Things get serious as the semifinals of the Fall Classic begin. Will Soma be able to best the human copying machine Mimisaka? Who shall win the battle of brawn against refined senses between Ryo Kurokiba and Akira Hayama? Time to find out.
Story: Yuto Tsukuda
Art: Shun Saeki
Contributor: Yuki Morisaki
Translation: Adrienne Beck
Production: Steven Dutro (Touch up art and lettering), Izumi Evers (design), Jennifer LeBlanc (editor)
What They Say:
Mimasaka copies his opponents’ dishes so perfectly and completely it’s uncanny. And he does it solely to win. But is that what cooking is really about? Hoping to find the answer, Soma bets his all as a chef! Who’s right and who’s wrong will be made clear when it comes time to judge the Fall Classic’s first semifinal round!
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
The greater the wall that Soma Yukihira must climb, the faster his pace becomes as he scales it. That is the essential nature of the character, someone who is fearless beyond measure. Under normal circumstances, his opponent this time should be someone impossible to beat, because Subaru Mimisaka is a copying machine, someone able to imitate perfectly his opponent’s dishes and even their mindset while planning them (would this make him the Shirou Emiya of Totsuki Academy?).
But Soma uses his one trait that is impossible to reproduce: his ability to just pull things out of his rear. Mimisaka had already compensated for this. He knew that Soma would have to ad-lib in order to thwart his copying technique, so his backup plan was to make sure his dish was one that was so perfect, it would make an improvised dish look—and more importantly, taste—half-assed. Against most improvisors, that should have been enough. But Soma did not just throw together things on the spot, for there is another weakness to Mimisaka’s approach. In my review to volume 10, I noted that Mimisaka could be defeated by someone who managed to make a different dish. And while Soma did, in the end, present a beef stew with oxtail as the main cut of beef, as Mimisaka had done in imitation with improvements, Soma did not stop there. He made use of Mimisaka’s weakness: if you copy other people’s ideas, you do not often know the process by which they arrived at them. In other words, Mimisaka has no experience in cooking on his own. Soma, living in a kitchen since age 3, has a lifetime of culinary experience, including all the flavors and failures he has been exposed to since he first held a kitchen knife. He drew upon that lifetime of experience and made additions on the fly.
He also had some help. Erina Nakiri, who agreed to taste his initial effort (in exchange for some shoujo manga), gave him the hint, as unhelpfully as possible, that his dish could not be a diner dish, warm and comforting. It would have to knock the judges square in the jaw (or tongue, here) with the first bite. Nikumi did her part too by giving him a whole range of beef cuts to experiment with, even though Soma only practiced with oxtails (and Mimisaka was aware of this, having hacked into the computer of Mitsuru Sotsuda, the junior high school reporter who tried to tag along with Soma at all times in order to write a scoop when Soma, against conventional wisdom in the academy, would win). These little clues showed Soma to the door. But once he stepped through it, he needed to rely upon his years of culinary experiences, failures and successes, to march past the smug Mimisaka.
Often, such victories by the antagonist over his seemingly invincible opponents seem so very hollow, the result of some trick or author’s fiat. But once again, Tsukuda has laid out, openly, the logic to Soma’s victory, which makes it more believable. It’s not something that long-time readers of this series do not already know, but sometimes we don’t immediately think of it because we are so focused on the now. Soma has been doing this for a really long time. He doesn’t need to practice with flank steak or tongue or any other cut of meat because he has already been “practicing” with them for his entire lifetime. Mimisaka can only copy what he can observe. He cannot relive Soma’s entire life and know the entire range of tastes Soma has experienced. Once again, we are reminded of something that has been clear all along: Erina has her tongue; Akira has his nose; Soma has his long memory of experimentation. (We can note that what Soma did is something that has, in a slightly different way, been invoked before. I leave it to your memories of past volumes to recall it).
Thus, the Yukihira Meat Rollercoaster.
Though the lesson Soma imparts to Mimisaka afterward is that it’s all about perseverance, an unyielding pride in being a chef even after failures. Especially after failures. How very Soma.
The second match could hardly be faulted for seeming like a letdown after the intensity of the first. Soma is through, we need only know which one will be his opponent and be done with it. But Tsukuda has a surprise in store, as he often does. The second semifinal plays to form as Akira uses his overpowering sense of spices and smell to woo the palates of judges Hinako Inui and Fuyumi Mizuhara, while Ryo’s blunt force taste explosions overwhelm the sense of Gin Dojima and Taki Tsunozaki. The deciding judge, Sonoka Kikuchi, cannot make up her mind. These five voted for Soma without hesitation in his match against Mimisaka. Now, things look destined for deadlock. Dojima, of course, offers an intriguing proposal.
There is a difficult balancing act involved here, which Yuto Tsukuda manages to continue keeping up without a damaging accident. The tension of the competition is at a fever pitch and must be carefully managed. Too much slack and it might be impossible to restore the taut feeling of uncertainty. Strain too much and it will snap, leaving the readers bewildered or turned off. All of this rests on the careful integration of both expected elements and surprises, which we find here. The largely expected elements are in the cooking styles of the contestants, which do not suddenly change. To have done anything of that sort would be to betray the reader. Every character is true to his nature. The surprise comes largely at the end, with the interesting twist Dojima puts on the future. We’ll have to wait for the next volume to see how it plays out.
In facing Mimisaka, Soma must to some degree face himself and what he is capable of now. Normally, a character in such a situation finds a solution in either going beyond, above, or outside the limits one currently has. Soma, however, turns inside and draws upon everything he has been. It is ultimately a winning strategy. The second match, between Kurokiba and Hayama plays to form: power vs. refinement. The winner of the contest provides something of a surprise, setting up an interesting next volume.
Content Grade: A-
Art Grade: A-
Package Rating: B+
Age Rating: Teen+ (16+)
Released By: Viz Media
Release Date: April 5th, 2016