Wednesday, April 20, 2011

OISHINBO



There's a whole genre of Japanese manga devoted to food and all things related - garume manga, or "gourmet" manga - and Oishinbo seems to be at the centre of it. Written by Tetsu Kariya and drawn by Akira Hanasaki on a somewhat continuous basis since 1983, the series has sold over 100 million copies worldwide, making it one of the most successful manga titles around.

Oishinbo (combining 'oishii,' which means 'delicious,' and 'kuishinbo,' which refers to someone who likes to eat) follows the adventures of Yamaoka Shiro and his colleague (later his wife) Kurita Yuko, as they work on an "Ultimate Menu" project for Tozai News, the newspaper they work for. The two explore the gamut of all things culinary as they attempt to put together a model meal representative of Japanese cuisine at its best. The only catch? Rival newspaper Teito Times has their own similar project, the "Supreme Menu," for which they've hired prominent old-school foodhead Kaibara Yuzan. Much of Oishinbo documents the battles between Yamaoka and Kaibara as they try to one-up each other with the best way possible to prepare a specific ingredient, a heated affair that's only made that much more intense by the fact that Kaibara is Yamaoka's estranged father.


When he's not busy living out his Luke Skywalker issues, Yamaoka generally gets challenged to work with one specific ingredient per storyline. It keeps with the now-standard "respect the ingredient" MO that most people have become familiar with - there is no shortage of stories where simplicity and purity trumps needless inventiveness - but it also introduces Western readers to Japanese ingredients, foods and techniques that aren't widely known, all while slipping in a few morals and critiques of modern Japanese society (one story sees a famous gourmet lose his sense of taste due to the rise of large scale farming...and a good five panels about celery to explain it). The stories aren't overly complicated, and the drawing varies across the spectrum (pictures of food get detail, pictures of people don't), but there's a charisma to Oishinbo that can't be denied.

Since 2009, Viz Media has been publishing English translations of Oishinbo. Since the original print has spanned over 100 volumes (and begat movies, tv shows and video games), the English translations are grouped by theme: one volume covers all the fish, sushi and sashimi stories, another covers vegetables, and so on. There are seven volumes thus far (the most recent is on izakaya fare), and each is worth picking up.

Joe.
the clutterer Web Developer

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