Oishinbo by Tetsu Karina / Akira Hanasaki

Cover art of Oishinbo: Japanese Cuisine

Food! Glorious food!

There are so many manga about food, and Oishinbo: Japanese Cuisine (January 20, 2009; à la Carte volume 20) and Oishinbo: Ramen & Gyoza (May 19, 2009; à la Carte volume 2) are only a couple (–and the only two in this seven volume series that my library had.)

As I read them, I had to wonder: what is the appeal of reading about people appreciating good food?

This is a phenomenon true of things like The British Baking Show and The Iron Chef and a whole slue of cooking competition shows, too, and I’m not sure I entirely understand it. I APPRECIATE it, because I always end up getting deeply sucked into these things, but I’m really not sure what it is about them that makes them at all compelling.

Is it because food is so universal?

We all have to eat.  Most of us, even those of us with unrefined taste, would love to eat delicious food, prepared by experts.

Certainly, for me, reading about Japanese food as a Westerner has the extra layer of getting to learn new things about stuff I’m deeply curious about.  (To be fair, that’s the appeal of any slice-of-life for me.)

Plus, most of these food-centric manga also provide some kind of story in the background.  Even if it’s the kind of gentle concerns of regular life, like you find in What Did You Eat Yesterday?/Kinou Nani Tabeta. Obviously, there are high-drama food-centric manga, too, like Toriko and Food Wars!

Oishinbo is more in the vein of What Did You Eat Yesterday? in that it follows the day-to-day adventures of two food critics/food experts, Shiro Yamaoka and his partner, Yūko Kurita, particularly as they try to gather ideas for a feature article on the “Ultimate Menu.”

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There’s not a lot to spoil in these manga.  They really mostly are about two food critics that work a prominent food guide, going about their business, eating a lot of food, and discussing it.  There are mini-arcs that involve little dramas, like the two twin sisters who married two twin brothers who used to run a ramen shop together until they were awarded a third star and began to argue about who deserved credit for the upgrade. Their fight became so acrimonious that one of the brothers opened up a shop across the street both claiming to be the “original,” and they’re destroying the remains of their customer base by always arguing in the streets.  Shiro sweeps in and discovers that actually their ramen is terrible separately, but amazing together.

A very special ramen episode!

I also really liked the story where a hapless friend of Shiro’s has finally found the girl of his dream.  The problem? She comes from a fancy, upperclass family and he knows nothing of fine dining.  He begs Shiro and Yūko to double-date with him, so he doesn’t flub it.

Interior of Oishinbo

As you can see, the art style is very clunky and old-fashioned.

Shiro gets his friend through the meal, but the pressure of it all breaks him. At the end of the meal he shouts, “No! This is dishonest! I’m not this kind of person, I’m just a simple ramen and rice guy! I can’t do this fancy stuff!”  Yūko suggests that if this was so dishonest, maybe they’d better try again at a place he feels comfortable.  So, a few days later he takes them to a hole-in-the-wall for an amazing meal of simple fare.  The love interest has never been to a place like this because all her paramours think she needs the fancy stuff, and so she makes her love confession, and everyone lives happily ever after eating the authentic food of their social class!

There’s an overarching story of the deep rivalry between Shiro and his father, who is a master of all arts (calligraphy, pottery) and also famous for his culinary genius.  Shiro is forever being corrected in the proper Japanese way of doing things, and dad is always being surprised by Shiro’s clever, foodie innovations (though he won’t admit it.)

Alas, none of these volumes are available on-line anywhere I could find; Baka-Updates implies no one is scanlating them.  Otherwise, I would recommend them if you’re interested in food and liked What Did You Eat Yesterday? but wanted a tiny bit more “action” to the plot. If you’re super-curious, you can download a sample chapter of it from its official site on Viz Media. (And of course, they’ll let you buy it right there, if you decide you like it!)

Cover image of Oishinbo

Haikyu!! (Vols. 1 & 2) by Haruichi Furudate

This is another anime that I love that I decided to read a manga.

Cover image of Haikyu!! Volume 1

Sports is not a thing that usually gives me Feels.

In Real Life ™, I tend to find sports very boring. I would rather watch grass grow or paint dry than sit though football or soccer or baseball (live or on TV).  Plus, sports kind of traumatize me, generally. I was a nerd all through high school. Participation in gym was required and so I suffered through it. Gym was always the one class this A-student was perpetually on the verge of failing.  I always the worst at everything, always picked the very, very last because absolutely no one wanted me on their team.  When Calvin of “Calvin & Hobbes” described gym class as “state-sponsored terrorism,” I felt a deep kinship.

Thus, it shocks me how much I love this manga.

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I should definitely hate Hinata, Haikyu!!‘s main character.  Often described as freakishly athletic, he’s nothing like me–well, outside of being short, but his character profile puts him at 5’4″ which is two inches taller than I am. He’s the kind of jock for whom the sport is LIFE.

But, Hinata is SUCH a shounen hero, I can’t help but love him.

Hinata is spellbound after catching a glimpse of a high school player called “The Tiny Giant” in passing on a TV in the window of an electronics shop. After that point, he pursues his goal relentlessly. Very shounen.

Hinata is so shounen, he’s even prone to giving in-game speeches to rally his teammates like this: “Listen, the most important thing to remember about volleyball is that EVERYBODY on this side of the net is your ally. NO EXCEPTIONS!”  Which, because Hinata isn’t actually that smart, is literally something he’d been told by one of the upperclassman not five minutes ago. But, that’s the thing about Hinata: if you tell him a thing, he BECOMES it.

Like a good shounen hero, Hinata (or the entire team) will also get power-ups as needed during critical moments during a game.  When Mason and I were first watching this anime, Mason mocked the heck out of this trope.  He was actually almost a little turned off by how over-the-top some of this shounen stuff gets.  Me? I ate it up!

Plus, look at these action shots!

Interior panel: Haikyu!!

 

Aitsu! (That guy!) Am I right?

But, what I love about Hinata is that, outside of these natural bursts of athleticism, he’s not actually very good at the game. He doesn’t really even understand all the rules, and certainly doesn’t have any sense of strategies.  Hinata has mostly been practicing on his own, because no one in middle school was as into volleyball as he was.

A classic rivalry is set up when Hinata manages to get enough of a team together to play in a middle school tournament.  It’s a disaster.  Especially since they’re up against the team who has a naturally gifted “setter,” Kageyama.  Kageyama has the nickname “King of the Court,” but for all the wrong reasons. It should mean that he’s the star, but his teammates all see him as a greedy tyrant who wants everything done his way. Even so, Kageyama’s team wipe the floor with Hinata’s.

Hinata vows to get better, because all he wants is to spend time in the game!

Of course, when high school rolls around, Hinata and Kageyama find themselves as teammates.  A good portion of the first volume is them figuring out how to be allies, instead of enemies.

Can I admit something?

I’m enough of a sap that when we learn Kageyama’s origin story (basically he became such a tyrant that no one was there when he set up the ball) and Hinata vows to ALWAYS BE THERE, I might have teared up a little bit.

What?

Look, I sign up for shounen because this is what I want. I want people fighting together, for each other, and giving it their all, and making vows to ALWAYS BE THERE, and Haikyu!! might be a little over-the-top melodramatic in its shounen-ness but that’s LITERALLY what I want from shounen.

Bring it!

Gekken Shoujo Nozaki-kun (Vols. 5-7) by Tsubaki Izumi

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A few weeks ago, a reader accused me of having crappy taste because I don’t like anything popular. Well, here’s an exception for you.  At least according to Wikipedia, Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun consistently places in the top 20 of Oricon’s weekly manga list (which appears to be analogous to our Billboard 100.)

My taste might still be crappy, but I share it with a lot of Japanese folks, because I think Gekken Shoujo Nozaki-kun is incredibly cute and charming.

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Volume 7, which is available in English (despite what it looks like in the image above,) brings the reader to chapter 71 (out of 85, at least on MangaReader).  Volume 8 will be officially available from Yen press on July 18, 2017.

As I said above, I’m still enjoying the heck out of this manga.  Normally, humor doesn’t work for me in text, but something about Nozaki-kun breaks through and I’m able to enjoy it. There are still puns that sail over my head, but I like the characters and the tone of this manga enough that not getting it doesn’t bother me as much as it usually does.  It’s very possible that I’m still able to enjoy the written humor because I was so very, very fond of the anime —which I can NOT recommend enough, keeping in mind my fondness for slice-of-life. If you prefer high-octane action, this is not for you.  But, say, if you liked Free!, I would think Nozaki-kun would be a good bet for you.

One of the things I’m charmed by in the manga is how, over time, you see the rest of the high school accept Nozaki-kun and Sakura as a couple, even as the two of them continue to be blissfully… well, not exactly unaware of the sexual tension, since Sakura is still in full-pursuit mode, but more like… blissfully unaware of how comfortable they’ve become with each other in the way of Real Life ™ lovers.

Maybe this is why Nozaki-kun is getting the designation of ‘shounen’ despite being a romantic comedy.  The relationship is, despite the humor and classic rom-com antics, really very realistically portrayed (even while all the shoujo tropes are being parodied by Tsubaki-sensei).

The other thing I love about it (and the anime) is its gentleness.  For all of the shoujo send-ups, there’s hardly a mean bone in any character’s body and you can easily root for all of them.

Of course, being me, I also appreciate all the insights into the editorial and production processes in manga publication.  There’s a scene in volume 5 or 6, where the two editor characters Ken Miyamae and Mitsuya Maeno are in a planning meeting for a themed issue of the magazine “Let’s Fall in Love” (Nozaki’s manga) is serialized in.  I found that, and their “all-nighter” in which they wait for a mangaka’s overdue pages to come in (not Nozaki, he would never do that), totally fascinating.

This is the kind of slice-of-life stuff I live for.

I would suspect much of it is fairly accurate since Tsubaki-sensei not only has a lot of experience as a mangaka herself (her other long running series is Oresama Teacher), but, apparently, she has a sister who is also a mangaka (though Wikipedia did not say who that was, exactly.)  She also started publishing while in high school, just like Nozaki-kun. So, that’s kind of a fun detail.

 

Flaver by Sachimo

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Instead of a meet-cute, this yaoi gives us a meet-skeevy.  When Shimojou comes across Kuze, Kuze is being beat-up in an alley.  He’s possibly homeless, but definitely a hustler.  Shimojou scares off Kuze’s attackers, brings him home for a shower, and Kuze offers to pay Shimojou back for his kindness with sex.  Shimojou says, “If you’re doing this for money, how about you let me keep you as a pet?”

Alrighty then!

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Except the mangaka decides porn is not its own reward (wrong!) and complicates what could be deliciously naughty plot-what-plot with a complex backstory. Apparently, Shimojou is kind of an evil genius with a penchant for blackmail. Because of this, he’s always been able to get whatever he wants out of life.  The only time he was ever thwarted was back in high school; the hottie popular kid beat him in the race for class president.

Hey guess who that class president was?

In the coincidence that snapped the suspenders of disbelief, it’s none-other-than KUZE.  And, apparently, it isn’t enough to discover that your old rival is currently a homeless gigolo, AND to rescue him and get a blowjob in return for the favor…. no. No, Shimojou apparently wants to make “bringing Kuze down” his mission in life.

Good luck, dude.  Kuze kinda already seems like he scraping the bottom of the barrel, but okay, if housing him, feeding him, sexing him up, and giving him pocket change is your idea of “bringing him down” sounds more like sugar daddy good to me!

Alas, as I say above, this manga stops just as its getting started, which is a shame, honestly. I think I would have loved this whole mission of Shimojou’s.  I guess I will have to fill in with my own fantasies about the degradation Shimojou will put Kuze through….

But “Flaver”? What is that? Some kind of attempt at a hep-cat “Flavor”? Or a “Japanlish” misprint?

Perhaps Sachimo-sensei intended “Flava”?

Hmmmmm.

Maybe it’s just as well that’s NOT the title, eh?

Kuragehime/Princess Jellyfish (vol. 4) by Akiko Higashimura

The library coughed up the two-in-one volume 4 of Kuragehime/Princess Jellyfish, which takes me up to Chapter 44, “If She Turns Around, Is it Love?” or, alternatively translated in the official volume, “I Turn Around and Find Love” (which, given the translator’s notes is the appropriate title, since it’s specifically a reference to a Nobuhiko Obayashi film of the same name, “Furimukeba Ai.”)

 

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According to one reviewer on Goodreads, this volume does begin to diverge from the anime.  Having read the episode synopses, I will say, instead, that my sense is that the manga is actually still back in time in some respects, but fills in the story more.  For instance, there is the introduction of  an Indian garment company and its employees: Prez (for president) and his little sister, Nisha.

Enough orders for dresses have come in from the fashion show that Kuranosuke realizes that there’s no way the Amars can do this on their own, not if they hope to get them produced in any decent amount of time.  So, he asks a friend in the fashion business, who tells him that most dresses are made overseas, anyway.  India is the best.

A lot of this two-in-one volume involves winning over Prez and Nisha to the idea of doing a little charity work–or at least giving the Amars a deep discount.  Kuranosuke also manages to get Shuu, (his nii-san), to give him an extended loan to cover the capital investment.

The other big development is how much Shuu has changed his tune. He’s still being forced together with land-shark lady by his politically-minded father, but in this volume he really only has eyes for Tsukimi.  In fact, so much so, that Kuranosuke ends up accidentally outing himself at the fashion show because he shouts for Tsukimi to have eyes only for “this boy!”  (I’m guessing he used the pronoun ‘boku,’ and actually said something less awkwardly constructed like, “Keep your eyes on me!”)

The Amar slowly come to realize that maybe Kuranosuke is a guy… ? It’s not entirely clear they GET it, because, mostly, they seem just as comfortable to keep thinking of him as her.

The other bit of plot is that we discover that Kuranosuke’s mom is still alive. I’d gotten the distinct impression that she’d died, but it might be that she was simply banished because she was the mistress.  Regardless, she makes a reappearance in these volumes.  After having seen Kuranosuke on TV in one of the Jellyfish dresses, she calls up nii-san, Shuu, and places a secret order.  She wants one of those dresses for herself.  Shuu is put in an awkward position, but decides to use Tsukimi as a go-between.  They have more cute interactions, including one in which she ends up hiding with him under a table at a coffee shop.

Given how many pages there were in these two volumes (about 355), I was surprised how little plot was actually advanced.  Land-shark lady continues to be the villain, but she doesn’t really do much in these chapters other than call up Tsukimi to congratulate her on the success of the fashion show and to taunt her by saying it’s all ‘useless’ and how they’ll never get enough money to halt the wave of development and progress.  Tsunami is enough of a nerd that the taunt breaks her, and then she sends the rest of the Amars into similar depressions when she confesses what’s bothering her.

At the end of the volumes, it sort of looks like the Amars are broken up, because with the Indian company taking over the dress making, Tsukimi and Kuranosuke are the only ones with Jellyfish business to occupy them. The rest are feeling a little used and abused.

Tsukimi is still obsessively making dress designs and even when approached in a kind of peace offering (without being explicit, of course)…. she turns down hotpot night!

Dun dun DUN!!

I don’t know. Given what I’ve read in the episode guide, it sounds like there are other plot developments to come that we haven’t hit yet. In their place we got reams of fashion talk, including Tsukimi being dragged out to experience fashion so that she can better choose the fabrics she wants the Indian out-sourcing dressmakers to use. I have to admit that I skimmed a lot of the fashion stuff. That doesn’t interest me in the LEAST.  I like the nerds and the otaku commune and I’m moderately shipping Tsukimi and the elder brother, Shuu. I’m sure I’m supposed to ship Tsukimi and Kuranosuke, but I kind of would prefer it if Kuranosuke were gay or ‘new half.’  But believe me, the author spends several panels making absolutely clear that there is NO HOMO here. Crossdressing is just a hobby (and, you know, that’s fine–in fact giving straight, cis men a chance to crossdress is cool with me.–but Higashimura-sensei, you told us already… several times.  Put down the ‘no homo’ spray, we get it.)

But that does lessen my enjoyment of this manga.  The only queer characters left are not explicitly so, so…. and given that this manga seems very determined to pair-up and feminize our otaku ladies, I’m not holding my breath for any queer canon couples. Alas.

It’s still fun, though.

Deadlock by Aida Saki/Takashina Yuu

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Because you know what you want? You want to read about hot gay guys in prison!

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Deadlock is the story of Yuuto Lenex, a former DEA investigator falsely convicted of killing his partner. He’s been sent off to Schelger Prison, where the FBI has cut him a deal: see if you can infiltrate prison culture and find the notorious ‘Corvus.’ All Youuto knows about ‘Corvus’ is that he’s a white guy and has a burn scar on his back.  Meanwhile, Yuuto finds himself inexplicably drawn to his handsome cellmate, Dick Burnford.

Dick.

Yeah, really.

The best part about Dick is that he’s actually gay.  He comes out as a legit gay guy in one of the later chapters, and Yuuto is like, “Should you really admit that here?? IN PRISON?” Meanwhile, I was thinking: “Shouldn’t you go by Richard? I mean maybe? But really? An out gay guy named Dick???”  But, Dick comes out, because Yuuto is wondering why he is treated so kindly by “the sisterhood,” a gang that seems to be comprised of trans women, who have been forced into the male prison system.

Deadlock has these weird moments of psuedo-realism attempts.  Like, not only are there trans women, but race is a huge factor in prison politics.  Even though he’s lily white, Dick is in the cell block that is usually given to mixed race or other racial groups, like Asians, apparently, who don’t make up a significant number of the prison population.

The love story is a slow burn. It’s pretty clear that Yuuto and Dick are destined for one another. I mean just look at this sexy rescue:

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It seems also just as obvious to me that Dick is being set up as a possible “Corvus.” The fact that he’s in the wrong cellblock, gets much more extended pat downs than anyone else, and absolutely every single gang leader is utterly terrified of him… despite him literally doing nothing obvious to deserve this respect… all seem to point to: Dick has a secret.

Alas, the only thing wrong with this yaoi is that I’ve read everything available so far (seven chapters,) and there has been nothing graphic–not even a kiss–despite off-screen gang rapes and the constant threat of rape, in general.

This is a prison yaoi for crying out loud!  I can’t believe nothing has happened on-screen!

Where is the smut???

I mean, I guess the romance is okay.  I find both Yuuto and Dick passably handsome and the plot is interesting enough (although much more plotty than I normally like in yaoi), but I would like some one to get naked, and soon.  I hate to say it, but half of what I’m hoping for in a prison yaoi is, well, you know… all the non-con rape-y stuff, like in Under Grand Hotel.

Ah, well.  If you want prison plot, this may be for you!

Netsuai (Naono Bohra)

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You missed the yaoi, didn’t you?  Well, even if you didn’t, I did, so I hopped over to Mangago and randomly picked something short to read.  Here we have Netsuai (Naono Bohra) [Apparently, you have to look it up that way, as there is another Netsuai) a story of brotherly “love.”

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Normally incest is a non-starter for me, but this one is different because even though the two men are technically brothers, they are stepbrothers who didn’t get to know each other until they were both adults.

Kazuki is what we’d call a “trust fund baby” over here.  His family is old money and traditional, but, after his mother died, he’s just been sort of drifting around, working odd jobs.  He’s a waiter at a wine shop when we catch up with him, and his annoyingly successful older stepbrother, Souya shows up with an unusual proposal.  “Come live with me.”

Kazuki has actually been avoiding Souya ever since that one time when they accidentally fell into bed together.  Souya is everyone’s dream date: not only is he working as a model, but he’s also a successful novelist.  His biggest flaw: he’s kind of an intense stalker who doesn’t really take ‘no’ for an answer.

I kind of feel like this one panel tells you everything you need to know:

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I adore the creepy smile and the little heart here.

Alas, the otouto is a bit of a weeper, but some of the sex is fairly hot, if you’re okay with aggressive, pushy, whoops-I-accidentally-tied-you-up sort of relationships.  🙂

The version I found had all the best bits censored out, and there’s a bit more family politics plot than I needed, but it was an enjoyable, quick and dirty read.