[OWLS] Food Wars! When the Mentor becomes the Student

It’s been a long journey with Soma Yukihira through the gauntlet that is Totsuki Academy: three seasons and countless meals served up to our pleasure. Through it all, Soma’s experience growing up in Yukihira’s kitchen gives him the inspiration to improve. His father, Joichiro Saiba, is a constant figure in those memories, a man looked up to by many, while simultaneously viewed as a hurdle on Soma’s path to becoming the best chef. We also see Saiba in Erina’s childhood as one of her rare moments of happiness. When adults in the culinary world, academic as well as professional, speak of Saiba, it’s with a tone of awe and, often, fear. What happens when such a man falters, when the person you look up to most in the world vanishes?

Throughout our lives, we might have encountered someone that we admired as a role model or has guided us in some life dilemma. This mentor could be a teacher at school, a coach, a boss or team leader at work, or a family friend. Whoever it is that person impacted your life in a positive manner. For this month’s OWLS topic, we will be writing about mentors or mentorships in anime and other pop culture media. Some topics we will be exploring include how a mentorship impacted a main character’s life, the types of mentor relationships a person could have, and/or personal stories about mentors or mentorships.
“Mentor” Blog Tour Schedule (July)

When this month’s OWLS prompt was announced, I had to admit to feeling a bit put out. While I loved the idea, I didn’t have many examples in anime off the top of my head. There were plenty fitting the bill for a hero, but a mentor felt like something else entirely. A mentor plays teacher in some shape or form, a guide to the light.

Then the ninth episode of Food Wars! The Third Plate: Totsuki Train Arc aired, “The Pioneer of the Wastelands,” and I knew Joichiro was the one. His legend among his former classmates/now staff, glowing image in Erina’s childhood memories, and one-on-one battles with Soma all pointed to a man beloved by many, but known by few.

When we first met Erina near the start of the first season, she was still wrapped up in her cold shield of professionalism. The one chink came in the memories she held closely of a man who gave her the gift of truly delicious food in what had become a culinary desert. We get to see this hero worship contrasted sharply with her first reaction to Soma, comical all the more for Erina knowing nothing of his relationship to Joichiro.

Fast forward to the most recent third season where we now have a man hell bent on conforming all the best chefs to a single ideal: his memory of Joichiro Saiba. Azami’s crusade comes from a past friendship and respect for a classmate who broke all expectations and commanded even more as time went on. That Azami is also Erina’s father is no coincidence; it wouldn’t be off the mark to say her condition was a direct result of Azami’s need to obtain the ideal for himself upon losing Saiba.

Young Azami of Polar Star looks so much like any one of the dorm’s current residents. The way he looked up to Saiba reminds me of how Tadokoro is with Soma. They followed their classmates, learned from them, and grew stronger. This is an age old relationship that cycles from each generation to the next. Yet in Saiba’s case, everything went horribly wrong. His passion for food and creation was praised, but that praise started to sound less like the present and more like a demand for the future. Instead of guests talking about the dish currently in front of them, they looked to the next meal, the next miraculous concoction by Joichiro Saiba. Their gluttony knew no bounds, and Saiba in turn had no way of knowing how to push back, or that he even should.

The anime paints this entire scenario into a desert scene with Saiba pushing forward nearly unprotected into the storm. It’s a powerful image that at first sparks admiration and courage, much like the start of Saiba’s studies at Totsuki. As the weight of his accomplishments and expectations build up, the adventurer begins to look more like a plane crash survivor. The recommendation to leave the country and live freely was the best thing that could have happened for Saiba at that time. He left, lived, rediscovered his love for cooking, and came back, son in tow, to start again.

This is where Soma steps in as a crucial element of Saiba’s story, as well as for his own. Food Wars! has always been Soma’s tale, no matter how much time we spend with his friends or in the past. It’s only fitting that it be Soma who steps in to the mentor role—even if it’s for his own father. Even though he’s lost every single one of their cooking matches, the lesson was just as much for Saiba as it was for Soma. His father witnesses unbeatable hope first hand. For him, Soma is the ultimate mentor in spirit.

My submission follows on the heels of Dylan of DynamicDylan’s “Misaki and Selflessness,” and will be followed by Gloria of The Nerdy Girl News. Feel free to check them out, along with many other wonderful OWLS writers!

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