Tuesday 24 November 2009

For The Sake of Sake

It's an accepted fact that comic books and strips can be about anything. Food and drinks going hand-in-hand throughout the world is also an accepted fact.

Therefore, it should not be a surprise that there's a comic series centered on eating and drinking.

Oishinbo, written by Tetsu Kariya and illustrated by Akira Hanasaki, is such a comic series.

Printed almost uninterrupted in Japan as a regular feature within Big Comic Spirits since 1983, Oishinbo has had a duel function of entertaining readers while educating and informing them about food preparation.

The series' success managed to ring up sales of over 100 million copies for its numerous reprint book collections. It also spawned an animated television series and TV movies in the 1980s and 1990s.

As with most foreign comic series printed in a language other than English, Oishinbo was only available in North America as an import until earlier this year when Viz began reprinting various stories from the series.

Instead of reprinting the whole thing in a linear chronological fashion, Viz decided to group stories together based on the types of food discussed within them. As a result, many segments of the series revolving around sake have been collected in Oishinbo A La Carte: Sake.

Before continuing with an uplifting subject like sake, let's look at the main premise and characters that hold the whole series together.

Fundamental elements of the series:

The Tõzai News, one of Japan's leading newspapers, has decided to launch a regular feature celebrating national cuisine titled Ultimate Menu.

To make Ultimate Menu a reality, the newspaper hires a young journalist named Yamaoka Shirõ. Unlike many of his contemporaries, Yamaoka's father, Kaibara Yuzan, is a big shot food snob who operates a member's only restaurant named The Gourmet Club.

Having such a father has obviously helped Yamaoka with knowledge, but the two men do not get along. To make matters worse, Kaibara has been hired by Tõzai's rival Teito Times to write a series of articles under the name Supreme Menu, as direct competition against Ultimate Menu!

Sake's Plots:

Oishinbo A La Carte: Sake has six stories: The Versatility of Sake, Kusu, Love of The New, A Champagne Tragedy, A New Start and the six-part The Power of Sake. Not only do all of them have something to do with sake but they also educate the readers in traditional preparation and manufacturing practices involved in the beverage's creation. To increase realism, real brands of alcohol are used within the panels.

Although the stories are generally good, A New Start is most certainly the winner among those presented in the book. It's about an alcoholic painter who depends on his wife for financial support. Unfortunately, he has a tendency to embarrass her at work.

The Bottom Line:

As the series' second entry for Viz, Oishinbo A La Carte: Sake is as good, if not better than the first one, Japanese Cuisine.

Each volume follows a similar overall design, which features a large amount of bonus material. That content consists of notes on the text, a commentary by Tetsu Kariya, and, most importantly, a few recipes of dishes consumed by characters in the book. Those recipes in Sake are Sanshõ Kombu and Beef Short Ribs in Miso. Colour photographs accompany the recipes.

It's a perfect book for comic fans who also have an interest in food and, more importantly, Japanese culture.

Oishinbo A La Carte: Sake: 8/10

Publisher: Viz Media, LLC

Bernard C. Cormier is, among other things, a freelance writer and broadcaster. www.myspace.com/bernardccormier. www.twitter.com/bernardccormier. E-mail: Bernardccormier-gncb@hotmail.com © Bernard C. Cormier 2009