By Masayuki Qusumi and Jiro Taniguchi. Released in Japan by Fusosha, serialization ongoing in the magazine Weekly Spa!. Released in the United States by Fusosha on the JManga website.
It’s Jiro Taniguchi month at the Manga Moveable Feast, and I thought I would contribute (as I’m sure many are) by looking at his new title released on the JManga website, a foodie manga called Kodoku no Gourmet, which translates as ‘Solitary Gourmet’ (I have been told JManga is working on getting permission to actually translate titles, but it hasn’t happened yet). This is a collaboration between Taniguchi (providing the art) and another writer, and this is probably a good thing, as the repetitive nature of this series (like a lot of foodie manga, honestly) would likely be overbearing were it not for Taniguchi’s impeccable craft.
Our hero has a name, but it’s only used once in the entire volume, and I had a tendency to refer to him as “Sad Sack’ due to his general demeanor. He’s an importer of foreign goods who spends half of his time moving heavy objects in warehouses, and the other half selling them to interested parties. This leaves him a) in very good shape, and b) hungry a lot of the time. As a result, whenever he’s wandering around various neighborhoods all over Japan, he’s constantly on the look out for something to eat. Not necessarily a new exciting taste sensation – this has gourmet in the title, but is not about rare and unusual foods. Instead, he’s after the staples of Japanese diet, and each chapter shows him at a different eatery, getting different food and taking it in by himself.
There’s a backstory that we only get a tiny hint of here. The character, as the title would suggest, is always eating by himself, and though he’s not necessarily glum or depressed, there’s a consistent air of despondency about him. His work seems to be his life, and the occasional relationships he’s had in the past are shown to be long since ended. Taniguchi really captures the essence of the man in his art, with the few smiles we see from him mostly being wry self-effacing grins. He is very passionate about food, I will admit – clearly the huge amount of heavy lifting he does for his job is the only thing keeping him from ballooning up. Well, that and the judo practice. He also has no tolerance for folks who interrupt the serenity of his meal, as we see in the most startling chapter of the book. I hope as the series goes on that we discover more about his past, though given it apparently has one volume that came out in 1997 and nothing since, I may be out of luck.
As for Taniguchi’s art, as always I find it a tactile experience more than an intellectual one. Food serves him well here, though as you’d expect we also see a lot of our protagonist walking around and looking at the sites. Taniguchi’s art inspires me to remember smells and tastes in what it shows, and I think that’s deliberate – he works with the writer to make sure that each menu choice in each neighborhood evokes a different mood from the reader. Sometimes it’s nostalgic, such as when he returns to a scenic view he’d been to with a girlfriend long ago. Sometimes it’s informative, as when he goes to an industrial section of Tokyo he’d never seen before, and we see a lot of the built up factories. Taniguchi’s works in general, and this one in particular, are not something that you simply read with your eyes – you need to use all five senses to give the best impression, or else it will become dull.
JManga’s translation is pretty decent – as with most foodie manga, it’s hard to screw up folks reacting to the dishes. I wish I had a physical copy to read, but then I also wish I had a pony, so digital is probably as good as I can get right now. As for Kodoku no Gourmet, even if we never get a 2nd volume, I’m pleased we got this. The writer gives us a melancholy yet comforting story, and Taniguchi’s art is the perfect complement. Just like a good meal, in fact.