Thursday, August 6, 2009

Oishinbo: A la Carte – Fish, Sushi & Sashimi Impression

I don’t like fish, I don’t eat fish. I’ve never tried sushi let alone sashimi. Add this up and my reading Oishinbo: A la Carte – Fish, Sushi & Sashimi from Viz was purely for the manga aspect but it did not end that way. This greatest hits collection of Tetsu Kariya story and Akira Hanasaki illustration truly is a must have for manga fans to not only understand one of manga’s legends but to see how a story can change perspective, in this case for a food that this reader is proud to say he’s tried.

Shoro Yamaoka is a journalist tasked with creating The Ultimate Menu to celebrate the 100th Anniversary of the Tozai News. He’s young, brash but has an excellent pallet and culinary understanding. His father, Kaibara Yuzan, is also his biggest critic and competition creating a similar menu for a rival paper. His criticism of his son is both harsh and at times fair and just part of the somewhat lazy Yamaoka’s challenges as he travels and samples those rare and ordinary Japanese cuisine to create the ultimate menu. These stories are just a part of his journey and show the challenges faced when tasked with creating The Ultimate Menu.

Oishinbo is a manga that goes back to 1983 and its character art looks to have more in common with a Lupin than Evangelion. It’s not a bad look by any stretch but shows just how far art has come in much the same way American comics have evolved in their realism and detail. While the characters are pretty plain they do get the job done of showing emotion and surprise, love and hate. The food is another story. The fish in this volume really show detail, almost like they were scanned in black and white to show their realism. Kariya seems to have a scientific eye for the fish, not so much the humans. This is beside the point because a legendary manga does not live just by its art, it’s about the story. The points above are vague because this is a greatest hits collection all targeted at fish, sushi and sashimi. There are story points, marriage for example, skipped over in great detail because the focus is on gathering the best fish stories. Think of this like a greatest hits CD. The bands music can change drastically over a 10 year period but in a collection it’s all mashed together with no evolution, just a jump from one type of music to the next. What the A la Carte collection does is focus on that one food type and really drives how the detail and descriptions of the story. The utter joy the character gathers from eating and talking about fish both educates and wets the appetite of the reader. As I stated I tried three … four types of seafood after reading this collection and I am not a fish, seafood eater. A true feat that a manga, an older one at that, can describe and talk about a food I don’t like and peak my interest enough to try, and like, that food.

Overall anyone who considers themselves a manga aficionado needs to get this collection and the others to follow. Fans of food manga should also check it out. The larger format, slipcase and glossy, colored, sashimi preparation pages are all elegant touches. There is an index explaining pieces of the story but it’s the story that will sell this collection. Never have I read a story that has peaked such an interest in a subject I just did not follow. All I can say to Oishinbo is ‘wow’ and I’ve been reading manga for a long time.

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