In Food Wars Volume 18, Soma saves Polaris Dormitory from Eizan and his bribed lackey judges, and Erina learns an awful truth about Soma.
A Tourney of Shokugeki: The Ideological War for Totsuki Academy
Whereas previous Food Wars arcs have more often than not concerned the war of techniques and personal styles, the last few volumes of Food Wars show a shift to an ideological war, not what food means to persons, but to ‘the people,’ specifically the students of Totsuki Academy who watch as Azami’s coup dismantles the Totsuki meritocracy and replaces it with a feudal aristocracy, in which the general student body are the serfs, Central the knights, and the highest authority only Azami. To be clear, Totsuki was always a noxious environment for Soma and the Polaris gang, but after they have just learned the ropes under the elder Nakiri, his son Azami upturns all of that for equally toxic but less familiar forms of pedagogical oppression, and our heroes are more than a little sentimental for the devil that they knew.
Food Wars Volume 18 begins with Azami’s bought-off judges about to weigh in on Soma’s shokugeki performance against Eizan, with Polaris Dormitory’s future hanging in the balance. Soma wins, but make no mistake, this is not the ideological victory that will save the Totsuki student body from Azami; it is a personal victory, that again proves the superiority of the Yukihira clan’s taste over everything else, even judges with Eizan’s money in their pocket. Soma isn’t acting the part of the white knight here, but the black knight errant, whose rogue victory is an unexpected upset for the opposition, but means little to their long range plans. And no sooner than Soma wins his match, Central begins a tourney of shokugeki, cruelly vanquishing student institutions from the prior regime.
While Azami isn’t after a purgation of personal freedoms and whitewashing of food culture, he isn’t interested in freedom for all, either; Azami’s model for Totsuki is less Nazi Germany and more Camelot, with a reminder that Camelot was only a fairy tale for its ruling class, as in a class aristocracy, only the protected class will be free. Azami’s “freedom for some” ideology, served up in a series of announcements, should seem familiar to anyone living in the U.S.A. during this series of Trump’s executive orders, all of which seek not to preserve freedom for all, but to protect the perceived freedoms of his constituents.
Regardless of how Azami sees himself and his holy war on taste, the effect in Food Wars is that we have the darkest antagonist for Soma since Subaru Mimasaka. While in my review for Volumes 10 and 11, I compared Subaru to Grendel from Beowulf, I struggle to find a more monstrous analogue for Azami than Donald Trump, but may have found Azami’s fictional analogue in Napoleon, the leader of the pigs in Animal Farm, whose credo is “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”
The Dark Lord’s Bromance; The Dark Lady’s Recognition
Just when you’re really savoring your hatred of Azami, though, the last half of Volume 18 makes him more relatable by revealing that not only did he once live in Polaris Dormitory himself, he also admired Soma’s father, and when he realizes just who Soma is, his attitude seems to soften a little, if only toward his bromance’s son. Moreover, Azami’s daughter Erina realizes that Soma’s father is the chef she idolizes above all else, and may even have a crush on. It’s a double whammy for father and daughter.
For Erina, though, it has the effect of causing her to re-live the events of Food Wars in a series of flashbacks that may have caused her to elicit a new, more egalitarian, moral from this manga, so that in a glimmer, she has become the new stand-in for reader identification. Though it isn’t clear that she’s rejected the dark side here, hopefully this moment of moral recognition will set the stage for Erina’s own heroic arc.
Food Wars, even after eighteen volumes, is must-read manga. Its numerous shokugeki not only pit two opposing characters against each other, but set their viewpoints at war as well, so that we have moral dialectic served up as food war. And the mangakas’ plating, as ever, is impeccable, with attractive line work, dynamic page and panel composition, and intelligent sequential design that plays with the reader’s perception of time. The reader’s eyes linger in poignant moments, or race over action-packed events, as the artist wishes, and when food appears, its realism sizzles on the page and upstages the narrative. The character work and dialogue are equal to the art, and without the reader paying much notice, the writer has shifted the reader’s interest from being monopolized by the Yukihira clan to being shared with the Nakiri family. There is the sense that we have entered a second long arc, beginning with Azami’s coup, that will hopefully elevate Erina to being a co-protagonist with Soma. To be honest, Soma has had his time in the spotlight, and I would be perfectly happy seeing Soma become a supporting character in an arc that shifts the attention to Erina.
Food Wars Volume 18 arrived in stores on June 6th, 2017, and if you find it sold out, you can buy a print or digital edition through the following link to Viz Media. You can also find more NerdSpan reviews and news about Food Wars through this link.
Viz Media sent the review copy.