I was expecting to see the end of the “match” between Kuga and Soma. I expected to see Soma pull victory out of the jaws of defeat. I did not entirely expect to see the dramatic turn in events. (Okay, I totally knew this was going to happen).
Story: Yuto Tsukuda
Art: Shun Saeki
Contributor: Yuki Morisaki
Translation: Adrienne Beck
Production: Stephen Dutro (Touch up art and lettering), Izumi Evers (design), Jennifer LeBlanc (editor)
What They Say:
Day three of the Autumn Moon Festival has begun, and Soma is still trying to recover from ending deep in the red on its first day. Looking to finally overtake Restaurant Kuga in overall profit, Soma unveils his ace in the hole—a new mapo tofu recipe! Will it be enough to push this first-year to victory over a Council of Ten member?
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
As expected, the beginning of this volume brings to a conclusion the “match” between Soma and Kuga set off by Soma’s challenging Kuga over who could sell more at the School Festival. While things looked entirely grim at the start, with Soma falling far short, we see, one again, and entirely as expected, that Soma understands how the restaurant trade works in ways that even a Council of Ten member does not. Soma’s entire plan was based not upon winning every single day, but starting behind and slowly building up his little food cart and its menu until he could pull it out on the final day. This has been a constant in Soma’s culinary victories: they’re not based upon any kind of special talent or any superior skill either innate or learned. It is as Isshiki explained to Eizan back during the Fall Classic final, what Joichirou had said: Soma simply builds upon everything he has ever learned and experienced, leveraging it with his natural curiosity and creativity (which are not special in-born skills). He hones and hones and hones and hones his craft until he can meet his customers’ expectations.
So it comes as little surprise that by the next to last day, with the crowds swelling to record sizes on the weekend, Soma has finally put together his complete cart (and Kuga is smart enough to recognize what has happened). Part of it was constant menu refinement as he added first a noodle dish to his pork bun original offering and then completed things with his Curry Lion’s Head Mapo Tofu Noodles. In addition to making full use of his past experience, successes and failures, Soma also has help from his friends, an invaluable resource. It’s not just Megumi, who is basically attached to Soma as his Helper Girl (this is perhaps slight off-note to the entire series, that the author cannot fully decide whether Tadokoro should fully take flight as a great chef on her own or eternally be placed into the Helper Girl role for Soma; you can’t really have it both at the same time as it’s slightly grating to see Megumi at one moment be determined and independent and the next simpering to Soma over how she owes everything, especially her continued presence at Totsuki, to him).
As Soma’s new offerings start drawing away large numbers of Kuga’s customers (Soma knows something about running a real restaurant and Kuga’s does not serve its diners so much as thrusts them in a seat to be amazed at his cooking and then pushes them out to take on the next set of comers), he needs reinforcements. Planned help comes from Mimisaka, the copycat master, who Soma asked for help which was willingly given (he quietly notes that he owes Soma). Spur the moment aid arrives in the forms of the Aldini Brothers and Ikumi (who each have others who can cover for them in their own booths). With the extra manpower, Soma is able to handle a crush of customers (Megumi is in charge of front of house duties, which she handles quite well—but notice that she isn’t valued for her cooking here, though her help is invaluable on the restaurant decor side as she gets assistance from her club, the Home Cooking Research Society).
You would think that that would be enough to fill a volume, but that’s not even the centerpiece of affairs. In fact, the denouement of the Kuga v. Soma match is effectively a worthless draw (neither achieved their “victory conditions”). Instead, our focus shifts entirely as a man in black enters into Erina’s spacious “booth” (restaurant) on the Slopes, the wealthy elite area of the festival. Our protagonist Soma is drawn to the Slopes as well, when Second Seat Rindo Koyabashi, who prefers eating the entire festival than taking part in it, invites Soma and Megumi up to Tsukasa’s booth. We begin to take the measure of the current First Seat.
That in itself is not the focus of events, however, as Yuto Tsukuda drops a major plot bomb into the mix. The mysterious man who entered Erina’s place is none other than Azami Nakiri, her father. So, it’s time for Erina’s backstory, long-delayed (think about it: if we consider Erina the primary female lead, it’s been a long time coming to find out anything about her, more than 15 volumes worth where the only bare hint we had was that Erina did know Joichirou Yukihira when he was Joichirou Saiba). I’ll leave the facts revealed for individual readers to take in on their own. His reappearance, however, offers a complete change in formula and direction for this series, for Erina’s father, who was banished from Totsuki by Senzaemon, has come back and has swayed the majority of the Council of Ten Masters to appoint him the new Dean of Totsuki, forcing out Senzaemon. And they have that power. It’s no surprise that some of them especially Eizan, would vote for it but many of other Council members are pure question marks at this point, their reasons unknown. What we do know is that Isshiki, Kuga, Tousuke Megishima (the Third Seat), and Erina did not vote for the regime change.
If people were waiting for Erina’s comeuppance, the point at which Soma would “break” her arrogance through his cooking…this is not how Erina winds up broken. Her father, who is presented on the cover as a Dracula-like figure and whose attitude towards what is and is not worthy food and who is and is not worthy to sample it borders on hateful, exclusionary ideologies, is perhaps the one person who drives Erina into a curled-up ball of fear. When Soma sees her in her father’s presence, he notices Erina visibly shaking. And now this man is in control of Totsuki.
The veil of the dark side has fallen. Is there any light and hope for the future? Don’t worry, the forces of good have not entirely been banished as an old master appeals to the younger generation to save the future, or at least one very important person’s future.
It’s clear that the conventional narrative motions up to this point of Soma brushing up against someone higher up the scale and working his butt off to beat them does not necessarily have to disappear, but it’s now going to be combined into a larger overarching plot focused upon a pretty straight-up battle between Good and Evil (since it’s pretty clear that Azami Nakiri is Evil, the first character perhaps who acts purely out of malice and spite; Eizan is mainly about greed). Whoever’s cooking reigns supreme will win.
The Moon Festival competition between Soma and Kuga finishes with Soma successfully getting out of the red and even besting Kuga one day, but neither one achieves the victory he desired. All of this takes a backseat, however, to a major plot twist where Erina Nakiri’s father, the once-exiled Azami Nakiri, returns and stages a palace coup with the help of the majority of the Council of Ten, who have chosen him as the new dean in place of Senzaemon. Azami is plainly pretty evil, though for now there is the quiet before the storm.
Content Grade: A-
Art Grade: A-
Package Rating: A-
Age Rating: Teen+ (16+)
Released By:Viz Media
Release Date: February 7th, 2017