kurokiba uses umami and fragrance bombs against Hayama, and Souma pulls the latter trick as well in his attempt to beat Hayama. To sum it up, the battles get more intense because both sides are paying a hell of a lot more attention to the competition and making bigger and ballsier moves to take their opponents down.
The final noteworthy ingredient that cements the delicious flavor of the food battles though is the characters themselves and just how good they are. Almost all of them are a ton of fun to watch in action, even characters like Sadatsuka, who’s only around for like an episode or two. The character designs are highly memorable and because the cooking styles are so personalized it’s easy to keep track of everyone’s strengths and stories. These people are very easy to like and watching them succeed, especially when they’re in a pinch, is both hugely satisfying and at times a fun, wild ride. The show has a bunch of big moments, complete with excellent music of course, and everyone and their dishes are highly memorable. There is however one character who deserves specific mention, and that’s Tadokoro Megumi. Megumi is the closest thing I’ve had to a waifu in years, she is far and away my favorite character in the show. Her position in the story is an interesting one, she has talent and experience but lacks confidence and because of her falling confidence has yet to bloom. But the day she blooms is one of the most satisfying and emotional scenes ever made, I’m not kidding I borderline cry when I watch my two favorite Megumi scenes and it’s out of pure fucking joy. No one quite makes the moment of success as endearing and heartfelt as Megumi does.
Out of everyone Megumi’s backstory is the most unique, she doesn’t seem to have tons of experience like Souma or Takumi or Kurokiba, she’s not super wealthy like Erina, Alice or Nikumi and she’s not gifted like Hayama or Erina. And for a sizable portion of the show Megumi is very much Souma’s hanger-on and appears to be one of the weakest cooks in the school. Ironically enough though she one of the most talented freshman chefs, even early on she has a strongly specialized cooking style and a well developed personality in her dishes, she is one of the few characters to carefully consider the wants and needs of the consumer in her cooking tactics from the beginning, and she even has more experience than she lets on to boot. She has the tools to be one of the strongest contenders among on the freshman and no one, herself most of all, even knows how good she is. This is all because she lacks confidence and therefore tests poorly, once she rectifies that problem even Erina, who haughtily looks down on most freshman, is surprised that such a good chef went under everyone’s radar. However her getting that confidence is a huge struggle, no one else in the show seems to have had a tougher time getting good than Megumi. There’s plenty of scenes of her either in tears or almost in tears, scenes where she’s panicking and even despairing as the pressure of academy gets to her and drives her confidence further down. In comparison to everyone else Megumi has had to put a lot more of her effort into fighting and eventually overcoming emotional barriers, which lends a lot of drama and emotional impact to her story, much more so than say Souma’s story which is full of memorable, high tension moments but tends to focus on triumph far more than failure.
Last but not least, Megumi’s big moments of success are the kind of thing I love to see. In my review of Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso, I mentioned that the early performances were hard to watch because watching people embarrass themselves makes me cringe. Megumi’s moments of triumphs are the opposite, they are moments which prove beyond a shadow of a doubt her strengths and make me smile while I hold back tears. Nothing quite gets me as much as seeing the person who used to fail start succeeding, and the fact that her match with Shinomiya is peppered with flashbacks of her failures and emotional low points before cutting to all the professional chefs praising her dish made that scene hit home on a level few scenes ever reach. This is then built on in the Autum Elections where she has flashbacks to all the work she put in learning to butcher the anchorfish for her family’s restaurant, before she again succeeds and all the fishermen she learned from, in addition to most of the students who used to doubt her, starting applauding. Whereas Souma’s and Kurokiba’s, my next favorite characters, biggest moments tend to be badass and great at firing me up, Megumi’s are deeply emotional and awe-inspiring. To me Megumi is the secret ingredient that puts this show heads and shoulders above most others, I love the fun, over the top characters and contests, but I’ve seen and liked similar things in many other shows, almost no shows have scenes with the same level of emotional impact as Megumi’s big moments.
So long story short, Shokugeki no Souma is amazing and if you haven’t watched it yet, you’re doing yourself a disservice. It’s fun, highly memorable and at times incredibly emotional. Also Megumi is a literal goddess and I worship at her altar daily. Also also there are tons of cute and/or hot girls and plenty of fanservice if you want those things. Seriously though, do watch it, it’s really fucking good and I can only hope that my words do it some semblance of justice. Hope you enjoyed this and I’ll see you in the next one.