Publisher: Viz Media
Publication Date: February 6, 2018
Soma goes up against his toughest challenge yet in stage three of the advancement exams – an old rival who secured the 9th seat in the new Council of Ten. Although Hayama’s intentions for joining the Council of Ten are known, it still left a bitter taste in the mouths of his peers. Regardless, Soma is excited about his rematch – he hasn’t forgotten about what happened at the Fall Classic and he isn’t going to let Hayama have an easy win.
Soma and his friends have made it to the third stage of the advancement exams despite Central’s attempted sabotage. Dean Nakiri is in complete denial of the Polaris crew’s cooking abilities, resulting in failure after failure for his own team. This volume focuses on Soma’s endless ability to grow and adapt as a chef. His opponent, Hayama, is a formidable foe but he lacks the curiosity and fearlessness to leave his comfort zone. Hayama has a lot in common with Alice Nakiri and other challengers who we know well. He sticks to his cuisine. Soma, on the other hand, is fully capable of cooking outside of his expertise and does so with astounding results.
Appropriately, Soma and Hayama are assigned bear meat. The Spice Master’s win seems definite, especially with bear meat which can become stinky and overbearing if handled incorrectly. Soma, who isn’t gifted with Hayama’s nose, has to quickly learn as much as he can about bear before the exam. Working with Kuga-Senpai and his club members, Soma heads into the snowy forest to go bear hunting. He learns that he needs to understand every aspect of bear meat before attempting his dish. Eventually he acquires the information he needs and returns to the kitchen.
Like with the fish assignment, Soma embraces bear meat from every angle. He goes bear hunting, learns about the odor of bear meat and how it should be enhanced. He knows that bear meat needs to be handled very carefully or every effort will be lost to a single mistake. Is this his biggest challenge yet? I would wager that it definitely is, since Soma needs to prove to himself that he has evolved as a cook. Unlike Hayama and his previous opponents, he is interested in challenging himself. His talents and creativity cannot be confined to a single cuisine.
Eventually the day approaches and Hayama and Soma face off in a shokugeki that will likely influence them both for the remainder of the series. Coincidentally, they both conclude that a fried dish with dipping sauce would be the best way to prepare the bear meat. With three questionable but impartial judges assigned, it still seems like Soma has a minimal chance of winning… until it’s time to compare the most important aspects of the two dishes.
Soma Yukihira really shines in this volume. He continues to look ahead with his usual confidence and optimism but under it, we can see that he is evolving and capable of tackling any cuisine. When we first met Soma in chapter 1, he was ignorantly arrogant about his ability to secure the number one spot in the Totsuki Institute. He believed he needed to surpass his father’s cooking skills and he thought all he needed to know could be learned at Yukihira. In this volume we see him acknowledging the benefits of being a student at the Totsuki Institute. While maintaining his goofy personality, he has become increasingly charismatic as his skills expand. Unlike many of his peers, he actively builds upon previous experiences to refine his skills. Cooking with bear meat is his biggest challenge thus far, but Soma has been in this situation so many times. He has succeeded in every life or death situation in the series. He has no other option, yet we can still feel alarmed by the risk Soma faces against Akira. We want him to succeed.
Akira Hayama defeated Soma in the Fall Classic. He is on a winning streak, getting whatever he wants while he’s at it. He’s a talented chef who has undoubtedly benefited from the Totsuki Institute. One could say he’s received more from Totsuki than Soma, but that’s all they have in common. Akira has benefited in ways that have improved his quality of life. He has a roof over his head and a place to study spices. Soma’s benefits are less tangible. Akira differs because he hasn’t developed as much as some of his peers – he doesn’t branch out to try other cooking methods or cuisines. He isn’t curious. We see that when he cooks a similar dish to Soma’s.
Terunori Kuga is the former eighth seat. He was removed for opposing the Azami administration, making him a new ally for Soma. What is interesting about Food Wars is that each volume introduces a character as competition and then brings them back to help Soma through a situation. As the captain of the Chinese-Cooking Research Society, Senpai Kuga is the perfect person to assist someone cooking against Akira. He also understands Soma well and knows how to teach him without giving away too much information. This makes for the perfect partnership since Soma only needs a hint before finding his way to a solution.
As always, Soma succeeds when failure means expulsion. This volume emphasized Soma’s endless curiosity and his fearless ability to tackle challenges head-on. In the past, he approached challenges with a carefree spirit. In volume 22, it is obvious the Azami administration has stomped that carefree attitude into the ground. The message sent to Soma and his Polaris dorm-mates was very clear – Central will stop at nothing to make sure any resistance is stomped out. To stay ahead of the purge anyone on Central’s radar must take the Hokkaido challenges seriously. Soma has proven once again that he harness his talents to create a dish that is irresistible regardless of who the challenger is. If we have learned anything in this volume, it’s that Soma isn’t challenging other students. He’s challenging himself. Each Shokugeki, each exam, and every experiment has been a fight against himself to prove that he is expanding as a chef. Soma no longer cares about only getting the first seat or surpassing his father as a chef. He has become passionate about competing with his number one enemy – the person who looks back at Soma in the mirror.
I loved not only the story in Volume 22 – the art gracefully accompanied the text and really brought together the scenes between Soma and Hayama. Not only did we get to watch them prepare the meals, but we also saw the battle for the dishes transform into metaphorical boxing match with Soma and Hayama punching each other depending on the judges’s reactions. This was enjoyable to see unfold since we’re usually subjected to pages of disrobing and strange sexual poses. The fight scenes mellowed out the sexiness of eating food in a very welcome way.
I’m looking forward to the next challenge awaiting Soma and his friends.
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**This item was provided for review.