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The Bitter Taste Left by the Second Season of Food Wars!

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.

[Commie] Ping Pong - 11 [CD248944].mkv_snapshot_10.52_[2014.06.26_03.03.47]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.

horriblesubs-shokugeki-no-soma-s2-01-720p-mkv_snapshot_16-00_2016-07-25_03-11-41Needless 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.

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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.

3 thoughts on “The Bitter Taste Left by the Second Season of Food Wars!”

  1. Thought it was fine honestly. The show was just doing what it normally did, but in the framework of a tournament. I really can’t see the difference. It only sort of made sense that pre-established power levels amongst students would eventually come into play.And asides from perhaps Mimisaka vs Souma (which we were told several times was intentionally set-up that way) the match-ups didn’t really seem any more contrived to me than any other combination one could muster. I do agree that having some unmentioned variable play a role in deciding the victor seemed a bit unfair. It was also pretty sad to see how ruthlessly truncated the Stagiaire was, especially in that final montage where we saw a bunch of ideas that could’ve made for fun episodes being tossed to the wind.

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  2. Yep, totally agree. I still enjoyed it overall, but not nearly as much as season 1. I think the big problem was with the structure and length of the source material in this specific arc. The first season covered 60 manga chapters in 24 episodes, about 2.5 chapters per episode. Unfortunately, it takes another 44 chapters after that to get through all the elimination battles and the final. Adapting at season 1’s 2.5-per episode pace, that would’ve taken about 17 or 18 episodes to get through, so with only a one-cour season they had to severely compress it to fit everything in. They just didn’t do a very good job of that, because what we ended up with was both too rushed and too long. Too rushed because what they chose to eliminate were most of the characterization and character moments that are the biggest strength of the series, in favor of cramming 40+ chapters’ worth of plot and exposition into 10 episodes. And too long because what we were left with was just repetitive battle after repetitive battle, stripped of most of the emotional investment and sense of stakes that we got from season 1’s faceoffs.

    Now when I read those chapters in the manga, I was just as into them as usual, and I still got that feeling of suspense and tension we had in the season 1 episodes and earlier chapters. We also got to see some of the buildup to these battles and people testing and refining recipes too, which helps build anticipation. One of my favorite manga scenes from this arc was Soma and Ryoko brainstorming bento combinations together before the fight with Alice – that was only mentioned in a three-second flashback in the anime, divorced from its original context. Same thing with the wonderful chapter where Soma and Megumi teach a kids’ cooking class together, which was also tossed aside in about three seconds. So to me this wasn’t a problem with the quality of the material. This was a problem with a huge quantity of material colliding with the hard limits of a 13-episode production window, and a creative staff that (either by choice or by production committee dictate) felt obligated to show every single tournament battle from start to finish, instead of cutting or rearranging things to make room for the best scenes from between the battles that would’ve breathed more life into the show.

    Stagiare was without question my favorite portion of the season – it felt like for just a few episodes it finally went back to being the show that I came to watch.

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