Spoiler Warning: this review contains spoilers for the currently airing season of the Food Wars anime.
With Erina and Soma’s triumph in the final stage of the Team Shokugeki at the end of volume thirty, Food Wars: Shokugeki no Sōma entered into a new story arc. Given that the previous one had begun to feel like it was dragging, that’s a welcome development, although this new plot line is definitely taking a bit to get off the ground. In part that’s simply because so much has changed in the world of the story – with the defeat of the Azami Administration, the entire school has to be restructured once again, this time with the former Rebels at its helm. While a few of the old guard remain on the Council of Ten – and despicable as Eizan is, it’s hard to deny that he does belong there alongside other former members like Isshiki, Nene, and Kuga – mostly the new members are the fighters from the previous storyline, namely Megumi, Soma, and Takumi. Soma has also landed the coveted First Seat, albeit because Erina, as a Nakiri, has had to step up to fill the Dean’s seat.
With these major changes to the school’s basic government, it’s almost a relief that the students have also all progressed a year, as it makes things feel moderately more realistic. There’s also a brief time skip so that we don’t have to read through the entire reorganization process, although that’s a bit of a double-edged sword. By the time we rejoin the story, everyone is completely comfortable with their new roles, and while that’s to be expected from someone like Soma, it’s a shame that we don’t get to see Megumi adjusting to her newfound status, since her insecurity was such a large part of her character for most of the previous thirty books. It is nice to see that she hasn’t backslid since her defeat at Momo’s hands and that she’s continued to stand and thrive under her own power rather than becoming Soma’s lackey, but it’s also abrupt from the reader’s perspective. When she reveals that she’s begun to take advantage of the perks afforded her by her position on the Council, it’s a little tough to reconcile that with the girl who had to picture herself as the heroine of her favorite old shoujo manga just to work with Shinomiya – Megumi the World Traveler is almost a different character than Megumi from Polaris.
Similarly, Soma and the others seems to have stagnated a little. Although nominally still students, they seem to spend most of their time running around doing administrative work, and that means that Soma, who has now actually reached the top, is no longer concocting recipes or honing his competitive edge. He does go up against the mysterious new teacher “Suzuki,” but that feels almost lame when we compare it to what’s come before; likewise the end-of-term exam for the students, including Council members, just doesn’t have the tension that previous storylines did. It feels like the gang rose to the heights of power too quickly and now the series overall is missing something.
It has also added an element, although it’s not one that the series strictly needed. With the introduction of Suzuki in thirty-second volume, a romance subplot is also brought in, as one of his stated evil goals is to marry Erina, probably simply because she has the Divine Tongue. Yes, volume thirty-one did have some rom-com elements with Megumi and Soma being sent off together (apparently they’re an official Council team, and they do work together well) and having to share a room, but scenes of Megumi fretting about it are basically lip service to manga conventions, because neither of them are all that interested in anything other than cooking. In fact, several of the characters, including Soma, outright say that they’re no interested in dating or anything like that. That makes Suzuki’s plot to steal Erina for himself feel very shoehorned in, like a reminder that she’s supposed to be the main heroine and that most manga, regardless of genre or demographic, include an element of romance. And while Erina herself may be more open to the idea because of her new(ish) love of shoujo manga, for the other characters it really feels awkward and a bit out of character. The story is built on a foundation of competitive cooking and trying to be the absolute best chef by understanding the diners and the science of cookery; to suddenly throw in lines about “cooking for the most important person to you” honestly feels like an idea that came from outside and was forced in.
That the Suzuki plotline, or rather, the advent of the Dark Chefs (cooks for the underworld), could easily have been accomplished just on the already established basis of Erina’s Divine Tongue also makes the way it’s carried out feel awkward. Add in that the idea of Dark Chefs is a bit ridiculous even by the standards of a story with regular clothes-busting foodgasms and it’s a little concerning where the series is headed. It is nice that it’s acknowledging that the whole shokugeki system is kind of odd and that someone drastically misunderstood that it’s only valid within a specific school rather than some sort of Japan-wide phenomenon, and hopefully that will be developed more as the story goes on, because it feels like it could be a fun statement about how people misunderstand other cultures. But when we add in the apparent stagnation of the characters or the story flat-out forgetting things about established characters (I have a hard time buying that Megumi would ever voluntarily wear a bikini or that Isshiki wouldn’t be heading the investigation as the sneak master), things are headed in a worrisome direction. Hopefully the story can get itself back on track as this plotline develops, because it would be a shame to see Food Wars join the list of shounen manga that just go on too long.