Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Oishinbo A la Carte - Japanese Cuisine (vol. 1) by Tetsu Kariya and Akira Hanasaki review

Oishinbo A la Carte – Japanese Cuisine (vol. 1)

Author/Artist: Tetsu Kariya/Akira Hanasaki

Publisher: VIZ Signature

Rating: T – 13 and above

Genre: Seinen, Drama, Comedy, Slice of Life

Grade: B+

*** Review originally appeared at The Journal of the Lincoln Heights Literary Society at http://liheliso.org/. Check it out! ***

Food… its something that we all need. Not only do we need it to sustain life but it also is very important to society. We all have dishes that are essential to our culture and one mention of these meals people immediately know where that food comes from. Scotland has Haggis, Russia and borscht goes hand in hand. When you think of Italy pasta comes to mind and where would America be without its apple pie. Even though food is essential you wouldn’t imagine making an entertaining manga out of it. Well it has been done, and done very well.

Oishinbo A la Carte focuses on the Teito Times and their project called the Ultimate Menu. Shiro Yamaoka and Yuko Kurita are the two employees in charge. It turns out that Yamaoka is the son of renowned gourmet and famous artist Yuzan Kaibara. Yamaoka and Kaibara have been estranged for many years and the two don’t get along. They have very different views on how gourmet food should be approached. Yuzan feels that only those with culture and discriminating taste should be recognized as gourmets. Yamaoka feels differently. He feels that everyone should be able to enjoy good food and that gourmet meals can be found everywhere, not just in super fancy and expensive restaurants.

Oishinbo A la Carte is presented in a new and interesting way than most manga series. Usually they start a series with the first volume and follow the stories in the order that they were published. In the case of Oishinbo A la Carte it is handled like the title implies, a la carte. The volumes focus on a food type and each story focuses on that particular menu item. They introduce the series with a very apropos food choice, Japanese Cuisine. Each chapter focuses on a menu item. Not only do you have the food but the interpersonal relationships between the characters that make the manga interesting. You find yourself drooling over the manga while reading the descriptions of the dishes. Not only do you get an interesting look into Japanese culture through the dishes that have been passed down through the generations but the folks at VIZ have provided recipes for a dish or two that were featured in the volume (they may have been included in Japanese volumes but I have no knowledge of that).

Some of the artwork in Oishinbo A la Carte does have a somewhat dated look to it and some of the stories take place several years in the past. Oishinbo is a series that was started in 1983 and is still ongoing. According to mangaupdates.com there are currently 102 volumes out and it’s still plugging along. This is one of the first VIZ Signature titles that I’ve checked out and I have to say that I’m impressed with quality of this release. The books are a little bit bigger than a usual VIZ release (they’re about the same size as a DMP volume). They don’t have dust jackets but have attached flaps that give it a higher scale look. The paper is also a heavier stock and has an heirloom quality to it. The recipe pages are presented in color to make the food look that much better and drool worthy. Because of these features the books are little more expensive but because of the high quality and overall great job in production it is worth the higher price.

For a manga about food I have found myself truly enchanted and I’ve found myself hooked by this series. What better way to learn about a fascinating culture like the Japanese than through their culinary feats!

***Review Copy provided by VIZ Media***
***Reposted with permission from The Journal of the Lincoln Heights Literary Society***

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