Title: Food Wars (Shokugeki no Soma) Volume 21
Author: Yuto Tsukuda
Publisher: Viz Media
Page count: 192
Publication Date: December 5, 2017
After suffering from several Shokugeki losses, Central has new plans for the resisters in the first year class. In this volume, the Soma and his classmates prepare for and take on the advancement exams – their greatest challenge yet. With Central rigging each test, can the resisters make it to their second year?
In the previous volume, the first year students discover that Central changed the curriculum for the advancement exam. This isn’t the worst of it – Central only requires that each recipe be cooked to Azami Nakiri’s standards. Suspecting that Central is going to play dirty, Erina reflects upon her time at Polaris. She realizes that Soma and his peers are the key to fracturing Central. She sets out to teach the residents of Polaris everything they need to complete the advancement exam. Erina, clad in a sexy teacher outfit, gives select members of the resistance a bootcamp that gives them everything need to know about Hokkaido – the island where the advancement exam takes place.
Volume 21 starts off with the students arriving in snowy Hokkaido. Soma and his allies quickly realize students labeled “resisters” have been separated into their own groups. Erina, who is guaranteed to pass, is put into a group where she doesn’t even lift a finger to cook. Soma, Megumi, Ryo, and Alice are paired together. Spirits are high because the theme is Salmon. Megumi and Ryo in the same group for a fish dish, is a guaranteed pass… under fair conditions. Unfortunately, the proctor is a Central sympathizer and rigs the exam by giving them the worst catch – salmon unfit for human consumption. The group tosses around a few ideas to see if Soma, the master of cooking low quality food, can create a solution. Soma can’t so they flee the kitchen in search for their own salmon. Through their expertise and quick thinking, they secure the highest quality salmon available in Hokkaido. With just thirty minutes left on the clock, the proctor begins to pat herself on the back for rigging the exam. In an amazing way, all of the resistance groups present passing dishes.
Moving on to the second stage, the first years must now cook a dish alone. They need to cook a noodle dish. Everyone is provided with all of the noodles, stock, and vegetables they need… minus the resisters. Soma and his friends discover their kitchens have only potato starch. The proctor didn’t provide them with any noodles. At this point, Central isn’t even trying to hide their determination to crush the resisters. Despite this being an individually assigned task, they organize and venture into a dangerous snowstorm to gather ingredients. Although the odds are against them, they put their heads together to create amazing udon soups with potatoes – the native vegetable of Hokkaido.
Frustrated that the resisters continue to succeed, Central sets out to crush them in stage three. If the last two tests were stressful, the third one has to be the worst thus far. The third test takes the form of a shokugeki – the resisters are assigned to cook against members of the Council of Ten. It is at this point that Erina realizes her father will stop at nothing to expel anyone who resists his teachings. Fortunately, the food judging will be fair and impartial – Central has agreed to at least that much. While this has disaster written all over it, this is the one fair opportunity in the advancement exam so far. The Council of Ten wouldn’t dare tarnish their reputations as chefs, therefore everyone is guaranteed the same quality ingredients. The Council of Ten members want to win fair and square. This is a huge concern among the resisters because many of the seats have changed. Most significantly, Hayashi the spice master is now a member of Central!
At the end of this volume, we find out who Soma is supposed to face and that Chef Dojima is one of the judges! We also learn that the theme is a meat Soma has never seen or prepared before, leaving him at a huge disadvantage. Dojima, who has always been a fan of Soma’s cooking, leaves him with some knowledge: this will be his most difficult cooking challenge yet. While preparing for the test, it looks like our hero is in serious trouble if he’s to cook a passing dish. Fortunately, an unlikely ally shows up to help…
There was a large amount of character development in volume 20 that we don’t see here, which I don’t mind because volume 20 was an overload. We finally saw Erina’s develop into an independent, thoughtful, and self-sufficient human. Within just a few volumes she has transformed from a cold and distant snob to an honorary member of Polaris. Volume 21 focuses on the bond between all of the people Soma Yukihira has touched and we can watch that bond get them through the first two tests that are designed to crush their spirits. Had Soma not spent the previous volumes bringing people together through his rash decisions and determination to cook the best dish, it’s possible the resisters would A) not exist, B) fail the advancement exam early. We saw a lot of teamwork in this volume on both the group and independent projects.
The world in this volume feels much smaller than the Totsuki campus. Hokkaido is snowy and the students are in unfamiliar territory. If it weren’t for the advancement exams, Hokkaido could have been a lovely Winter wonderland vacation. I liked the scenery of this volume because the snow, the private resorts, and the private train really shows how the Azami Administration is trying to isolate and pick off those who oppose him. The weather conditions limit their ability to search for ingredients and the proctors are using this restriction to their advantage. I’m looking forward to seeing how Soma defeats the next challenge as it snowballs into something much bigger.
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