Food Wars Volume 21 continues the events of Volume 20, in which Erina found herself in the position of wealthy benefactress, doling out lessons with magical efficacy like Mary Poppins, and opposing Azami with a more chivalrous, though no less aristocratic, grace.

When our heroes arrive in snowy Hokkaido, no sooner have Soma, Megumi, Ryo, and Alice become grouped into a dream team of my favorite Food Wars characters, than they discover that the faculty stacked the cards against all of the Polaris kids. Though the salmon theme of their first test excites the fish-masters Megumi and Ryo, they are disappointed by the putrid salmon provided by Azami’s sycophant. While you would expect Soma to shine here, since he can scrape together haute cuisine from a dumpster dive, and is an honorary D.M.S.N.T. (Doctor of Mad Science in Nasty Treats) having grossed out diners and readers with slimy tidbits since volume one, the putrescent salmon stumps Soma, and it’s Alice that saves their bacon by giving them the idea to check with companies that brine freeze salmon.

To make a long story short, the Polaris kids defeat the biased teachers through application of gumption, pluck, and food science. Lacking salmon, they find salmon, and lacking noodles and quality garnishes for the noodle test, they brave a Hokkaido snowstorm to gather a crop of potatoes, from which they make not only noodles, but a potato-inspired meal so fluffy with potato goodness, from potato noodles, to grated potato creaming the broth, to potato cakes to add crunch, that its inventiveness rivals that of the Captain Nemo’s sea vegetable feast in 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.

Volume 21 ends with the stage set for the third test, a shokugeki that will pit the “resisters” against the Council of Ten. This promises defeat for many of the Polaris kids, especially since Akira Hayama, the Spice-Master, winner of the Fall Classic, and newly promoted member of the Council, will face off against Soma, whom he has already bested before. One bright spot is that Chef Dojima has also returned from the pages of the Fall Classic to judge the shokugeki. Though Dojima arrives in his Clark Kent suit, lays down the law, and quickly proclaims his neutral stance in the upcoming proceedings, the reader feels that his arrival foreshadows the restoration of the Totsuki moral universe. Moreover, the next volume is shaping up to be more greatest hits reel than all-out food war, with more than one familiar face returning from earlier chapters of this 4000+ page manga saga. Bring on the nostalgia—I’m ready for Hayama and Soma’s rematch, and I’m even ready for the Kuga / Suma team-up promised in the final chapter.

Volume 21 was an excellent installment of this high-quality manga series, with a renewed attention to food lore that I appreciated, not only exposition on brine freezing, but a few pages of food lore about the potato. Yuto Tsukuda’s plotting and dialogue are tight and realistic, and Shun Saeki’s staging is imagistic, not as you would expect from a cooking manga, but one with aliens or magicians.

While Food Wars is one of my favorite ongoing manga serials, and I enjoyed Food Wars Volume 21 immensely, I did have one criticism. When Erina is painted as an “AntiAzami”, a vis-a-vis to the dark lord that has occupied Totsuki, at first it doesn’t seem to be an unfamiliar conceit, as Soma has often been propped up as the series superhero. However, Soma isn’t a patrician but a plebe, a Robin Hood in true opposition not only in morals but in status. When Erina’s help is categorized as a genteel charity, it makes the Polaris kids seem like they’re charity cases sponging off of her chivalry. Lest the reader assume that I exaggerate, what Tsukuda and Saeki have to say about Erina is summed up in a page depicting her as Joan of Arc: “A holy lady knight leading an army…”, following two panels later by the literal veneration—on his knees—of the Totsuki faculty member. While I’m all for Erina falling into a protagonist and leadership role in Food Wars, having predicted that in many reviews of the series here on NerdSpan, to suggest that blue blood must back a winner seems a regressive literary idea.

Food Wars Volume 21 arrived in bookstores on December 5th, 2017, and you can also buy it through Viz Media.

Food Wars Volume 21

Viz Media sent the review copy.

Related posts: