Toriko, Vol. 13

By Mitsutoshi Shimabukuro. Released in Japan by Shueisha, serialization ongoing in the magazine Weekly Shonen Jump. Released in North America by Viz.

Again, it’s been a long time since I reviewed Toriko on the main blog as opposed to a Bookshelf Brief. Jump series in general tend to lend themselves well to a paragraph rather than four or five paragraphs, especially when the volume in question is ‘they fight for 10 chapters’. Luckily, there’s a lot less fighting and a lot more character development here, although we do get the daily required amount of huge fictional animals, death-inducing climates, and large muscled men beating things up, all things Toriko requires for its daily nutritional value.

It seems appropriate that the Ozone Grass, the astonishing vegetable Toriko and Komatsu had spent most of last volume climbing to, turns out to be a pointer to both of the major themes of this episode. First off, it’s something that requires two people to work together to eat it properly, showing off the friendship part of Shonen Jump’s traditional motto. Toriko and Komatsu have been close since Volume 1, but there’s always been a bit of a tagalong ‘normal guy’ aspect to Komatsu, with Toriko going off on some dangerous quests on his own when he didn’t think Komatsu up to the challenge. These scenes really show off how important Komatsu has become in Toriko’s life, and that he really is perfect as Toriko’s partner. (I’d talk about the BL subtext, but I’ve mentioned that in prior reviews.)

And then, amazingly, after one of the more heartwarming scenes in the entire series, Toriko promptly misses the entire point and goes off to Gourmet World on his own, something so amazingly stupid you want to smack your head. In general, we haven’t really seen Toriko’s youth and inexperience all that often in the series to date, and indeed I sometimes forget that he’s only about 25 years old or so. But then, Toriko is always after the big experience, and notably when Sunny finds out what he’s about to do he doesn’t say anything, knowing that Toriko is the sort who is only likely to learn through bitter experience.

And bitter experience is exactly what he gets, as Gourmet World turns out to be a hellish environment straight out of nightmares. The sheer scale of all these dangers when compared with Toriko (who, as has been noted, is pretty huge) boggles the mind, and you have to wonder how he’ll get out of there. The answer is ‘saved by a stronger character’, of course, but only in order to drive home the two important morals of this volume. 1) Toriko is not ready for Gourmet World yet, and 2) Toriko, needs a partner, REPEATED FOR ADDED EMPHASIS. Luckily, this time around he seems to get the point, even if this means we are treated to a sobbing Komatsu spicing up Toriko’s food with something he really doesn’t want.

Unfortunately, Komatsu’s cooking knife is broken, and they head off to get a new one from the amazing knife master Melk. Who looks… suspiciously bishie for a character described as scar-covered and a loner. I sense a surprise coming next volume. In the meantime, this volume gave Toriko some much-needed humility, and saw him finally form what will hopefully be an equal partnership with Komatsu. All this, plus lots of weird animals getting beaten up. What’s not to love?

Toriko, Vol. 8

By Mitsutoshi Shimabukuro. Released in Japan by Shueisha, serialization ongoing in the magazine Weekly Shonen Jump. Released in North America by Viz.

It’s been a while since I did a full review of Toriko, but this is a good volume to talk about, as it’s less fight and more food oriented. After finishing off the cliffhanger from last volume (and getting to meet several of the side-villains face to face), Toriko reunites with Komatsu and goes to Gourmet Town, the #1 town to get fantastic food. While there they meet up with a legendary chef, the elderly but insanely strong and intelligent (as with most elderly manga women) Setsuno, who gives the two of them a taste of a legendary soup. A soup that is still incomplete, and needs one more ingredient. This leads to the cliffhanger of this volume, as both Toriko and Komatsu must journey to “Ice Hell” to find said ingredient…

In general, successful Jump series seem to fall into a pattern of “fighting + friendship + X”, where X is a variable. Plus ninjas, plus pirates, plus mangaka, plus Nisioisin… that type of thing. Here it’s food, and while much of Toriko is sitting back and watching insanely strong men battle each other, the food is not just an added extra to make the story palatable. First of all, even with the occasional ‘reader suggestion’ thrown in, the different types and varieties of food show off the author’s prodigious imagination. But food also controls the plot and the main characters. They live for it. A lot of the scenes in this volume will be familiar to fans of Oishinbo or similar titles – the initial reaction of happiness, followed by a description of what they just ate, possibly delineating the ingredients used. This is Jump foodie manga.

This volume also has several strong scenes between Toriko and Komatsu, including Setsuna, reminiscing on her own partnership with Jiro (who she was also romantically involved with), noting what good partners Toriko and Komatsu make. Now, I don’t think that any Jump title currently running is written primarily for the magazine’s growing BL audience. No, not even Reborn. But certainly a lot of what attracted the BL fandom in the first place is here – men in close friendships, with lots of bonding and fights and befriending former enemies. Komatsu is in many ways the perfect uke, and he’s surrounded by strong partners – not just Toriko, but also Coco and Sunny from previous volumes – all of whom initially see him as rather pathetic but then grow to treasure him as Komatsu’s true talents in food preparation are revealed. There’s also a dearth of women in this story – Rin has been around, and she has a crush on Toriko, but he completely ignores it. So while this isn’t a BL story, it does have everything that drew BL fans to Jump in the first place, and does not go out of its way to disappoint them.

I’m impressed by the world building going on here. A lot of titles like this give off a feeling that the author is making stuff up from week to week, but several of the plot points here seem to be well planned. Komatsu’s naivete is useful in this regard, as Toriko can explain various things to him, but there’s a casualness to it that doesn’t make it seem like exposition. I particularly liked the references to the Colonel sending a duplicate to Ice Hell rather than himself – it’s made mysterious while also being obvious for the reader.

Toriko is great fun, and looks to be starting another big arc. Hopefully it will continue to balance its big fights and male bonding with more delicious food. Recommended for Jump fans.

Brief Reviews On Sundry Manga: The Sequel

Yes, once again I have several volumes that I can’t seem to find several paragraphs worth of things to say, so will pile them all together in order to winnow down my review pile.

Kamisama Kiss 3: Yes, it’s still suffering from not being Karakuri Odette. Which is a shame, as it’s quite a likeable manga. We get a lot of plot points about how romances between humans and yokai go in this world, and how much “forbidden” tends to be actual lip service. Nanami is kidnapped by a snake yokai (who then turns into a bishie – this is shoujo, after all). I quite liked the fact that Nanami’s quiet “Tomoe, enough.” was sufficient to get him to listen to her and stop his rampage, which shows the bond of trust that’s developed between them since the first two volumes. The last chapter is more serious, featuring Nanami going back in time to see a Tomoe who’s seemingly far crueller and more dangerous than the one she knows. In the end, it’s a little more mainstream and typical than her previous series, but that’s also helped it run longer in Hana to Yume as well.

Toriko 5: This volume continues the search for the Regal Mammoth, and as such is basically just a bunch of fights. It was hard for me to see one group coming at the mammoth from one path and the other choosing a different one without thinking of The Five Doctors, honestly. And like The Five Doctors, each path proves to be fraught with peril. Toriko actually has to let his savage self take over in order to drive away some predators (and trust me, it’s a nightmarish sight), which Sunny and Komatsu travel through a deadly marsh. We are once again reminded of the ethics that govern Toriko’s universe, as Sunny and Komatsu are horrified than Gourmet Corps is casually slaughtering the animals without using them for food – WASTE is the big sin here. The Regal Mammoth does indeed prove to be huge – so huge that our reunited gang must journey INSIDE the animal to get at its prized meat within. As always, this is big dumb goofy Shonen Jump fun.

Blue Exorcist 2: Things settle down in this second volume, as Rin and Shiemi continue their school life at True Cross Academy. We meet a few new cast members, who are very much shonen ‘types’ – there’s the frustrated hothead who derides the hero for being lazy and stupid, but turns out to be far too similar to him for everyone’s tastes. And there’s the bitchy girl who ‘allows’ Shiemi to be friends with her in return for waiting on her hand and foot (and who seems to be the kid who was bullied when she was young, now trying to live life on the other side). Naturally, by the end both are reluctant allies to our heroes – Ryuji after he sees Rin’s bravery in the face of danger (albeit somewhat stupid bravery), and Izumo after getting told off by her ‘normal’ friend and being rescued by Shiemi’s basic goodness and niceness. It’s decent stuff, and I kept turning the page, but it hasn’t really risen above cookie-cutter shonen level yet.

Nura: Rise of the Yokai Clan 3: This had several interesting plotlines going through it. We wrap up last volume’s big fight, and get a highly interesting revelation: Rikuo’s been playing everyone (and the reader) all this time, and is far more in control of his life than previously suspected. Of course, this also leads to organizational problems, as Rikuo also tends to be merciful, and when you want to be the leader of a bunch of cut-throat yokai, mercy is something that needs to be explained. There then follows a short plotline with Kana being stalked by a yokai that has been killing children on their 13th birthday. Naturally she’s rescued by Nura… unfortunately, this leads to her falling for the Nura side of Rikuo’s personality, and asking if Rikuo can hook her up. Ah, secret identities… (There’s also a great mirror of Kana spying on Rikuo and Tsurara at the start, with Tsurara doing the same at the end when Kana is being ‘overly friendly’… romance is likely not important in this series, but it’s sometimes cute to see. Finally, a new gang of yokai comes in to ‘take over’, and start by going after Rikuo’s grandfather. Which is unfortunate, as he’s hanging out with Yura, who most likely would try to kill him if she knew who he was. Nura is trying to do the yokai tales as a mafia/yakuza-type story, and so far it’s working pretty well.