Oishinbo: Izakaya–Pub Food: A la Carte

3.0 out of 5 stars Sliced too thin

Oishinbo: Izakaya–Pub Food: A la Carte (Oishinbo: a la Carte)

There are two issues to address here: “Oishinbo” the series, and “Oishinbo” as released by Viz Signature. I love the one, but am disappointed with the other.

“Oishinbo” (Translating directly as “Delicious Boy”) is a long running (over 100 volumes) and super-popular Japanese comic that deals with Japanese cooking and journalist Yamaoka Shiro’s quest for “The Ultimate Menu.” The series delves deeply into Japanese cuisine, and has been adapted into animation and a live-action TV show. Perhaps daunted by the length of the series, Viz Signature has released what they call “Oishinbo A La Carte” where they take chunks of stories from the comic and group them thematically.

This particular volume is based around a unique form of Japanese pub grub restaurants called Izakaya. Literally translating as “Drink-Eat Shops,” izakayas are usually small little local joints where you can stop by at any time and expect to get drinks, small bits of unpretentious food, and conversation at a cheap price. I love izakayas, and cooked at one for a short while when I lived in Japan. They are probably what I miss most about the country.

“Oisihnbo: Izakaya Pub Food” does a great job at getting across the spirit of the izakaya, and of some of the dishes you might find there. In typical “Oishinbo”-fashion, Yamaoka’s izakayas are far off the beaten path, serving delicacies like black edamame from Tanba, chicken skin hot pot, and four-hour boiled potatoes. All of the recipes look fantastic–some of them fantastic in the literal sense. “Oishinbo” is also famous in Japan for fancy recipes that aren’t actually any good when you try to make them–and all of them make me long for Japanese izakaya fare. If you like to cook, “Oishinbo” is an inspiration, and every time I read a volume it isn’t long before I head to the kitchen.

And while the food all looks good, not all the stories in this volume are strictly speaking “izakaya tales.” Viz seemed to have struggled with the theme, so you get some very loosely related episodes. But still good.

The big problem with this book is that while the cooking portions are intact, the story is random. One episode might have Yamaoka being pursued by the rich and beautiful Futaki Mariko, and the next episode could have Yamaoka and his wife Yuko giving birth to twins. Characters appear and disappear at random, being introduced in other comics not included in this particular collection.

I like the story of “Oishinbo” as well as the food, and it is frustrating when in one episode Yamaoka and Yuko are busy designing their wedding costumes with a famous fashion designer, but then you never get to actually see the results because the next episode has them long married. I think Viz underestimated the potential of this series, and should have released them in serialized order just like every other Japanese comic.

Presented as it is, it makes for a disappointing reading experience.


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