Posts Tagged ‘Japan’

Ask the Vegetable Garden

Friday, April 22nd, 2011

Viz only released seven volumes of Oishinbo A la Carte in the United States, despite there being about twenty volumes to draw from (as well as over 100 volumes of the unabridged manga, but it’s understandable that no one wants to go through the massive undertaking of translating and releasing the entire series). The A la Carte volumes draw from the entire back catalog of Oishinbo adventures, and thus can be read in any order, which is how “Vegetables” came to be the final volume that I read. And it’s a personal shame, because the vegetable volume is probably the weakest of the entire series as released in English.

Many of the stories presented in Oishinbo have a very technical minded focus—how to cut, season, boil, grill, and so forth—with the stated intent to bring the best flavor out of the ingredients. With a lot of the food presented, the flavor and texture were often dependent on well each dish was prepared. This was especially prominent in the volumes on fish (including sushi and sashimi), rice, and sake. But with vegetables, the emphasis switches more to the quality of the ingredients. It’s not that the quality didn’t matter before, but here it is paramount and almost a given. As long as the vegetables are native to the area and not treated with pesticides and herbicides—a point hammered forth repeatedly in this volume—the vegetables will be delicious, and the characters must learn to appreciate that. Most of the stories are about how the goodness and purity of vegetables will bring people together and solve their problems. That’s fine in small doses, but in succession it can get boring.

The best story in A la Carte Vegetables is an installment of the ongoing Ultimate Menu vs. Supreme Menu battle, where Yamaoka and Kaibara Yūzan do battle with cabbages and turnips. The battles are some of the most exciting  parts of Oishinbo, so it’s good that they included one here. But even that story comes down to the goodness and purity of vegetables, and the way Yamaoka is always missing or misunderstanding some key ingredient has become rather formulaic after reading seven (much less a hundred) volumes.

Even with that repetition I still find the series an enjoyable read, and am sad to see the English-speaking world denied any further volumes of this addictive and mouthwatering manga.

Oishinbo A la Carte: Vegetables
story by Tetsu Kariya
art by Akira Hanasaki
translated by Tetsuchiro Miyaki
edited by Leyla Aker and Jonathan Tarbox
published by Viz Signature (San Francisco, 2009)
ISBN 978-1-4215-2143-5

An Animator’s Outlook on Tragedy

Tuesday, March 29th, 2011

Reports and stories continue to pour out of Japan in the wake of the earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan on March 11; many are heartbreaking but there is the occasional ray of hope that shines. Perhaps the most welcome news anyone could get is to find out a loved one is okay.

It was the next day when the staff behind Joe is Japanese received that very welcome news regarding their friend Koga Sato, an animator who is also the basis for their main character Joe McCunney. He took the time to write them an e-mail that not only affirmed he was okay, but relayed the events of the day, which were stunning, sad, and sometimes even a bit funny. That mix of emotions has been made into a special mini-comic, titled “Koga’s Email.”

Koga’s imagination and sense of  humor is really at work here, most evident in the fact that he makes quite a few odd pop culture references in his account, like saying that his office looked like “Mike Tyson fought with Rickson Gracie.”

The artists have put out a request that if you enjoy the comic, please donate to the Search Dog Foundation, whose dogs are currently searching for people in Fukushima. To help spread the word, they’ve released “Koga’s Email” under a Creative Commons license (CC BY-ND), so feel free to repost it.

(via The Webcomic Overlook)

Drops of the Gods Fall on US Shores

Thursday, January 27th, 2011

Well, that certainly took long enough. Drops of the Gods, the wine manga that’s spurred wine culture in the Far East and been spotlighted in various major news outlets like the Japan Times, the Daily Mail, the New York Times and this very blog, is finally coming to the United States.

Vertical announced the news this morning on the ANNcast (part of Anime News Network). They also announced that they’ve acquired the rights to Osamu Tezuka’s Princess Knight, one of the very first shōjo manga in history. This too is a big deal, though not as relevant to nonfiction comics.

Each English Vertical volume of Drops of the Gods will carry the equivalent of two Japanese volumes, for a total of about 400 pages, selling for $14.95 each.

(via Robot 6 and Anime News Network)

The Soul of the Japanese Kitchen

Friday, October 29th, 2010

One of the problems I had with the Oishinbo A la Carte series was its lack of context. By collecting stories based on the foods they cover, they gave you a generous helping of a particular subject, but there were also snippets of actual plot that were tantalizing, but ultimately not very filling—they just made you hungry for more.

Read multiple volumes, however, and the larger picture starts to emerge. It’s still somewhat fragmentary, but sometimes it seems like the stories were chosen far more carefully than just by what foods they feature. One volume may reference a story that happens to appear in another volume; others may contain essential back story.

So it seems in Oishinbo A la Carte:  Japanese Cuisine, where they take a more general direction with the food spotlighted. Here, the focus is on the “fundamental ingredients” that constitute the “soul of the Japanese kitchen.” We get to read about making dashi (stock), sashimi, chopsticks, the tea ceremony, and general hospitality. At the same time, we receive a healthy dose of the cast, learning more about Toyama, Kyogoku, Tomii, and even Kaibara and Yamaoka. Want to know why Yamaoka can’t stand his father? The answer is revealed here!

It’s always interesting to see early chapters of the manga, as there have been significant changes in the character design (never mind the art style). Kurita has seen the most dramatic progression, but even Yamaoka has his evolution as well—in early chapters he seems to sport a bad attempt at facial hair and he tends to roll the sleeves of his suit up. It is also in the earlier chapters that we see the most plot development; in running so long with the same plot (the Ultimate Menu), the characters end up stuck in a holding pattern. I suppose things will start to progress again once the creators decide to end it, but we’re almost at thirty years already.

On to the food! This volume feels a bit less instructional than others, because they focus more on the culture surrounding food in addition to the food itself. There is still a bit about cutting sashimi that was very informative, and the volume contains two recipes for seabream sashimi, both of which sound delicious and appear relatively easy to prepare. However, this volume’s main instructional purpose is to make the reader aware of their etiquette, both in preparing and serving food as well as eating it. Food is more than taste; it’s an experience.

Oishinbo A la Carte: Japanese Cuisine
story by Tetsu Kariya
art by Akira Hanasaki
translated by Tetsuchiro Miyaki
edited by Leyla Aker
published by Viz Signature (San Francisco, 2009)
ISBN 978-1-4215-2139-8

Dispatches from Tokyo

Friday, September 3rd, 2010

Living in a foreign country can be overwhelming, especially if you don’t speak the language. You might miss out on a lot, especially if you’re only there for a short period of time. Which might be why, back in 2006, German artist Dirk Schwieger proposed the following to his readers while living in Tokyo: send him suggestions for places to go, people to meet, or just interesting topics to investigate, and he will go out and do it. No questions asked, and he doesn’t have to like it. Then he chronicled each “assignment” in the form of a webcomic on his blog.

In 2008 these comics were collected into a book, Moresukine: Uploaded Weekly From Tokyo. The name “Moresukine” comes from the Japanese method of pronouncing “Moleskine,” the brand of notebook the original comics were created in, which the printed book sought to emulate in its design. The book is the size and cut of a Moleskine notebook, and if not for the illustration on the blue band wrapped around the cover, it could easily be mistaken for one.

The book consists of a brief introduction and story, followed by the stories of each assignment, from fashion to fugu. He covers topics as diverse as the Studio Ghibli Museum, love hotels, and Japanese slang. Each story is short but sweet; few overstay their welcome, while some, like the entry on religion, might not be long enough. He plays with the passage of time on a few assignments; the rooftop roller coaster entry tells the story of riding the roller coaster while simultaneously recounting the events leading up to that ride. The gender entry is actually a fold-out page; a series of random, yet interconnected thoughts are spread across a sheet two pages wide and two pages tall. It can be confusing, but greatly satisfying once all the pieces fall into place.

As all of the main Moresukine strips have previously appeared on the web, Schwieger attempts to sweeten the pot by offering bonus material in the published book.  The last section consists of a series of strips created by other artists, chronicling their responses to a challenge issued by Schweiger: talk to a Japanese person and write a strip about it. The selection of artists is mostly European, with a few from Canada and the United States. Some of the choices are rather… interesting, including Steve Havelka of Pokey the Penguin! and Ryan North of Dinosaur Comics. These two are not what you think of when you talk about “artistic” or “worldly” comics, but they produce interesting and entertaining results nonetheless. My favorite was the story by Monsieur le Chien, who took the time out to draw a strip chronicling not only his search for and encounter with a Japanese person, but also his previous thoughts on the Japanese (and also stereotypes of Frenchmen driving through the countryside in a Citroen Chevaux 2).

Moresukine is a quick read that can be confusing at times, but it provides an interesting and non-judgmental look at the culture of Japan through the eyes of a foreigner, all while not being afraid to experiment with the layout of a traditional comic.

Moresukine: Uploaded Weekly From Tokyo
written and illustrated by Dirk Schwieger
published by NBM Publishing (New York, 2008)
ISBN 978-1-56163-537-5

Working Characters, Smiling Politely

Friday, August 20th, 2010

Japan has a very visual culture—not only in the prevalence of manga, which makes up almost half of all publishing sales in Japan—but also in their language, where kanji often resemble the actions or objects they are intended to symbolize, and also in the cartoon characters that permeate many aspects of life in Japan.

Hello, Please! seeks to provide a chronicle, a catalog of these characters as they appear on signs, packages, and brochures. Matt Alt and Hiroko Yoda divide the characters by who/what they represent: Official Characters, which represent organizations like police departments, the military, and transportation systems; Instructional Characters, which offer how-to inside instructional manuals and the like; Warning Characters, which tell people what NOT to do in public and life; Advertising Characters, which appear on posters and product packaging; and Food Characters, which appear on food packaging  but could also promote healthy eating habits and other food-related issues.

Each of these categories is explained in a brief introduction, which ties the cartoon characters to Shinto animism and other traditional Japanese cultural beliefs. But aside from the introduction the text inside is minimal, with each page taken up entirely by the photos of these characters in the wild, with a small caption in the corner to explain what it is we’re looking at.

The design of the book isn’t perfect; there are no page numbers for most of the book, making the individual sections hard to locate, and a few of the captions encompass more than one page but that isn’t always clear at a first glance. The book also feels as if its going to detach from the spine, though on closer inspection of the binding I don’t think it will.

Overall this book is highly informative in different ways: it can be an intriguing look into the Japanese mindset and culture (I for one, did not know that it is believed that catfish can predict earthquakes), or a good primer on advertising and character design. While it is not comprehensive, it does provide a good starting point.

Hello, Please!
written and photographed by Matt Alt and Hiroko Yoda
designed by Alice Chau
published by Chronicle Books (San Francisco, 2007)
ISBN 978-0-8118-5674-4

All the News That’s Fit to Draw

Thursday, June 3rd, 2010

Given that Japan is losing its fourth Prime Minister in four years, now seems like a good time to talk about Manga no Shimbun, the manga newspaper. Young people just aren’t reading the news these days, and this is an attempt to draw young Japanese back into the world of current events with something they definitely do still read: comics. Each comic posted on the site is an actual news story, depicting the major events of the day in topics such as politics, economics, sports, entertainment, and leisure.

For example, Honda is increasing production in China:

With over one hundred manga artists at their disposal, the site updates several times a day to bring you the latest developments, like what’s going on with that aforementioned Prime Minster, Yukio Hatoyama. Previously, they posted a whole series on “regime change.” But you know you’d rather just read the latest on Lindsay Lohan.

The site is currently only available in Japanese, though the creators have previously mentioned wanting to translate it into English, French, and Korean.

(via Wired)

Drops of the Gods

Tuesday, October 21st, 2008

Food-themed manga is not new to Japan, but talking about wine? Certainly a new thing in a country known for its sake and beer. That all changed with the publication of Kami no Shizuku (Les Gouttes de Dieu, “The Drops of the Gods”). It follows the trials of a young man tasked with finding 12 legendary wines so he can inherit his father’s collection of rare vintages.

The comic has become so popular that restaurants and wine sellers adjust their stocks according to whatever wine is featured in the latest installment of the manga, because those are the ones sure to sell out. Kami no Shizuku has helped raise the profile of wine in the Far East, spurring sales in Korea, China, and Taiwan. The manga has been spotlighted in the Japan Times, the Daily Mail, and today, a feature in the Dining & Wine section of the New York Times.

Unfortunately, though a French translation has been produced, the same can’t be said for English no release is planned (yet).

Wired Gets It Backwards

Tuesday, October 14th, 2008

Maybe this is a bit old, but quick! Before the manga craze dies down like so many people have predicted time-and-time-again over the past seven years let’s take a look at the feature Wired magazine did on manga last year.

Maybe it’s a little late to the party after all, as we pointed out, manga has been big for a while, consistently taking prime slots on the USA Today booklists and earning its own section in large chain bookstores like Barnes and Noble and Borders but to their credit, they don’t do a half-assed job of it, showing a comprehensive understanding of Japan, comics, and manga itself.

There’s a great article about manga culture in Japan, explaining the ubiquity of manga and how it feeds into other industries like film and television. But it’s the complimentary manga that we’re going to take a look at, since that’s our expertise here.

You have a choice of reading the manga in Flash, or downloading it directly from their site, but the latter is not recommended, because true-to-format, the manga reads from right-to-left, a fact that was not taken into account when the PDF was assembled. So you have to scroll to the bottom and work your way up, which makes the whole thing almost unreadable. The Flash application is marginally better, where you use your mouse to “turn the page,” but you have to literally drag the page over just like a real comic, which is pretentious and annoying (and sometimes buggy). If we wanted the feel of paper, we could have bought the actual issue of the magazine.

As for the comic itself, it’s actually pretty good. The writer shows a thorough understanding of the manga market in both Japan and the United States, even taking the time to interview various industry figures, giving the whole piece a credibility that even many major news outlets who report on manga lack. There’s also a good understanding of the American comic market, which means the piece avoids the usual finger-pointing and conceit that plagues articles written by insiders (usually fans) who think of the American market as “crappy superhero books.”

Maybe they need their own special online manga to explain American comics. Now wouldn’t that be the ultimate cultural exchange?