From the stack: Oishinbo: Sake

I liked the first volume of Oishinbo (Viz) very much. I flat-out loved the second, and I think this is only partly because it’s focused on booze.

oishinbo2Anyway, for those of you who aren’t familiar with the series, it’s a sort of “best of” sampler of a long-running, much-loved culinary manga. Viz is publishing the A la Carte collections, which focus on a particular aspect of cuisine. In this case, it’s sake and some lesser beverages, like champagne.

Many have noted what we might call the “hometown pride” of these stories, written by Tetsu Kariya and illustrated Akira Hanasaki. I don’t really find it problematic; I sort of expect a culture to favor its indigenous cuisine. And since Kariya reserves most of his teasing for the French, who are no slouches in the culinary pride arena themselves, it reads more to me like entertaining trash talking than anything more sinister. (I kind of wish there was a bande-dessinée response. “Oh, non, vous n’avez fait!”)

On the beverage front, Kariya seems to have a grand time smacking around the drops of god. Champagne is perfectly lovely, intrepid food journalist Yamaoka insists, unless you try and eat anything with it. Beaujolais nouveau is little more than a French prank that the Japanese have fallen for hook, line and sinker. After such flat dismissals of another culture’s beverages of choice, you’d expect sake to be swaddled in adoration, right?

Well, no, and that’s when the volume goes from amusingly snarky to downright fascinating. Yamaoka is trying to convince a co-worker of the virtues of sake, which she dismisses as booze for old men, by taking her to a small, local brewery. Sake, he insists, can be transcendent if it’s made properly. Unfortunately, profit-mongering corporations and nonexistent oversight have lined the nation’s liquor up for every manner of abuse. Alas, the small, local brewery is about to be forced to make the same kind of grocery-store swill Yamaoka abhors, unless our heroes can help the owners secure a loan.

Can the local brewery be saved from ruthless corporate forces? More importantly, can sake as it was meant to be be saved from those same forces? Never fear, for the foodie-journalist equivalent of Mystery, Inc. is on the case! They don’t quite put on a show in someone’s barn to save Japan’s national beverage, but they come hilariously close in the multi-chapter story that follows. The heightened charms of the story aside, it has really interesting things to say about the importance of preserving cultural traditions and looking to dedicated, artisanal producers to do that. It’s even reasonably fair to the money men who have their eyes fixed on the bottom line.

As someone who keeps at least one eye on the resurgence of locally grown, sustainably produced foods and the associated embrace of food quality, this volume really struck a nice chord with me. While 90% of the Food Network’s programming seems to be reaching for the can opener and dumbing down everything Julia Child hoped popular culinary education could be, it’s nice to pick up a comic that cares so passionately about food and the way it’s made.

9 Responses to From the stack: Oishinbo: Sake

  1. Suzu says:

    Ah, I really wanna read this series, but I’m not sure were to start at. Maybe I’ll wait for Fish Sashimi and Sushi to come out, cazuse I really love fish. 🙂

    btw, what did you mean by “Oh, non, vous n’avez fait!”? I can guess the meaning, but it isn’t really clear. Maybe something like: “How could you do that!”?

  2. James Moar says:

    I’m guessing it’s “Oh, no, you didn’t!”. Or, in 100% accurate Japanese, “Aa, iie, dekimasen yo!”

  3. Suzu says:

    I was trying to figure out how to say it in French, but I guess you can’t really translate it. “Mais comment avez-vous pu faire ça!” wouldn’t be bad, I guess. :p

    Things like that fascinate me, but I’m getting offtopic. Sorry.

  4. davidpwelsh says:

    No need to apologize! Though I probably should to the French-speaking world.

  5. thirstygirl says:

    I carefully grabbed the sole copy of this in my local manga shop but haven’t read yet because I haven’t been able to get my hands on the first one- will it matter or will the other story skips render it moot?

    *because I want to reward publishers getting out of the shonen/shoujo comfort-zone by giving them money

  6. Dave White says:

    I think there are a few moments where Oishinbo flirts with being nihonjinron, but that long critical look at the sake industry pretty much pulls this volume back from the brink.

    Thirstygirl, reading the volumes out of sequence won’t make much of a difference. This really isn’t a continuous story as much as it is a series of themed “greatest hits” pulled from the original’s long run. The first volume does provide some additional background into one of the key relationships but it’s nothing you can’t pick up from context.

  7. […] on vol. 10 of Kurohime (Animanga Nation) Erica Friedman on vol. 1 of Manken (Okazu) David Welsh on Oishinbo: Sake (Precocious Curmudgeon) Michelle Smith on vol. 9 of One Piece (Soliloquy in Blue) Kinokitty on […]

  8. […] David Welsh loves him some sake! […]

  9. […] from Slate more information on Beaujolais Nouveau itself, albeit not a very flattering one (indeed, a rival Japanese food and drink comic book to Kami no Shizuku describes the drink as “little more than a French prank that the Japanese […]

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