Monday, July 02, 2012

Oishinbo: The challenge of deliciousness.

I'm doing this thing recommended by Austin Kleon's book to map out a 'creative' family tree.

Basically it's to find out who or what inspired the artist who inspired you, so in the end you end up with a big tree that's inter-related and you have your very own 'school of influence'.

I blogged about the manga about wine a few weeks ago and last Friday I stumbled across another manga about food: Oishinbo.

In order to compile the 'ultimate recipe book' the main character Shiro with his female side kick Yuko has to explore all around Japan to reveal the secret of Japanese cuisine. The villain? Shiro's elitist father, Yuzan, who's an artist, actor, food critic, and founder of the 'Gourmet Club'. He trained Shiro since young but later had a fall out when the wife died out of exhaustion and they've been crossing into each other's path since then.

It is no doubt that Drops of God refers to Oishinbo every way in terms of plot and characters (The kind and poor aiding people in need against the tide of rich evil tyrants). The main difference, is perhaps the style between the manga artists. Oishinbo was published since 1983 (7th longest running mango to date) and it had a heavy Tezuka-influence while DoG is more prone to the modern 'early Takehiko - Shojo' style we see in the early 00's.

Once again I'm humbled by the educational value of Oishinbo. The manga teaches us not only about wine like DoG, but also the preparation of Japanese, Chinese, French cuisine, the ingredients, the state of the agricultural industry, and the history behind the food. So far, I've learned how to spot a good sushi chef from an average one, how to tell if a tomato is good enough without cutting the flesh open, and how to cook a double-sided egg without flipping the egg, why certain plates or dishes are used during kaiseki, and why you should leave the restaurant if you know the chef smokes.

I guess the more I venture into genre-based manga, the more I respect the research and dedication that went behind creating a manga series. Sure any hipster with money to spend can travel to France and blog about their experience with mediocre writing skills. But to be able to tell a story based on the culinary experience AND illustrate it AND captivate an audience AND be educational, I don't think any other artists around the world can do that. (Pixar comes to mind, but they spend millions of dollars on research; a manga team consists of 2-4 people.)

Viz Media picked the 'best of the best' among the 104 books of the original series and compiled them into a 'easy for white people to understand' 7 book series, titled Oishinbo: Ala Carte. Each book has a theme of 'ramen', 'sake' or 'miso' but the stories won't make any sense chronologically, so think of it as watching a sitcom re-run.