Oishinbo A La Carte, Vol. 2 (Sake)

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.

It’s time for the Oishinbo Manga Moveable Feast, and though I had already reviewed the final volume a long time ago (see sidebar), I thought that I would take this time to revisit another volume, one which got a lot of buzz when it first came out over here. That would be the one devoted to sake, Japan’s national alcoholic beverage. And so we get several chapters, including one long multipart epic, devoted to what makes good sake – and why so much of it these days is bad.

Given that Oishinbo is about singing the praises of Japanese food, it’s not particularly surprising that much of it involves praise for Japan in general. One chapter here involves a businessman who has been ‘Westernized’ and has to be reminded of the joys of good old Japanese cooking and liquor. That said, it’s rather startling how much of this volume is just ripping into Japan’s sake trade over and over again. I’ve no idea if things are the same these days (these chapters were written 15-25 years ago), but much is made over the fact that popular sake in Japan tends to be watered down in order to increase profit, and have additives such as charcoal and MSG. It can get fairly depressing.

That said, of course, you knock them down in order to build them up. We also get much praise of the good old-fashioned small-time sake brewer, still using pure ingredients with no additives and storing it properly to bring out the best flavor. There’s actually a lot of comparison with French wine, in a way that reminded me of The Drops of God – it’s noted that France would never treat its wine the way Japan does its sake.

In these Viz compilations, characterization usually falls by the wayside – the danger of working with a 108+ volume series – but we still get a good sense of the main players, which is important for a series like this. You have to sympathize with Yamaoka and Yuka, and care about their lives, as otherwise you’re left with nothing but a manga that lectures you. (Which, admittedly, it can sometimes be anyway.) Yamaoka shows off his cleverness in the final chapter, which reminds us that sake is still an alcohol, and that there are some people who abuse that. And Yuka really shines in the multi-part story, managing to sweet-talk Yamaoka’s father, Yuzan (this is actually a running thing in the series, and Yuka is very, very good at it – note Yuzan’s retainers giggling). There’s no romance here, but if you want that go lean Japanese and then buy the original Vol. 47, which has the wedding.

At the end of the day, though, the way to judge Oishinbo is by its ability to make you want to search out more. After this volume, I wanted some sake – just as I wanted to visit an Izakaya after the final Viz volume. Oishinbo may be about a battle between father and son, or a growing romance between colleagues, but that’s just the spice. The real meat of the manga is its love of food and its burning passion for it being cooked and served properly. And it’s something yoou can’t really get in North American Comics, either, though I’d love Batman’s recipe for crumble apple pie.

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  1. Y’know, I’ve never actually had sake before. I’m over 21, it’s just that, unlike with beer, wine, and hard liquors, there doesn’t seem to be any good resources for finding good sake (if you know of any, please do share!) and I can’t really find friends who have had some either to ask for a good brand.
    I do remember enjoying the two volumes of Moyasimon we got, that had a pretty big section about sake at one point (more about the chemistry of it), and that made me want to try sake myself, but I couldn’t quite understand it…


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