By Leroy Douresseaux
March 10, 2009 - 13:27
|Oishinbo a la Carte Sake cover image is courtesy of barnesandnoble.com.|
Rated “T” for “Teen”
Tõzai News is celebrating its 100th anniversary, and as part of that celebration the newspaper’s publishers have commissioned the creation of the “Ultimate Menu,” a model meal embodying the pinnacle of Japanese cuisine. The newspaper’s bosses give the job of creating the menu to a young writer named Yamaoka Shirõ and his partner, Kurita Yũko. Yamaoka may be cynical and often lazy, but he also has a refined palate and an encyclopedic knowledge of food… thanks to his father.
Yamaoka’s father is Kaibara Yũzan, a prominent artist with an uncanny sense of taste. Kaibara is known for his ferocious temper as much as he is known for his supernatural knowledge of the art, preparation, presentation, and spirit of Japanese cuisine. Father and son are now bitter enemies, and Tõzai News’ rival, Teito Times, has commissioned Kaibara to head the “Supreme Menu,” a project to rival the “Ultimate Menu.”
In Oishinbo A la Carte: Sake, Yamaoka’s attention focuses on sake, the Japanese alcoholic beverage made from rice. Sake is the drink that has for centuries played the same roles in Japan as wine and beer have in the West. Yamaoka decides that drink pairings – which drink goes best with which foods – must be an integral part of his “Ultimate Menu.” Along the way Yamaoka helps two “Westernized” snobs: his Executive Editor at the Tõzai News, Koizumi Kyõchi, and the literary critic Furuyoshi Shinichi, appreciate sake. Yamaoka also extols the virtues of good champagne, and instructs on pairing duck and sake – the correct way. In the epic, six-part “The Power of Sake,” Yamaoka and Kurito take their fellow travelers on a tour of the triumphs and tragedies of sake production.
THE LOWDOWN: Readers will learn more about sake than they ever thought they needed to or wanted to, for that matter. However, writer Tetsu Kariya and artist Akira Hanasaki have a wonderful way of making what could be a mildly entertaining documentary, travelogue, and food show into a joyful read that makes the reader hungry and thirty for Japan.
Kariya fills his story with details about the history, production, and business of sake, on top of all the details about appreciating it as a drink, but this manga doesn’t become a series of talking heads. Instead, Kariya provides those small details about each character that makes you want to listen to them – you want to read every detail of what they say. Yamaoka and Kaibara Yuzan, Yamaoka’s father, get the grand treatment in terms of characterization, but Kariya gives the supporting cast the kind of flavorful dashes that also make them attractive. Hanasaki’s art catches these nuances and translates them into lively character drawings that make every character attractive.
POSSIBLE AUDIENCE: The treatise, diatribe, and love letter to sake and its relationship with the Japanese people that is Oishinbo A la Carte: Sake should fascinate people who are fascinated by food culture.