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July 18, 2010

2010 Eisner Nominees: Oishinbo

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Written by: Kristin
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Welcome, ComicAttack readers, to our look at the 2010 Eisner nominated titles. Between April and July, when the winners are announced at Comic-Con International, we’ll be highlighting some of the titles so that you can get to know them, and know why they were nominated for one of the top awards in the comic book industry. Today we’ll be looking at Oishinbo a la Carte, from Viz Media, which was nominated for Best U.S. Edition of International Material – Asia.

Manga reviewer and TOKYOPOP editor Daniella Orihuela-Gruber, of All About Manga, kindly consented to do a guest review of Oishinbo for us.  She presents a very convincing case for this manga about cuisine, so take a look!  Oishinbo is written by Tetsu Kariya and illustrated by Akira Hanasaki.  Seven volumes are currently available from Viz Media in America, though they are only select collections of the full manga that runs in Japan.  They are $12.99 each.

I’ll leave the rest up to Daniella:

If there is one thing that brings everyone on this planet together, it’s that we all eat food to survive. And while eating may have started out as a means to keep alive, we’ve turned that survival technique into one of humanity’s greatest pleasures: cuisine.

There are plenty of people who enjoy fine dining or really just awesome food, and so Oishinbo (The Gourmet) is a manga that can easily be read by anyone. Each chapter or story arc addresses a specific food that ties back to the theme in each of the seven volumes Viz has published. Instead of it being some boring, educational story about food, however, there is always a bit of drama mixed in. Newspaper reporter Yamaoka, the creative mind behind the Tozai News’ Ultimate Menu, is locked in a never-ending war against his father Kaibara Yuzan, a famous gourmet, artist, and the man behind the competing Supreme Menu at the Teito Times. These battles, or any skirmishes that happen outside the official battles, are not the only source of drama, as many chapters focus on food challenges involving side characters or complicated love triangles between co-workers coupled with some food-related scenario.

The ease of reading Oishinbo is only hampered slightly by Viz’s presentation of it. In Japan, the manga has been running for decades and is now over a hundred volumes. Since publishing such a long series would be a huge risk over here in the U.S., Viz decided to take choice chapters or arcs that exemplified the best of the manga and still contained some hints at the longer story arcs. While this works well for Viz on the food side of things, the people drama makes for a slightly confusing read. In some chapters, Yamaoka is married to his co-worker Kurita, but in others they’re not even dating yet and there are hints of a rivalry between Kurita and another female colleague. It’s usually not hard to pick up without reading the character summary pages at the beginning, but if you’ve not been reading manga for a long time, it might throw you for a loop. (And who reads the character summary pages? Practically no one!) Luckily for Viz, their chapter choices are otherwise good and devoid of references to past stories that aren’t in the English editions. Since there’s no first volume to speak of with Oishinbo: A La Carte, you can pick up any volume and get used to the people drama as you read.

But let’s forget the slightly confusing continuity for awhile and focus on the food. The way Oishinbo presents the food is great. There’s always a little back story (or a larger dramatic point) to allow for the setup. This allows for Yamaoka or whomever is doing battle to concentrate on the quality of ingredients, show the readers the techniques used to cook, and illustrate other important factors in making certain dishes and leave everyone’s mouths watering by the time the food hits the table. It even works if you don’t like the particular food being presented. I, for one, can’t stand fish, but some of the presentations of fish in the volume about traditional Japanese cuisine (or kaiseki-ryori) just made me want to try these dishes for the savory textures or to taste the same thing that the characters eat, whether fish was my thing or not. I think this is made possible by allowing the characters and the eaters within the manga to get all excited about the food they’re eating instead of just passing judgment silently or giving a boring, objective analysis. Who would want to read that? The joy of being a foodie is having passion for eating food and experimentation, and Oishinbo shows this passion on a regular basis.

On the flip side, they don’t ignore the fact that people might not like a certain kind of food, and a few chapters are included about children and adults who dislike a certain food. Since Oishinbo is all about loving to eat, the cast teaches the dissenter how to love their least favorite food through simple, albeit delicious, dishes. As a notoriously picky eater trying to slowly reform myself, I would have to say this method is pretty effective. I would try foods I don’t like if someone whose tastes I trusted carefully prepared dishes that would do their best to make me love fish or mushrooms, etc. It sounds, at least, much more effective than every other method of trying foods that I’ve had forced on me.

Since there are seven volumes of Oishinbo, but no set order in which to read them, I am going to suggest most readers start with The Joy of Rice. The volume starts out on a good foot, introducing Kyogoku, a significant secondary character, and giving us a background on Yamaoka and Kurita before their relationship starts. The first chapter in The Joy of Rice also introduces us to Yamaoka’s rivalry with his father in absentia, but we get to see a battle between the two at the end of the book. In between are less dramatic stories than the Yamaoka vs. Kaibara battles involving coworkers, new acquaintances, or friends, which I personally enjoy a lot more than the big rivalry ones.

I also greatly enjoyed the Vegetables, Ramen and Gyoza, and Japanese Cuisine volumes to the point where I was having trouble recommending a good place to start. Even though I don’t have the remaining three volumes, Izakaya–Pub Food, Sake, and Fish, Sushi and Sashimi, I wouldn’t hesitate to buy them if I came across them with a spare $12 + tax handy. If my recommendation and an Eisner nomination (soon to be win?) isn’t enough, even famous chefs and major foodie magazines are talking about Oishinbo. With crossover appeal like that, what are you waiting for? Go pick up a volume and let Viz know that we want more awesome volumes of Oishinbo: A La Carte, but for the love of all that is delicious, DON’T READ IT RIGHT BEFORE YOU EAT.*

*I totally just made that mistake.

Thanks, Daniella, for taking the time to share your thoughts on the series with us!  The winners of the 2010 Eisner Awards will be announced at San Diego Comic-Con, the weekend of July 22-25.
You can contact Daniella through her website, All About Manga.




  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by D. Orihuela-Gruber, Kristin Bomba. Kristin Bomba said: 2010 Eisner highlight @comicattack Oishinbo a la Carte https://comicattack.net/2010/07/2010eisneroishinbo/ #manga (thanks to @allaboutmanga!) […]

  2. […] on Friday night. Today, my review of Oishinbo: A La Carte went up. You can read the full post here, but I’ve included two paragraphs for your enjoyment with Kristin’s permission. […]

  3. sounds very good and very original. Might give one of the volumes a quick look see.

  4. Thanks for pitching in Daniella!

  5. […] for Treatment) Clive Owen on vol. 1 of Ninja Girls (Animanga Nation) Daniella Orihuela-Gruber on Oishinbo (Comic Attack) Connie on vol. 50 of One Piece (Slightly Biased Manga) Kate Dacey on vol. 1 of Peepo […]

  6. […] for Treatment) Clive Owen on vol. 1 of Ninja Girls (Animanga Nation) Daniella Orihuela-Gruber on Oishinbo (Comic Attack) Connie on vol. 50 of One Piece (Slightly Biased Manga) Kate Dacey on vol. 1 of Peepo […]

  7. […] for us once before, during our Eisner 2010 highlights, when she wrote about the cooking manga Oishinbo. Please welcome her back for another piece, as she gives a unique perspective on this new […]

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