Oishinbo – Izakaya: Pub Food

By Tetsu Kariya and Akira Hanasaki. Released in Japan by Shogakukan, serialization ongoing in the magazine Big Comic Spirits. Released in North America by Viz.

Ah, the final volume of Oishinbo Viz has planned. It’s been a great ride. I’ve certainly learned a lot more about food. And this volume is filled with little gems that make this series what it is.

One thing it doesn’t have, however, is a battle between Yamaoka and his father, Yuzan. I have to admit I’m almost relieved, as seeing those two screaming at each other can be very trying. Still, the battles were always exciting, and notably, in the ones we saw over here, our heroes lost most of them. It was very telling that youth does NOT beat experience in this manga most of the time.

The original manga is 103 volumes and still running, so Viz decided to release some volumes from Shogakukan’s reprints in Japan, which collect them into volumes separated by theme. (This particular reprint is Volume 12 in Japan.) This means that we’ve been treated to scattershot characterization, as we move from Yamaoka and Kurita being new colleagues on their paper to love rivalries to their marriage to their children without actually seeing a proposal, wedding, or birth.

However, even if the focus is always the food, we do still care about the characters, and we get some lovely final chapters here. One part I particularly liked was in a chapter dealing with Yamaoka getting offered a big job managing the food division of a multinational – one that comes with the string of his having to marry Mariko, who is Yuko’s rival for most of the first 45 volumes.

He is rather startled by this, and even more startled when a crushed Yuko (who is out on a date with Yamaoka’s own rival) suggests it would be good for his career if he married Mariko. We then cut to a shot of Yamaoka, Yuko, and the rival all looking depressed and upset, but (of course) not saying anything. Luckily, Yamaoka uses sardines to show that he would not feel right being handed a major food division just like that.

Another chapter takes place just after Yuko has delivered twin babies. She and Yamaoka are discussing naming them, and decide to split the name choices between them. It’s a surprise to see Yamaoka take this so seriously – but then, Japan places far more emphasis on a good name being absolutely necessary for a child’s development than the West would. Naming a child is serious business. Naturally, there’s a brief fight, but after some nice deep-fried oysters the children are named and all is well.

As you can see from those previous two examples, no matter how much characterization there may be, it’s all about the food. This volume is devoted to food related to the ‘izakaya’, the pub-like establishments seen all over Japan. They generally have more filling food than most regular old bars in Japan, but the food tends to be simple and uncomplicated, the better to reward a drunk salaryman after a long day.

And in a nice callback to a previous volume, we end the series with sake, as a young actor is having difficulty getting the right expression when he drinks sake on the set and needs Yamaoka to show him what the true joy of sake at an izakaya is like.

I’m very pleased that this series was brought over here, and even though it’s finished the format is such that Viz could do future volumes if they so choose (hint: sales would help this along). There are 48 reprint “a la carte” volumes in Japan, so they aren’t exactly running out of material. In the meantime, these volumes are an excellent overview of one of the most popular manga in Japan.

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