There were way too many stills in this episode I wanted to use for the featured image.
This episode takes the series’ best qualities and puts them on full display. Still lacking in sales, Soma has quite a gap to cross in order to reach the success of Kuga’s restaurant. He’s been clawing at the bottom of the sales during the entire festival, but after some late-night prep with Megumi, he’s ready to turn the tables. (I’m also not sure if I just missed a day or what. Kuga mentions it takes Soma 4 days to get his booth functioning, but I totally only recall three days of the festival. Am I tripping?)
Soma’s route to success comes in two parts. The first is simply to attract customers. He does this in two ways: revealing his personal spin on the mapo tofu dish and by creating a welcoming atmosphere for his customers via lanterns supplied by the Regional Cuisine Society. While customers groan in anticipation in Kuga’s line, Soma tempts them to come to his booth instead with enticing aromas, exciting twists on food, and providing a less rushed environment in which they can enjoy their food. The second part is to up his manpower. With just him and Megumi, Soma knows it will be difficult to keep up with an increasing customer base. To alleviate this, he enlists the help of Subaru by having him trace his cooking in order to essentially double his efficiency. Even with Subaru helping, though, the three of them eventually become overwhelmed and it becomes clear Soma’s plan will crumble. Thankfully, Ikumi, Takumi, and Isami all arrive and volunteer their assistance. While it’s a little tropey for Soma to be saved in such a manner, it’s still heartwarming to see all his friends come together to help his cause. Kuga runs his restaurant like a dictatorship, whereas Soma’s booth turns into one operated by mutual respect. I will say this whole scene plays out much better in the anime; it was good in the manga, but everyone’s arrival in the manga felt much more contrived, and Subaru’s impact felt cheapened as a result. The music and visuals go a long way in conveying the impact of the scene, leading up to the final result of Soma overtaking Kuga for first place in his district.
While Soma sees huge success, the Disaster Trio of Alice, Ryo, and Akira finally pull themselves out of the red with an innovative dish thought up by Alice. She finally realizes the importance of pleasing her customers, and so she utilizes her own technical knowledge and pairs it with Akira’s curry skills to create a dish appealing to a wide array of customers. I wish the episode spent a little more time with this group, but their success is also a rewarding aspect of the episode. It’s clear they had to pull together at some point due to consequences otherwise, but it’s nice all the same.
Once again the animation is pretty standard in its composition. Most shots look nice, but there’s not so much engaging about them. At least the reflection on Ikumi’s skin looks less gross this episode. Keep it tasteful, animation staff. There is a shot that looks particularly lazy, featuring a new character who will be mildly relevant later this season. It’s just a shot of him standing still while talking to some other students, but he does not move at all — he and the students are just frozen. It’s definitely a low for the episode’s animation, but it’s not enough to detract from the episode overall.
Overall, while this episode did cut down on the exaggerated reactions to food (which is actually missed), it’s still a wonderful display of the show’s heart. The main message of the series has always been about Soma’s refusal to accept Totsuki’s elitist attitude. Kuga embodies that mindset to an extent, and Soma shows up to challenge him, ultimately besting him with a display of teamwork that really should not be able to flourish within the toxically competitive environment of Totsuki. It’s been a ferocious clash between lions where both animals have bitten chunks out of the other, leaving both of them wounded. I do wish there had been a little more interplay between the two of them as individuals, but it was an enjoyable showdown nonetheless. Kuga gets humbled by Soma’s victory, but it’ll be next episode before the ramifications to both of them become visible.