TITLE: OISHINBO A la Carte vol. 1: Japanese Cuisine
YEAR: January 2009 (USA release)
COMPANY: Viz Media
Story by Tetsu Kariya
Art by Akira Hanasaki
The long running manga “Oishinbo” (which means “The Gourmet”) is a popular best-selling manga series published by Shogakukan which has been ongoing since 1983.
Written by Tetsu Kariya and art by Akira Hanasaki, the series has won multiple awards and has had a successful anime TV series run from 1988 through 1992. And now the series is being released in the United States from Viz Media through their Viz Signature.
The series revolves around the employees of the newspaper Tozai News with its employees commissioned to create the “Ultimate Menu”, a model meal that embodies the pinnacle of Japanese cuisine. Both Shiro Yamaoka and Yuko Kurita are in charge of the project and throughout each chapter, the series is broken down to several types of dishes or food related items and how each dish is created.
The characters featured in “OISHINBO” are:
Shiro Yamaoka – A journalist for Tozai News who knows his food and how things are created but he is estranged from his father, a prominent artist and founder and director of the Gourmet Club. He despises his father because of the death of his mother. Yamaoka was trained from a young age by his father, Kaibara.
Kaibara Yuzan – The father of Shiro Yamaoka is a prominent artist and founder and director of the Gourmet Club. Because of his prominent stature, all restaurants fear him and thus feel the need to create perfect food for him. Estranged from his son Shiro and despises him for destroying all of his paintings and pottery worth tens or hundreds of million yen. A man widely revered for his sense of taste and feared for his ferocious temper. He heads the “Supreme Menu” project for Teito Times, rival paper to the Tozai News that his son works for.
Yuko Kurita – Knowledgeable about food and partner of Shiro. She learns a lot from him.
Daizo Ohara – Publisher of Tozai News
Hideo Tanimura – Director of Tozai News Art & Culture Department
Tomio Tomii – Deputy Director working under Tanimura
Tojin Toyama – A legendary ceramicist and gourmet
Mantaro Kyogoku – A wealthy businessman and gourmet
Seiiichi Okaboshi – Chef/owner of a sushi shop and Shiro’s local hangout
Tokuo Nakugawa – The head chef for Gourmet Club
“OISHINBO” is broken up in chapters revolving around the making of food, beverages and utensils. Through each chapter, you get a bit of drama with Shiro and Kaibara going at each other’s heads. Especially as Kaibara admonishes his son and to make him look like he knows nothing and Shiro trying to show his father that he knows his food and beverage.
- FIRST COURSE – THE SECRET OF DASHI – Tozai News publisher Daizo Ohara tries to talk with Kaibara Yuzan about working for Tozai but we learn why Kaibara doesn’t want to work with his son Shiro. While at a restaurant selected by Ohara, Kaibara is angered by the food that he is getting. But the restaurant’s main cook is unable to work due to injury, so unbeknownst to Kaibara and even Shiro, Shiro assists in the cooking. But how wil Kaibara react when he finds out that his son cooked the delicious dish.
- SECOND COURSE – BASIC KNIFE SKILLS – American Jeff Larson is an Itamae trainee. When he accompanies the Tozai News for sashimi at the West Coast restaurant to possibly learn the art of knife cutting, Jeff is alarmed that the restaurant prizes appearance over taste. The restaurant is angered and thus challenges Jeff to who can make the best sashimi. Thus, Shiro has Jeff learn the art of knife cutting in a one week session from Taifuji owner, Seibei Ofuji and get him prepared for a major food competition of who could serve great food appearance and taste wise.
- THIRD COURSE – THE RIGHT TO BE A CHEF – Seiichi Okaboshi, chef/owner of Shiro’s favorite hangout has a brother who has received an opportunity to cook at the Gourmet Club but he was fired by Kaibara for a reason no one knows and told he has no right to be a chef. So, Shiro asks Okaboshi’s brother to cook for him and he can give him the reason why he was fired.
- FOURTH COURSE – THE PINNACLE OF TECHNIQUE – Toyama Tojin invites both the Tozai News food staff and Kaibara to dinner. Kaibara admonishes his son in regards to seabreem and thus Toyama comes up with a friendly competition of who can cook the best seabreem.
- FIFTH COURSE – THE SOUL OF HOSPITALITY – Toyama introduces everyone to his young fiance and says he will be getting married and during the wedding ceremony, Kaibara and Shiro get into it when Shiro calls making rice and miso soup a simple task. This creates some hostitlity from Kaibara and thus Toyama decides to have a cook off between Kaibara’s side and Shiro on creating the best rice and miso soup.
- SIXTH COURSE – THE ULTIMATE ETIQUETTE – Tokiyama, a foreign news editor returns to Japan and talks about how his daughter thinks chopsticks are not civilized. Meanwhile, a French journalist from Le Temps, Helene LeGrand wants to know how chopsticks are made and thus Shiro and everyone go on a lesson of chopsticks but during a meal from a revered chef, his father Kaibara happens to be there and admonishes Shiro on the use of chopsticks during a meal.
- SEVENTH COURSE – THE TEA MASTER AND THE STRAWBERRY – The group are taken to a tea master to learn about tea ceremonies but Shiro is upset by how the tea master presents himself to everyone and thus takes a few of the news staff to a strawberry farm to understand why he was upset about the tea masters presentation.
- EIGHT COURSE – A REAL FEAST – The group go to Kamakura to meet with Miyasato, a well-known artist who loves to cook and is interested in painting the cover for “Ultimate Menu” but their rival newspaper also wants to have Miyasato paint their front cover. As Miyasato creates food for the two rival staff, he wants to know how they feel about the food, good and bad. And depending on their answers, he will choose which newspaper to do a painting for.
- NINTH COURSE – THE PRINCIPLES OF JAPANESE CUISINE – Katayama Shuichi is a critic who feels that Japanese cooking is not true cuisine and that sashimi is just strips of fish put on a plate. But Yuko disagrees and thus they take him to Seiichi’s restaurant to prove that Japanese cuisine is an artform in itself and should be considered cuisine.
- TENTH COURSE – A HOT CUP OF TEA – American senator Ian Nakazato is coming to visit Tozai News and he asks Shiro and Yuko to make sure they have an appropriate meal to welcome him. But their rivals at Teito Times are also wanting to serve a meal to Nakazato and thus another rival battle on who can have the best food for Senator Nakazato. But for Nakazato, growing up in Japan, he misses the countryside and the years when all the people he knew were not as wealthy as they were as now. So, when everyone is serving expensive dishes, he yearns for something simple. And it’s up to Shiro and Yuko to find out what the Senator may be wanting.
As a person who loves Japanese cooking and admiring what goes on behind the scenes in preparing the food, it was great to learn that a manga such as “OISHINBO” would be coming to the US translated and available for the first time. There is also a section that goes into the making of the “Seabream Pine-Skin Style” and “Seabream Kamishio Style” with actual color pictures on preparation of the dish. Also, included in author commentary by Tetsu Kariya titled “Oishinbo Day-by-Day” and living in Australia and observing “washoku”, cuisine that brings people together in harmony.
There have been so many classic and best-selling manga from Japan that I have wished that America would take their chances on. But when Viz announced the release of “OISHINBO”, I was surprised because the manga tends to skew to those who have a passion towards food, beverages and learning about Japanese culture especially in its relation to food.
But with many Japanese chefs releasing cookbooks in America, the popularity of Japanese cooking dramas and even “Iron Chef”, it has created an interest of people who are just as passionate about Japanese cooking and this is what this manga series is about. The love of Japanese food, the preparation behind it but also the people who serve the food and just looking at things at a different perspective.
Although, “OISHINBO” is not of a certain art style that many other contemporary manga are today, the strength of “OISHINBO” is in its well-written storyline and how artwork is utilized to make the story seem real.
If anything, I found “OISHINBO A la Carte” to be quite enjoyable and afterwards, the manga left me craving for more. I simply felt this was a magnificent manga and I hope Viz continues to bring classic manga titles to the US.
In March 2009, the next volume of “OISHINBO” will be released and focusing on the world of sake, shochu, wine and champagne. I definitely look forward to it!