(Anime News Network)
(Anime News Network)
Okay, so maybe Oishinbo
isn’t the most GAR cooking manga out there. That’d probably be Iron Wok Jan
or something. But it’s at least got some fierce father-son and newspaper-newspaper rivalries without the sugary sweetness of Yumeiro Pâtissière
or the psychedelic breadgasms of Yakitate Japan
. And it’s got staying power if nothing else for a manga that began in 1983 and is still ongoing.
The story centers around Shiro Yamaoka and Yuko Kurita, reporters for the Tozai News who’ve been tasked with creating the “Ultimate Menu.” I don’t really know what that means, and I’m not totally sure they do either given that in the years they’ve apparently been on it they’ve yet to produce page one. Is it a restaurant guide? Recipes? A list of fancy foods? Regardless, having worked in journalism I can tell you this idea would have been farfetched even during Japan’s economic boom in the ’80s and downright laughable today.
Though he’s generally indifferent, Shiro is their resident food expert thanks to his father, Yuzan Kaibura. Kaibura is a famous potter and founder of the Gourmet Club, an exclusive gathering of men of high social status chosen by Kaibura to eat food prepared by gourmet chefs under his hire. Kaibura is infamous for his prestigious palate, often forcing people who don’t cook a meal to his liking to keep redoing it until it’s perfect. Shiro attributes Kaibura’s demanding demeanor to his mother’s death, so in retaliation he destroyed many of Kaibura’s priceless pottery pieces. They’ve never forgiven each other. Kaibura’s constantly scouting for talent to add to his repertoire of Gourmet Club chefs, so he and Shiro’s paths often meet, and they’ll take any opportunity they can to one-up each other in their knowledge of food. Very occasionally, however, Kaibura’s attempts to scold and humiliate Shiro is just tough love in disguise, but most of the time he just wants to make an ass out of him. I can’t say I know what to make of it when a man whose high culinary standards supposedly drove his wife to an early grave says that a meal is nothing if it doesn’t have love in it.
Shiro and Yuko’s other rivals are reporters from the Teito Times who are working on creating the “Supreme Menu.” Shiro couldn’t care less about them, and their own arrogance is the thing that does them in most of the time. The only arc thus far where they’ve served as a serious threat was when both papers were competing to win over a major client, and the Tozai News deputy director, Tomio, risked losing his job by not getting him. I couldn’t help but audibly laugh in one arc where both papers are competing for the attention of an American senator visiting Japan and, disgusted with the decadence the Teito Times presents him with in the form of expensive feasts, comments that he feels the Japanese have lost their way thanks to materialism and greed. Boy, if that isn’t the pot calling the kettle black, I don’t know what is.
(Anime News Network)
Yuko’s role isn’t as developed as Shiro’s, as is the case with many of the other women who work for the Tozai News. Her palate’s been developed thanks to her constant need to keep up with what’s gourmet, but most of the time she serves as the pretty face who tries to keep Shiro out of trouble when Kaibura’s around or when he bluntly criticizes a prideful chef. She’s still not as bad as one of the other female co-workers who accompanied them through most of the sake tasting arc. I know they weren’t swallowing it, but it still kind of disturbed me that no one objected to a pregnant woman taking part in a sake tasting. They even joked about her baby growing up to be a lush. I guess that’s one way to look at fetal alcohol syndrome.
The seventh volume, Izakaya: Pub Food, was released by Viz last month and was also advertised as the last volume despite that the manga is still ongoing. My only guess is that this is just all that Viz licensed since the mangaka took a lengthy hiatus that just happened to last until one month after Viz had already licensed it. Woopsie.
It’s $12.99 a volume, which seems steep, but each volume is HUGE so you’re really getting that value. Each volume has a different theme to it. For example, volume one is Japanese Food (quite the generalization considering the same could be said for every volume) and volume two is Sake. But the annoying part is that Viz didn’t number the volumes. It’s not really going to matter if you don’t start with the first volume since most of the stories are fairly self-contained, but I didn’t learn until later that the volume I began reading thinking it was the first was actually the fourth. It also kind of annoys me that for a manga that preaches so much about the stubbornness Japanese tend to have to try cuisine outside of their own culture there’s very little of anything else. We don’t really get into any other type of cuisine until volume two when Shiro uses champagne to help a coworker get over his fear of French cuisine before being transferred to Tozai’s France office. I have to say I learned quite a bit from it. I knew avocado in sushi was far from authentic, but I didn’t know the reason it’s often done in the west is because it supposedly imitates the taste of fatty tuna. Gave me flashbacks to Ouran High School Host Club .
I also keep wanting to compare Shiro to Angelica Pickles because they both have their mouths perpetually to one side of their face. Nothing else in common, but that’s something that’s always bugged me. Just a weird way to design characters.
So how is it overall? Pretty good actually. A bit repetitive here and there (Shiro and co. go out for some fancy pantsy eats where they either run into Kaibura and/or a chef who thinks he’s hot shit but totally isn’t and Shiro’s gotsta prove them wrong), but it’s enjoyable and you learn quite a bit despite some of the above mentioned hypocrisies.
Overall, an A- The Japan Girl