Manga Review: Oishinbo: Sake: A La Carte

Oishinbo: Sake: A La Carte is a compilation of some of the stories from the Oishinbo manga series that deal with the topic of sake. From what I’ve read, the original Oishinbo manga spanned over 100 volumes. When Viz Media decided to publish this manga property, they decided to release compilations of the stories in books that feature one particular topic instead of publishing the whole manga series. The Oishinbo series was written by Akira Hanasaki, and was illustrated by Ryoichi Ikegami. The translation of the manga was done by Tetsuichiro Miyaki. This volume was published by Viz Media in 2009. Oishinbo is rated “T” for Teen, and is recommended for ages 13 and up.

Oishinbo: Sake: A La Carte
Written by: Akira Hanasaki
Publisher: Shogakukan
English Publisher: VIZ Media
Release Date: March 10, 2009

In Oishinbo, the focus is on a publication called the Tozai News, which has commissioned two of its employees to come up with the “Ultimate Menu”; the premise behind this is that the “Ultimate Menu” is supposed to represent the pinnacle of Japanese cuisine. The two employees commissioned for this task are Shiro Yamaoka and Yuko Kurita. Shiro, while he is knowledgeable about food, has a reputation for being one of the laziest employees at the paper. Yuko is Shiro’s partner; while she also has knowledge about food, she learns a lot from Shiro as they work together.

Oishinbo: Sake: A La Carte features six stories; while there are twelve chapters listed in this volume, six of them belong to one story arc. The stories featured in this volume are “The Versatility of Sake,” “Kusu,” “Love of the New,” “A Champagne Tragedy,” “The Power of Sake” (which takes up six of the chapters) and “A New Start.” Unfortunately, since this volume is simply a compilation of several different stories from throughout the manga series that take place over a large time period, it can make this volume hard to follow if you don’t already have familiarity with the original Oishinbo manga. It’s a little depressing that you have to read the notes at the end of the book to truly understand who some of the characters are and their relationship to each other in the series. Even though you need to look at these notes, there’s no notation anywhere in the actual manga pages to reference you to these notes. In other words, you basically have to discover for yourself that those notes are there.

This manga spends a lot of time explaining how sake is made, how to pair it with food, as well as the history of sake. Since this volume compiles stories from across all of the volumes of the original manga, some of the information presented in one of the stories ends up repeating in a later story. Also, due to the nature of this release, I felt like I was being “hit over the head” about sake and its qualities by the time I finished reading it. And since this is a compilation of various stories, there really isn’t an overall story to follow. To me, this manga feels more like a food column from a newspaper being presented in a manga format. It’s definitely a manga series that’s going to have a much stronger appeal to someone who is a “foodie” than to the average manga reader.

When it comes to the art, I have to give credit to Ryoichi Ikegami for his designs and drawings. This manga is very easy to follow visually, and the art is also easy on the eyes. However, I do have to admit that I think that the character design for Shiro feels a little dated. While I can understand designing Shiro’s hair to look a lot like James Dean’s pompadour to emphasize that he’s young and a bit of a rebel, this hairstyle does feel a bit dated.

If you enjoy Japanese cuisine and consider yourself a “foodie,” then Oishinbo: Sake: A La Carte may be right up your alley.

I wrote this review after checking out a copy of Oishinbo: Sake: A La Carte from the King County Library System.

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