Oishinbo is part of the Viz Signature line and should hopefully still be widely available at the time of writing this post.
My rating: 4 out of 5 stars
What’s great about this series is that it covers a subject matter which you don’t find very often in translated manga – its a book aimed at adults centering around food appreciation (Oshinbo basically means ‘gourmet’, I think).
However, rather than a recipe book or cooking guide, this series doesn’t attempt to teach you all that much about how to cook Japanese food, it’s actually more of a drama where food, cooking styles or equipment are at the centre of events.
What brings this down slightly, but was probably unavoidable by the publisher, is the lack of cohesion between the chapters and lack of character introduction at the beginning. The western release of this series has been culled from over 100 volumes of the comic in Japan (its very long running over there), so instead of just publishing the entire series from the beginning (which probably would have been impossible considering the relatively small market there is for a manga like this in English), they have cherry picked chapters based on certain foody themes.
In this volume its the basics of Japanese cuisine, such as dashi stock, knife skills, chopsticks and crockery. Next volume is all about Sake and other drinks, and so on.
In general this setup works pretty well, as most of the chapters the editors have chosen are standalone stories that finish up neatly. However, this setup does mean that the reader only has a some brief character outlines to read at the beginning, then they have to dive right into a chapter without story-based character introductions like you would get in other series. It feels as if you’ve picked up a series at volume 3 and are trying to get into it.
Even so, by half way through the book I had really started to enjoy the foody drama – there are some techniques that are so overly complicated that the mind boggles, and characters are amusingly overdone, with lines like “You don’t deserve to be a chef!!”
Additional: although these notes were written back when I had only read volume 1, I later read and enjoyed all of the rest of the volumes Viz brought out (7 in all). In fact I enjoyed it more and more with each subsequent volume.