Review by: Ai Kano
Publisher: VIZ Media
Author: Tetsu Kariya
Artist: Akira Hanasaki
Genre: Graphic Novel (VIZ Signature)
MSRP: $12.99 US
Rating: T (Teen)
Release Date: Available Now
This menu has just gotten tastier.
To most people, rice is something you just accompany your orange chicken with at a Panda Express or what can be found in the bottom of your beef bowl at a Yoshinoya but, speaking as a Japanese-American, it means so much more to Japan than just a side order dish. Japanese rice is but a small part of what makes up our culinary identity as we can see from this sixth volume of Oishinbo A la Carte: The Joy of Rice. Oh yeah, it’s all about rice but that doesn’t mean this meal won’t leave you unsatisfied.
First of all, I should say that one of my favorite highlights of the Oishinbo A la Carte editions are the recipes that come with full-color photographs and there’s a perfectly good recipe for scallop rice that is featured in one of the chapters. I consider those appetizers to a main course composed of chapters revolving around Japan’s eating habits and the food unique to Japan. This edition, of course, dedicates each chapter to rice and what it means to the Japanese.
Once again, Shiro Yamaoka of the Tozai News is at the center of a project known as the Ultimate Menu that highlights various dishes that represent the Japanese culture. In the first chapter, however, he accompanies the staff of the newspaper to an expensive restaurant to treat millionaire Kyogoku Mantaro who is lending the newspaper one of his Renoirs. However, things turn sour when the restaurant in question serves food that is not only terrible but also out of season. The rich man’s rant doesn’t sit well with Yamaoka who insults the man proposes a bet that he could show him what real fine dining is if he’d reconsider not retracting the invitation to borrow his painting.
Yamaoka and his attractive partner, Yuko Kurita, look for the appropriate place to take the millionaire to eat … by listening to the advice of a homeless man. As it turns out, the menu might be simple and the place might not be as swanky but good food is still good food. The outcome is actually quite surprising. In another chapter, the staff of the Tozai News find themselves in the great outdoors when they encounter the ladies of the women’s college judo club. Among the group are a few young ladies who are dying to eat good white rice because the brown rice they eat taste horrible.
Stepping into another fine mess, Yamaoka insults the team’s organically grown brown rice and – as a result – he is challenged to a duel by the attractive supervisor of the team. Instead of settling it with a battle, though, Yamaoka sets out to prove that the team’s organic brown rice in dangerous to eat. His conclusion is not only enlightening but it paints a frightening picture of what goes into rice farming. Even if things are organically grown there are still pesticides that find their way into each grain. There’s more and it’s an eye-opener.
Yamaoka offers his opinions on rice once again when he and Kurita are invited to eat with their friends, a young couple, who bought a rice mill to use on the day their friend’s mother would arrive. As it turns out, the rice comes out mashed together in clumps and the couple believes the rice mill isn’t good but Yamaoka thinks otherwise. In another chapter, the same millionaire is back who is sad that his best friend had a stroke after a heated argument over whether Matsutake rice or Matsutake rice of the sea is better. Yamaoka believes there is a big difference between the two and sets out to prove it.
He even gets into an intense argument with the Deputy Prime Minister about the import/export of rice between Japan and the United States. This chapter speaks volumes about the differences between how the two countries grow things. Environmental issues pop up in another chapter when a friend of Kurita’s who works for an international environmental protection agency shows up.
Rice becomes the center of the attention when the head cook of the newspaper wants to change up the cafeteria menu to get more people to eat there. Against the publisher and the Executive Editor’s wishes, Yamaoka suggests some rather interesting rice dishes to be placed on the cafeteria’s menu. Then, challenges her own father in the Ultimate Menu project using a variety of rice balls. As they point out, rice balls hold a special place in Japanese people’s hearts.
Oishinbo A la Carte: The Joy of Rice digs deep into the flavors of Japanese cooking once again as it puts the spotlight on rice. While this sounds like it would make for a dull manga reading experience it is actually quite endearing thanks to Kariya’s warm and comical writing and Hanasaki’s art makes the food look good. Oishinbo A la Carte has always stressed the joys of eating the food Japan enjoys and makes us enjoy it as well. If you haven’t picked up a volume in this series I highly suggest you start with this one.
MANGA REVIEW BREAKDOWN
When a trip to a swanky restaurant that serves horrible food enrages a millionaire, Yamaoka bets he can show him true fine Japanese dining in the most unlikely place. Then, when Yamaoka insults the girls’ college judo team’s brown rice, he explains the difference between their rice and real brown rice. In the real main course, however, our hero and his crew go head-to-head with Yamaoka’s father in an Ultimate Menu showdown revolving around rice balls.
Akira Hanasaki’s art might seem a tad crude when it comes to the characters but Hanasaki-Sensei’s real brilliance comes in the incredible detail he dedicates to the images of food. Every dish in the Oishinbo series looks tasty and that’s no different with this volume.
The Joy of Rice is one of Oishinbo’s strongest entries and continued proof that both Kariya and Hanasaki could make stories about food utterly fascinating and loads of fun to read. Every country has its own unique cuisine that makes up said country’s identity and Japanese rice is but one part but an integral one that makes up their dining experience. Oishinbo not only educates but entertains in the best way.
Review copy provided by VIZ Media