Ep. 12: Oishinbo
Three months in and Chip Zdarsky is starting to ask the big questions! What is a Japanese novel? What even is manga, anyway? Luckily we balance out the serious stuff with a big helping of delicious food chatter as we discuss the king of all food manga, Oishinbo! Then we work off those calories with a deep dive into sports manga, too! Grab a snack and settle in to this feast of an episode.
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Oishinbo: Japanese Cuisine
By Tetsu Kariya and Akira Hanasaki
Translated by Tetsuichiro Miyaki, Lettered by Kelle Han
Published by VIZ Media (Print and Digital) https://www.viz.com/oishinbo
00:00: It’s time for Oishinbo! One of Christopher’s favourite manga. The title basically translates to “A Gourmand”. Collected in 111 consecutive manga volumes, the 12th best-selling manga of all time. It ran in Shogakukan’s Big Comic Spirits magazine from 1983 to 2014, incidentally the same magazine that serialized Tekkon Kinkreet from a few episodes ago…! Oh and Christopher mentions a little way down that there are 200 volumes of Oishinbo–this is either wrong, or if you’re being charitable, right but includes the numerous reprinted and repackaged editions in Japan, like the Ultimate Menu vs. Supreme Menu collection, or the a la carte best-of collections which are what inspired these North American editions. But yeah, the official volume count is 111.
Oh, and we somehow failed to mention that the series was adapted into an anime that’s now free to watch on YouTube! Oishinbo!
02:35: Starting right off with controversy!
May as well get this out of the way: Following the radiation leakage into the ocean and surrounding area from Fukushima Dai-ichi reactor following the Great Tohoku Earthquake and Tsunami of 2011, some Japanese residents started to become somewhat concerned by the possibility of contamination of the soil, vegetables, foods grown in the region. Oishinbo’s writer Tetsu Kariya is someone who has very strong opinions on food, as you’ll come to learn from this episode, and along with artist Akira Hanasaki created an Oishinbo story where the lead character, Shiro Yamaoka, gets a nosebleed after visiting the reactor(!), and warns the people of Fukushima to evacuate, and calls the region (and products from it…) unsafe. This happened in 2014, and stirred up quite a bit of controversy on the national level, and the end result was the series going on hiatus at that time and… not returning since. Is this a case of someone stirring up controversy where there was none, ‘truther’ type behaviour that goes against all scientific reasoning, or legitimate worry from someone that’s been paying close attention to food production for decades? Well, it’s not that cut and dried, unfortunately. You can read an article at the Asahi Shimbun newspaper that appeared at the time courtesy of the WayBackMachine here: https://web.archive.org/web/20140516044734/http://ajw.asahi.com/article/behind_news/social_affairs/AJ201405130035
It’s not my place as a foreigner to step in and pick a side here. Reading that article it seems that Kariya-sensei did his homework, interviewed real people and quoted them directly in the manga, and those people backed up (and directly inspired) the events that he portrayed. Whether you agree with their conclusions is up to you, but know that Kariya’s take was not a popular one.
As for the fall-out, this blog MartinJapan covers the apology that the series’ publisher Shogakukan issued, translated into English, since it doesn’t seem to be on the Asahi Shimbun website any longer:
I can’t find the actual notice of it having been suspended, I imagine it was made quietly.
So yeah, sorry to start so heavy, but if you’re talking about an extremely long-running manga and then mention it’s not running anymore, it’s probably worth noting why. I also should note that the Japanese Wikipedia page for Oishinbo has a section covering this event that is more than 4 times as long as my explanation above, so please take my description of the situation with a grain of salt, and I apologize for any unintentional offense that might be caused. Thank you.
03:45: It’s true, even as much as shonen manga (and to a lesser extent seinen manga) dominates the sales charts in North America, the breadth and diversity of manga being published today dwarfs what was available when Oishinbo was released in English in 2009, let alone the early 2000s and Tokyopop’s radical idea to publish comics for girls, aka shojo manga.
04:26: So, not exactly. This series of Oishinbo actually reprints random whole volumes of the Japanese best-of series Oishinbo a la carte, which were themselves themed collections of stories pulled from across the history of the series. These are non-consecutive volumes, and there are lots and lots still out there just… waiting… to be published in English. 🙂 Christopher gets this badly wrong later in the episode. Gomennasai.
10:15: Yeah this is a book that will definitely make you miss restaurants.
10:45: The drawings of food REALLY ARE GREAT. Here’s some food shots. 🙂
11:29: Erik Larsen and Dave Sim are mentioned here as cartoonists who have created very long-running comics work. Sim’s Cerebus wrapped up 15 years ago with 300 issues, Larsen’s Savage Dragon continues to be released from Image Comics monthly-ish, and issues #262 hits shops in July.
14:10: Oishinbo is a dense read, you’ll get a sense of that as we excerpt pages below.
Moreover, each volume of Oishinbo features a text essay from the author as well! Here’s the first page of one of them:
So yeah, it’s not exactly a rollicking read at times, but you will absolutely learn a lot about the subject under discussion for each volume!
15:55: “Explainer Manga” is a great term that we go back to a lot this episode.
16:15: “I love a hero who bets on the horses.” It’s interesting, because when we mention that there’s no character development, this happens a few chapters in:
Except… nothing really changes. It would have been better to say, maybe, that there’s the illusion of character development, but really, it’s just about the food, and stays about the food.
17:05: I had to make the Venn Diagram that Deb mentions. Sorry.
17:45: Yeah that chopstick chapter will really catch you off guard, even if you’ve been using chopsticks for a long, long time.
18:10: Mangajin (literally, “manga person”) was a monthly English-language magazine that taught readers the Japanese language and about Japanese culture. Each issue featured a chapter from a popular manga translated into English, with translation notes and the original Japanese, as well as detailed cultural notes. It’s a really cool magazine, and if you wanna get some really obscure manga translations, try to pick up issues in quarter bins or on eBay.
Check out the Wikipedia article on this, it’s cool: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mangajin
19:00: Kosaku Shima is a legend. Basically a salaryman dude who works his way up the Japanese corporate ladder, in manga form. Of course he finds love, eats great food, drinks good booze, and travels the world along the way. Never officially translated into English for Western readers, the series got a bilingual edition from Kodansha intended ONLY for the Japanese market, to help Japanese business people learn English (especially business English) by reading their favourite manga. Because of that, the translations are a bit still (‘proper’) but that makes me love it more. I think there are 7 volumes published in this format from Kodansha, one where he’s Division Chief and one where he’s President. Also, more than 40 million copies in print.
20:21: Drops of God is a wine-manga that has a lot in common with Oishinbo as Deb points out. A young man’s inheritance is withheld after his world’s-best-wine-critic dad dies and insists in his will that the young man correctly identify 13 miracle bottles of wine. So he travels the entire world trying different kinds of wine, and you (the reader) get to learn about wine along with our protagonist!
While only 4 volumes were printed in English before the series stopped publication due to low sales, the series was picked up again by Kodansha and is being released digitally on ComiXology, with 44 volumes available.
20:30: To keep the conversation going, Christopher had to just quickly cover this and not really dig in. Luckily if you want more info, there’s Wikipedia. But basically all you need to know is that the bubble economy peaked from 86-91, and popped at the end of 91 and in early 92.
22:45: Man that’s a whole can of worms Christopher opened bringing in David Chang and Momofuku, Anthony Bourdain, and what was happening with food and Food TV, in 2009. I feel like there’s a much bigger, and very difficult and prickly article, to be written about all of that, and this probably isn’t the best place.
It’s also worth noting the role that the television show Iron Chef, which debuted on American TV in 1999, played in popularizing Japanese cuisine and food-knowledge in the American mainstream. I kind of can’t believe we didn’t bring up Iron Chef literally at all, this episode.
25:00: It’s not an undercurrent, other volumes talk shit about “foodies” constantly, and pretentious people who fake knowledge about food to put other people down or brag. The tea ceremony story in this volume is endemic of that view.
25:45: As we discussed above, the manga chapters around Fukushima expressed a point of view inconsistent with that of the Japanese Government. So, not exactly conservative? But also maybe conservative? Western politics don’t 100% map onto Japanese politics, it’s probably best for us to say simply that it’s controversial.
26:00: That Fukushima-related manga that Deb mentions is Ichi-F, by Kazuto Tatsuta. It’s a 1 volume manga, written by someone who worked at the damaged nuclear power plant, and it’s very interesting. Kudos to Kodansha for having released it.
27:00: That last paragraph of the essay is actually quite nice, and goes against some of the nationalist ideas that pop up in the series.
28:54: Those rockstar photos of Chip Zdarsky in Nakano.
29:00: I literally can’t find an online link to that restaurant in Nakano, but I _CAN_ find this photo with the page of Oishinbo in the corner:
30:30: This really is a series that I strongly recommend to anyone who’ll listen, that’s going to Japan for the first (or second, or third) time. It delivers a ton of information that’ll make you appreciate the culture of food so much more while you’re there. I’d been to Japan 3 times before I got to read Oishinbo, and I still learned so much!
31:30: Speaking caricature, this white French lady’s chin is a chonker.
Oh, and our American friend, mentioned earlier in the podcast:
34:00: Given that this is a best-of, it’s not surprising that there are a few issues with the actual plot details that jump around, but it’s far fewer than you might otherwise think.
35:00: Chatty Female! Yeah this coulda used a re-write.
36:40: OH FUCK. Christopher here, I’m very sorry. David was correct, it’s adapted from a Japanese best-of series. I got this confused with the Best of Golgo 13 that VIZ released, which were hand-picked stories. As I said above, and David correctly said, “This series of Oishinbo actually reprints random whole volumes of the Japanese best-of series Oishinbo a la carte, which were themselves themed collections of stories pulled from across the history of the series.”
I’m very sorry, David!
39:00: Drops of God we covered above. Food Wars: Shokugeki no Soma is a Shonen Jump shonen action manga about a young man trained by his dad to work in a family restaurant is instead sent to a famous, completely insane culinary school that matches a high school manga with the TV show Iron Chef, but bigger. Manga and anime from VIZ. Here’s a scene that explains what it’s all about, embedded in an episode of Binging with Babish, followed by the same sequence from the manga.
41:00: Chip’s complaints aside, this sort of explanation/over-explanation is endemic to explainer manga, and explainer-sequences in regular manga. Food Wars is a good example of that, where you get shonen action and drama and plot, and then just like 3-4 pages of explaining how food works.
41:40: “Less truer.” :-/
42:00: What IS a Japanese novel? This is a really good discussion that should probably be its own podcast. Perhaps it already is?
43:00: Convenience Store Woman, by Sayaka Murata. Look for it! It’s very good!
47:45: We get into the differences between translations a little in the Paradise Kiss episode, but we couldn’t send the Tokyopop edition to Chip to compare. But I’d really like to dig into that at some point, something that’s been re-translated and compare the two.
48:20: The strawberry page, with group consensus. This coulda used a rewrite.
52:00: Deb and Christopher, alongside friends Melissa, Jocelyne, and Jarrett, headed to the Kiuchi Brewery, makers of Hitachino Nest Beer. We had a very nice day, and had food and brewing explained to us almost exactly like an episode of Oishinbo. You can also take a brewery tour, like when the world opens up again, by visiting this page. https://hitachino.cc/en/brewery/
53:10: Shout out to Kinka Izakaya in Toronto!
55:50: Removing the imperfect grains of rice: it’s a real thing.
56:10: Usagi Yojimbo, by Stan Sakai. More than 30 volumes of manga featuring a wandering samurai, depicted as a rabbit, traveling across the Japanese countryside. It’ll occasionally feature “explainer” chapters about Japanese culture, such as a the soy sauce episode that David mentions!
57:45: Nekogahara by Hiroyuki Takei. Feudal Japan as portrayed by cats. Out now from Kodansha!
58:00: CatShitOne, a.k.a Apocalypse Meow is a manga where the Vietnam War is depicted anthropomorphically with cats. Was published by ADV but is now out of print, unfortunately.
59:00: There really is an explosion of food manga in the digital-only publishing space right now. We’ve previously mentioned one of our favourite series, Wakokazake, about a working woman hitting the izakaya after work each day and trying different foods and booze. Definitely go check it out, or the anime on Crunchyroll!
1:00:10: It really woulda been weird to pick up an anthology manga magazine like Big Comic Spirits and go from a chapter of Oishinbo to a chapter of TekkonKinkreet. Wild.
1:04:00: Buried an hour into these show notes, we will reveal to you the secret of North American manga publishing: There’s more manga that has been published, and is still being published, than could ever hope to be translated and released in English, and so things that are difficult are generally not worth pursuing when there’s much lower-hanging fruit, particularly lower-handing fruit that will sell well. It’s honestly why it’s so important to support weird, unique, different, and passion-project manga…!
1:05:10: Fun times with pals in Japan!
1:07:20: The Japanese/French restaurant in Hakodate that David mentions is called Shinzen. Beautiful bread and rich butter photo above. Deb’s friend Melissa actually wrote an article about Hakodate that mentions the restaurant, she had been there on a previous trip.
It doesn’t look like the restaurant has a website, but you can check it out on TripAdvisor.
1:08:20: Deb shouts out, sort of, Shirokiya in Hawaii. It’s not quite the same as getting Japanese food within Japan, as she points out with this basic bento.
1:09:10: The panel Chip’s mentioning is from the chopsticks image above that we reference at 17:45.
1:11:00: Yeah, Shiro is kind of a psycho.
1:13:30: Libraries are a thing! Most of them have digital lending programs where you can get manga onto your digital device, for FREE, just like borrowing a book! Do it! Google your closest library/system, get a library card, borrow books digitally!
1:15:18: THE BREAK! Please remember that after this point, all timestamps will be approximate.
1:16:00: We hit 10k downloads the week that Episode 7, Yotsuba, went live. We’re pretty psyched. Thanks again to everyone for listening. Extra special thanks to those of you spreading the word, leaving reviews, and helping us build our audience. Thank you very much!
1:17:00: Sports manga! So Ben, aka @franxferdinand, asks “What’s the dopest moment in sports manga?” and RainbowThoth, aka @erakthoth, asks “What is the quintessential sports manga, and what sports manga should Chip try?”
David starts off the list and excellently delineates some of the different eras of sports manga, and then Deb and Chris work in some suggestions as well. Here’s all the books mentioned in this segment:
Ashita No Joe, by Asao Takamori and Tetsuya Chiba. Set in post-war Japan, this 20 volume series follows a young boxer working to escape poverty as the nation rebuilds. Covers a lot of the period just before “The Post-war Economic Miracle,” and was a highly-influential and widely-read work that inspired the Japanese people in some very tough times. Not available in English.
Hajime No Ippo, by George Morikawa. Another long running (130+ volumes) boxing manga that began in 1989, the series follows a boy training to become a great boxer. It’s a bit like the Japanese manga version of Rocky, in that his early defeats set him up to succeed and move forward. The art is really great, and some of the Mangang (heh) took in an exhibition of this work:
This manga is not available in English, but as of July 1, Hajime no Ippo will be available digitally in Japanese for the first time.
Slam Dunk, by Takehiko Inoue. Following the career of a high school basketball team in Shonen Jump magazine, this series was the most popular manga in the world during its initial serialization, across not just Japan but most of Asia. It was… eventually… dethroned by Dragonball Z. In the series, a juvenile delinquent joins the school basketball team to try and score a girl, but it turns out he may have some aptitude for it. The series grows significantly in its telling across 31 volumes. Available print and digital from VIZ Media.
Real, by Takehiko Inoue. Inoue’s next basketball manga focuses on wheelchair basketball, and it shows the artist at the height of his artistic powers. It’s a bombshell of a work, and much more adult and… well… real. Absolutely worth checking out. Ongoing, print and digital, from VIZ.
Cross Game, by Mitsuru Adachi. I once told a Japanese manga fan that the only work by Mitsuru Adachi available in English was Cross Game, the highschool baseball manga. They were shocked, as it is generally believed that Adachi’s other baseball series’ Mix and especially the absolutely beloved Touch are much stronger works. Considering how good and affecting Cross Game is, I don’t know if I could handle an even better work. But I’d be willing to try. Available in 7 omnibus volumes from VIZ, print and digital.
Giant Killing, by Masaya Tsunamoto and Tsujitomo. The story of an underdog football (soccer) team who gets a pro-coach returning to Japan from abroad, the series is tremendously popular in Japan and has been running for 57 volumes, since 2007. Recently released in English digital editions by Kodansha.
Haikyu!!, by Haruichi Furudate. A short-statured boy falls in love with volleyball, and he builds a rivalry with a teammate that pushes them to both excel in the sport in this very intense sports manga series, just recently concluded in Shonen Jump magazine. There’s actually 45 volumes in this series, not what Christopher said, and it’s available print and digital from VIZ.
So in terms of best moments, David wants to shout out this particular manga from the volleyball manga Haikyu!!:
David says: “This is the moment this manga becomes great for me because it’s the moment when the underdog makes it clear that they aren’t quite as pitiful as the top dog assumes. The empty gaze on the first page, that overhead shot of the jump on the second page, and then Hinata’s ninja run to steal the ball—it’s the stuff I love. If you think about the implications, Hinata moved into position and then jumped and stole the ball in the time it took the taller boy to jump, which suggests that their match is going to be one for the ages.”
Speaking of Haikyu!!’s great moments, Deb’s pick for Haikyu!! is this sequence, which we present to you in both the anime version and the manga version…!
1:22:55: When talking about Giant Killing, Deb mentions that what makes it stand out is that it’s about grown-ups… something of a rarity in sports manga, but also in the sorts of manga getting translated into English and (arguably) manga in general. It’s also something that Chip has observed a bunch. I think we’ve got a spate of manga coming up, particularly The Strange Tale of Panorama Island, that will be what he’s looking for.
1:23:30: Slap Shot is a basically the hockey movie. Or at least it was until the Mighty Ducks came along.
1:24:00: The ice-hockey manga by Satoru Noda, the creator of Golden Kamuy, is called Supinamarada! (including the exclamation point). It’s Noda’s first manga series, set in Hokkaido, and I really wish it was translated, it sounds awesome. Also worth noting that there’s another ice-hockey manga I haven’t read, My Heavenly Hockey Club, that I assumed was about field hockey for some reason.
1:28:00: Yeah, Baki the Grappler is just nuts. I’m really sorry but I couldn’t find that sequence, it’s late and I’m really, really tired. If someone who loves Baki wants to send me a few jpegs I will happily include them. 🙂
1:30:00: Just realized I didn’t do a third weekly shout out for Ping Pong in the sports segment. Sorry, Taiyo Matsumoto fans. Everyone else go grab a copy of Ping Pong.
1:40:00: “Senior Citizen Manga, that’s what I need,” says Chip.
“You’ll get that next,” said Deb.
1:41:00: The deafening silence when it’s suggested we go twice a week.
Alright! Now it’s time to pick the next batch of manga for us to read! The next manga will be:
#17: Even Though We’re Adults Vol 1, by Takako Shimura
#18: Monthly Girls Nozaki-Kun Vol 1, by Izumi Tsubaki
#19: Yona of the Dawn Vol 1, by Mizuho Kusanagi
…and that’s it for this week!
Thanks so much for listening and for all of your support!
See ya next week!