Famine looms

December 10, 2009

Oh, I am not happy to see this press release.


The Last Hand-Selected Volume Out Of A 100+ Volume Hit Series Exploring Essential Elements Of Japanese Cuisine is coming to an end.
Volume 7 Izakaya-Pub Food Is Here!

DECEMBER 10, 2009 – VIZ Media announced today the release of the final volume of the mega hit food manga by Tetsu Kariya, OISHINBO due out on January 19th. Volume 7, Izayaya-Pub Food is rated ‘T’ for Teens and carries an estimated retail price of $12.99 US and $16.99 CAN.

Izakaya occupies the same vital space in the Japanese culinary landscape as tapas bars in Spain or tavernas in Greece. Unpretentious and frequently boisterous, they’re places to meet with friends or business partners to unwind over drinks and small dishes that range from hearty standards to refined innovations. In this volume of OISHINBO, Yamaoka and Kurita investigate classic Izakaya foods such as edamame and yakitori, devise new dishes to add to the menu of an old shop, and discover how the concept of “play” is essential to the enjoyment of food.

OISHINBO creator Tetsu Kariya, writer and essayist extraordinaire graduated from prestigious Tokyo University. Kariya was employed with a major advertising agency before making his debut as a manga writer in 1974 when he teamed up with legendary manga artist Ryoichi Ikegami to create Otoko Gumi (Male Gang). The worlds of food and manga were forever changed in 1983 when Kariya, together with artist Akira Hanasaki, created the immensely popular and critically acclaimed OISHINBO.

“Fans of Japanese cuisine and culture have been delighted with every volume of the critically acclaimed OISHINBO series and we are excited to bring them this final volume that covers the excitement of izakaya,” says Evelyn Dubocq, Sr. Director of Public Relations, VIZ Media.

OISHINBO (or “The Gourmet”) depicts the adventures of journalist Shiro Yamaoka, who writes for the fictional newspaper Tozai News. When the paper’s top executives decide to create “The Ultimate Menu” to celebrate the paper’s 100th anniversary, Yamaoka, known for his reputation as a foodie with culinary skills to match, is given the daunting assignment. With the help of his coworker Kurita, Yamaoka begins an epic saga to find unique and tasty dishes that will compose this ultimate bill of fare. Each volume of OISHINBO focuses on specific foods and culinary trends such as sake, sushi, vegetables, rice dishes, ramen, and Izakaya (pub food). VIZ Media has served up selected highlights from this epic 100+ volume series and compiled them into seven a la carte editions that can be enjoyed individually or as a series. OISINBO has further inspired a 136-episode anime series, a live-action film and TV dramas, video games, recipe collections, and TV shows in Japan.

For more information on OISHINBO and other VIZ Media titles please visit http://www.Viz.com.

It’s a good thing it’s about pub food, since I’ll need a drink or two to ease the pain. I’ve really enjoyed this series, and I hope Viz decides to do a second round. There are currently 50 volumes in the A la Carte series in Japan.

From the stack: Butterflies, Flowers

December 10, 2009

Sometimes, I don’t read alone. I’ll find myself accompanied by those opinionated shoulder-dwellers, angelic and diabolical, vigorously arguing the merits of whatever I happen to have in my hands at the time. “And you pretend to care about issues of equality and social justice,” Shoulder Angel will tut at me. “What does liking this book say about you that you like this?“ “Dude, lighten up. It’s awesome,” Shoulder Devil will retort.

In my defense, I often side with Shoulder Angel. I feel like I owe him after shutting him down during the whole Hot Gimmick thing. And I vividly remember Shoulder Angel and me staring at Shoulder Devil, waiting for him to launch some defense of Gakuen Prince, but he just shrugged: “I got nothing. That’s just nasty.” Even Shoulder Devil knows when to keep mum.

The three-way discourse didn’t get particularly heated as we were considering Yuki Yoshihara’s Butterflies, Flowers (Viz), but it did get somewhat spirited. I mean, there’s some desperately inappropriate workplace behavior, and the relationship dynamic between the two protagonists is an absolute minefield, but it’s really pretty funny. Even Shoulder Angel chuckled a little bit.

It’s about a former rich girl who must enter the office grind after her family loses their fortune. The economy being what it is, she can’t be picky about which job she takes, even if she is asked if she’s a virgin during her job interview. (Tip: if that happens to you in real life, document the exchange, then sue.) The inappropriate interviewer ends up being her direct supervisor and, coincidentally, the son of one her family’s domestics. He doted on her when she was a kid, but now he’s the boss from hell.

Domoto, the ex-servant, now-boss, whiplashes between domineering and capricious and subservient and solicitous, and office newbie Kuze doesn’t know what to make of it. (Who would?) Her sudden promotion has alienated her from her co-workers, and while she’s mostly hopeless as an office lady, there’s enough of the aristocrat left in her that she can muster unexpected authority in a pinch. Her work life is complicated by the fact that, against all good sense, she’s afraid she actually might be in love with her bipolar boss.

Okay, so the overall premise is kind of gross, what with the power disparity and the hostile work environment. But moment by moment, Butterflies, Flowers is very, very funny. The supporting characters are particularly delightful. I love Kuze’s younger brother, who never got over his brief taste of the good life and talks like he’s a refugee from a costume drama. Suou, a senior member of Domoto’s department, is one of those deliciously snarky frienemies that improve just about any story. Their absurdity heightens the atmosphere and helps the reader ignore the stuff that’s creepy when stripped of Yoshihara’s context.

So it’s a guilty pleasure, but it’s undeniably pleasurable. Viz is positioning it as a bridge title for shôjo readers into the more mature realm of josei, and its rapid-fire humor, stylish look and twisted romance make it a good choice for that. It’s not the most sophisticated josei in the world, but it’s a sensible starting point for a tricky demographic, and it’s funny much more often than it’s squirmy.

(This review is based on a complimentary copy provided by the publisher.)