Written by: Tetsu Kariya
Art by Hanasaki Akira
Published by: VIZ Media LLC
The manga Oishinbo has been running in Japan since 1983 and has been collected in over 100 volumes. Now, Viz has collected various themes, such as sake or gyoza, into volumes of their own for an English-speaking audience. The basic story depicts the efforts of Shiro Yamaoka, a slacker newspaperman and brilliant food critic, to create the “Ultimate Menu” for his paper, the Tozai News. Shiro’s fellow journalists aid him, but a rival newspaper, the Teito Times, has hired Shiro’s renowned foodie father, also a living treasure potter, to create the “Supreme Menu.”
The manga revolves around learning about the history of foods; readers follow along on tasting trips and research along with the characters. Readers are even treated to a few key recipes now and then, especially if a given recipe is a plot point. There are, however, some background themes that appear now and then, such as the slow rebuilding of our hero’s relationship with his father, estranged since Shiro’s mother’s death. We also get hints of a romance between Shiro and his coworker Yuko.
[ad#longpost]The art isn’t quite as slick as some manga you may be used to, but it’s more than serviceable. The slightly larger format gives the art a bit more space to grab you, allowing for lavish shots of table spreads interspersed with talking heads and so forth. If you’re as interested in Japanese history, food, and culture as your average benighted, English-speaking otaku, you’ll be left breathless for more, savoring each page with as much pleasure as Shiro and crew appreciate ramen, well-washed rice, or a really choice piece of sashimi.
There are currently seven volumes in print, with plans for more. The most recent was Pub Food, released in January 2010.
Anyone interested in manga will appreciate these volumes of Oishinbo for something new and different than your usual sword fighting and inconvenient supernatural villains. Food lovers and history buffs will appreciate the entertaining way in which they can learn something new and interesting. Just don’t try to read one on an empty stomach.