There were only a few anime series that I was able to watch this Summer season. That one of them was Food Wars! The Second Plate (Shokugeki no Souma 2nd Season) should be of little surprise, since, the first season ranked at #7 in my top 15 anime for 2015 post. That the second season is the favorite to win the title as most disappointing anime of 2016 shouldn’t be a surprise, at least, to anyone who watched both series.
In hindsight, I should have seen this coming.
I generally don’t like sports anime and for a long time I couldn’t figure why. It eventually dawned on me, after finding a few sports series like Cross Game and Bamboo Blade which I really enjoyed, the most likely cause.
Real life sports do not follow neat story narratives; there’s too much chaos coming from the near infinite list of factors that influence how a single game, season, or championship tournament gets played out for this to happen. The stories are made up later to fit the events that occurred and are treated as if that was the always destined outcome, no matter how unlikely the story would have sounded beforehand. Running completely opposite to this is how in sports anime it is almost always possible to guess the eventual outcome of any contest or tournament because these sports anime tend to follow a neat, coherent story narrative that is obvious to everyone. This artificial-ness destroys the immersion of the viewer and reminds us that everything we see is subject to a single person’s whims, which breaks an important and fundamental aspect of playing or watching a sports game or tournament.
There are ways around this problem. One answer is to set up the sports aspect such that it’s not vitally important to the story. Anime series like Cross Game, Bamboo Blade, and Ping Pong go this route and succeed. Another answer would be to let chaos pick how the game/tournament will turn out. The writer could assign probabilities to the different outcomes then roll a couple d10’s to see where to take the story. I’m not aware of an instance where this was used in anime but vaguely remember reading about an author doing this with a dart and shaded regions on a dartboard. Another answer would be to purposely cut against expectations and see where that takes the story. For example, have the scrappy underdog volleyball team win it all at the very beginning of the show and then follow the team to see how this success affects them. I’m sure this has been done in anime, but, can’t think of an example. No Game No Life appears to be doing something similar but having the main characters win every contest with no chance of defeat is really a fourth way to overcome the sports anime problem. And I’m sure there are plenty of other answers.
This problem with tournaments and such is not just an issue that sports anime have to contend with. Any type of show that features a tournament can fall victim. The second season of Food Wars! started where the first season left off: we were down to the final eight for the fall season cooking tournament. Up unto this point the tournament had been very suspenseful and enjoyable because it did not feel like the story had to dictate who won or lost – there were eight slots to fill – so, there could be and were surprise upsets and such. Or to say it another way, it felt more like a real competition. However, that was not the case once it was down to the final eight. It quickly became apparent the end result was set in stone as each match was so lopsidedly decided among students who only scored a few points difference in the initial round; it was like the author/animators did not want a single person to object to where they wanted the story to get dragged to.
Needless to say, the enthusiasm that carried over from the first season quickly dissipated and, as we sat through episode after episode of the show slogging towards the end, the show committed the greatest sin it could for the type of series it wants to be and had so far succeeded at being – it wasn’t fun anymore. And just like that, the show crumpled to pieces.
Though, it was kind of funny how contrived the show had to get to ensure that Souma couldn’t win the fall cooking tournament.
And the final kicker was that as soon as the tournament ended, we switched right into a great three episode story arc, though exceedingly truncated, to finally remind the viewer of how good the first season and what the second season could have been.
That the conclusion of the cooking tournament would pale so much in comparison to the rest of series was, by no means, something set in stone. At so many places along the way from when the story was just a bunch of ideas bumping around in the original creator’s brain to the moment JC Staff was laying out this second season of the anime there where so many ways this season of anime could have been made better. An easy improvement could have been to show the inner workings of the tournament organizers as they devised how the final eight would play out because, looking back, who faced who was so obviously contrived that I’m surprised no one in the show mentioned it. I’d like to think that the school leaders did this with the student’s interest in mind, but, either way it would have added an interesting element to the second season.
It’s not fair or right to categorize an animation studio in a single broad way, but, it becomes difficult not to do so when an animation studio continues to do something over and over again. In the case of JC Staff, it has been said that they are weak at adapting works into anime form. If the source material is excellent, that excellence will be adapted into anime form; however, if the source material is weak then JC Staff will adapt it as is and not attempt to use the change in medium to improve upon the show. So, I’m not surprised to see that JC Staff did not try to alter how season 2 would play out, but, it’s still disappointing to see.
As to what I would have liked to see. I can not be the only person who wished the Stagiaire arc had been longer. In fact, I bet in the right hands one could have trimmed the end of cooking tournament down to say 3 episodes and devoted the other 10 episodes to include the large number of side characters we’d actually like to see get some screen time this season as they did their best to succeed during their Stagiaire experience. It would have made for a much better season.
I hope we get a third season since I’m still very much interested to see where the show goes from here; I just wish the second series had done a better job convincing people we need a third season.