Oishinbo: Ramen & Gyoza
Tetsu Kariya & Akira Hanasaki
Oishinbo is a long-running cooking manga with over one hundred volumes under its belt. Viz is publishing the book in English in an "a la carte" series, featuring "best of" chapters of the book that relate to each other in each volume. The volume I picked up centers around Ramen and Gyoza, and follows a young culinary journalist (the big-mouthed, lazy genius Yamaoka Shiro) and his friends at the paper he works for, Tozai News. He's trying to come up with an "ultimate menu" of various foods, at the same time as a competing newspaper (Teito Times) is, and along the way he partakes in various cooking adventures, constantly running into veteran competing culinary journalist (his own father, Kaibara Yuzan) who does his best to show him up. Yamaoka welcomes a challenge though, and through some creative ideas and a truly gifted knack for the culinary arts, slowly impresses his competition (even if his father doesn't show it outright). I was kind of expecting this manga to have the layout of a cooking show on The Food Network, just kind of showing how some dishes are made amid idle chit-chat, but it turns out that we really are following these characters' lives, meeting their families, seeing relationships bloom, their interactions at the office, etc. It's very informative about the ingredients that make up the dishes and how they are executed for a well-rounded and delicious final product, often illustrating several different options for certain foods. It's ultimately very satisfying to see the competition between the two rival culinary journalists, and the characters are just fun to hang out with. I didn't get as much specific information about each dish as I thought I would going in, but Kariya kind of glosses over the important basic info so readers get a general idea about each dish and what makes it special and (when done right) scrumptious. There is one full-color recipe at the beginning of the manga too, for a nice added bonus. Overall, this is a fun way to read about food and get a little culture. I commend Viz for releasing this the way they did. I think the "a la carte" route is really the smart way to put these out in the states, especially as there's enough material to choose from to link subjects together. And with how many volumes are out there, it would have been an extremely unrealistic venture to publish them as they were originally released. This works as a nice sampling, and I just might try a bowl of Ramen to see what the hub-bub is all about.