Food Wars Volume 19 continues Ryo Kurokiba’s salmon-themed shokugeki with Central’s Kusunoki. Though previous volumes established that Ryo has mastered fish dishes, this is no cake walk, as Kusunoki is a skilled opponent, and the judges rule only narrowly in Ryo’s favor.

Not that Ryo wins for his own benefit, but for Alice’s. In Volume 18, when Alice declined a shokugeki for the privilege of keeping her Cutting Edge Cooking Society, Ryo accepted Kusunoki’s challenge on Alice’s behalf. Though without much skin in the game, Ryo wins by a hair and goes on to exercise his bragging rights, taunting Kusunoki to eat both his winning dish (literally) and humble pie (figuratively). We know Ryo well enough by this point to expect him to be a bad sport about his win, and it’s hilarious when he crows and crows, flops around his poofy hair and bandana, and his every movement is dramatically underscored by battle manga sound effects (“THUNK,” “DOOM,” “DUN,” “BWOOF”).

The sweetness of Ryo’s win is tainted by Azami’s arrival; while the Dean gives Ryo some faint praise (“Well done. A well-fought challenge indeed.”), his next words express his disappointment in Kusunoki’s loss, and the focus then stays on his dissatsifaction with Central, though they point out that Kusunoki won his other shokugeki, and for the day, Central won all but one of 33 shokugeki (more anticlimactic news to deflate Ryo’s win). And while Alice had no interest in battling Kusonoki, she does stand up to her uncle, Azami. When he points out that she should be sympathetic to his Totsuki revolution, the “utopia of true gourmet,” Alice doesn’t dispute that she shares his ideals, but instead upbraids him for his methods. Alice has history with Azami’s deplorable methods, as when they were younger girls, Erina asked Alice to write her letters, and Azami intercepted and destroyed them. Alice tells Azami in no uncertain terms that she hates him for it, and she is “…not going to let you have your way anymore! Not with the institute…and not with Erina either!”

While Azami’s regime means soul-killing conformity for most, for the talented few it means expanded opportunities, such as when Tsukasa Eisi, the first seat of the elite Totsuki Ten, is invited to be a guest lecturer when the regular teacher is dismissed for opposing Central’s views.

In Eishi’s first class, a demonstration of the right way to follow certain recipes, he asks for a student volunteer to assist him as a sous chef. When Soma accepts, and impresses Eishi, the latter invites the former to join Central, though not to advance his own ambitions, but to serve as Eishi’s sous chef. If you’re new to Food Wars, or you’ve forgotten some of the French jargon used in past arcs, a sous chef is not unlike a ghost writer, a talented employee whose craft you promote as your own. As a sous chef, Soma’s many techniques would be used to perfect Eishi’s recipes, and Soma’s own ambitions would remain unfulfilled. If you have been following Food Wars since the beginning, or even if you’ve only read one volume or watched but a single episode of the anime, you should know Soma Yukihira well enough to know that this would be anathema to the Shokugeki-fighting young Zorro of Polaris Dormitory, who promised everyone on the first day of school that he’d be taking the number one seat. However, as this is Shokugei No Soma (the Food Wars of Soma), you should expect that though the idea is toxic to Soma, he isn’t opposed to throwing down with Eishi in a shokugeki to decide the issue, especially when he stands to take Eishi’s spot on the Council of Ten.

Volume 19 concludes with their shokugeki unresolved, though Soma gets Eishi to monologue on Central’s evil plan: to shut down every restaurant in Japan that doesn’t worship Azami’s idea of the ‘true gourmet.’ Eishi’s language is seasoned with a few well-worn revolutionary phrases such as “the purge of the dissidents,” and he apes Azami’s beliefs that the “inferior” restaurants “that serve slop…fodder…must be eliminated.” In a clever parallel to Eishi’s own wish to lord it over Soma, Eishi himself is a kind of sous chef to Azami, in that he serves up a slop of Azami’s manifesto to Soma. Moreover, though his monologue carefully follows the ideological recipe prescriped by Azami, it comes out like the crazy talk of an insane minion. That the first seat of the Totsuki’s council of ten comes of as less a genius chef than Azami’s nutty flunky is a very poetic reversal of Eishi’s desire to make a follower out of Soma.

Though Volume 19 is two back to back shokugeki, with a thin but sugary slice of character moments and flashbacks, the resulting Oreo is satisfying and sweet. Food Wars rewards long-time readers not only by referencing past volumes in the sweep of its narrative, but also by building believable relationships between characters that aren’t simply mouthpieces for the author’s voice. As always Food Wars is strongly recommended.

Food Wars Volume 19 arrived in bookstores on August 1st, 2017, and if you can’t find a copy, you can buy it in print or digital through Viz Media.   Viz also has a nineteen page preview of the volume through here. You can find more Food Wars reviews on NerdSpan through this link.

Food Wars Volume 19

Viz Media sent the review copy.

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