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Manga / Iron Wok Jan

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Kiriko, Celine, Okonogi, Jan

Iron Wok Jan is a shonen manga created by Shinji Saijyo, with technical advisor Keiko Oyama. It was serialized in Weekly Shonen Champion from 1995 to 2000.

After his grandfather's death, chef-in-training Jan Akiyama comes to Tokyo to further his education at the Gobancho restaurant, owned by Mutsuju Gobancho, his grandfather's old rival. Being a Jerkass, Jan introduces himself by insulting the restaurant's fried rice, and demonstrating his own culinary skills.

This quickly causes friction with Kiriko Gobancho, granddaughter of the restaurant's owner, and a promising young chef in her own right. She and Jan quickly become rivals, largely because of their opposing philosophies about cooking: while Kiriko believes in keeping her customers in mind, the misanthropic Jan believes that "cooking is about winning" — creating dishes that will draw attention despite the disgust or hatred of the eater. Nevertheless, while not really "joining forces", they both still work against evil food critic Nichido Otani ("The man with the tongue of a God"), humiliating him by serving him dishes whose ingredients he cannot identify, despite his reputation. Otani vows vengeance, and sets up a series of rival chefs and tournaments in an effort to crush Jan and the Gobancho.

After the original series ended, Saijyo wrote a revival, Iron Wok Jan! R - The Summit Operation, which ran from 2006 to 2010. ComicsOne and DrMaster published the original manga in English from 2002 through 2007; there are no plans to publish R in English yet.

Tropes seen in this series include:

  • Anti-Hero: Jan is a one of Nominal Hero variety. He is an extremely self-centered and arrogant Jerkass who thinks "cooking is about winning".
  • Arc Words: "Cooking is about..." Every chef of note in the series has his or her own way to finish that sentence.
  • Arrogant Kung-Fu Guy: Jan himself. It is not enough for Jan to win; his opponents must lose. The reason he behaves like a Jerkass and uses bizarre and disgusting ingredients is to savor the victory of people falling over themselves to eat his food anyway. He views cooking dishes that make what his opponent's cooking taste horrible despite itself as part of the game. At one point, Jan even follows a defeated contender in a contest all the way into the street to continue taunting him.
  • Authority Equals Asskicking: Bai Lan Wang, ruler of an underground Chinese restaurant empire, was able to outcook Kaiichiro and Mutsuju at the same time.
  • Awesomeness by Analysis: Otani's reputation comes from — usually — being able to identify the ingredients in a dish just by tasting it, or even by looking at it. Ransei Koh is able to deduce what dish his opponents are trying to make from just looking at the ingredients.
  • Berserk Button: Jan's always sour, but insulting his grandfather, his reputation, or his hard-earned traditional cooking skills brings out the Ax-Crazy in him.
  • Big Bad: Otani. He's behind 90% of the grief the main characters are presented with.
  • Butt-Monkey:
    • Takao Okonogi, a hapless chef trainee who seems to have no talent for the job whatsoever. He is, however, the one person Jan is remotely nice to, perhaps because Okonogi presents no threat to him at all.
    • Mochizuki, the adult supervision of the Gobancho's kitchen, who routinely humiliates himself trying to go against the young main cast — or just trying to keep up.
  • Cool Old Guy: Mutsuju Gobancho, despite being over 70, has a ripped body gained from years of constant cooking with heavy implements.
  • Disguised in Drag: Jan and Okonogi disguise themselves as women to deliver a challenge to Gogyo and Ohtani at a party.
  • Distant Finale: At the end of the main story, Jan and Kiriko leave for China to continue their training. Three years later, Okonogi has finally learned to cook. Jan and Kiriko return loaded down with exotic (and possibly illegal) ingredients, but are getting along only slightly better than when they left.
  • During the War: Side stories in which Jan and Kiriko's grandfathers pursue their own training in China, mildly inconvenienced by the fact that World War II is going on around them at the time.
  • Evasive Fight-Thread Episode:
    • Every time Jan and Kiriko "fight", something always interferes with the outcome; a biased judge with a tie vote, rampaging ostriches...
    • Spoiler for the final volume: Just when Jan and Kiriko's grandfather are finally about to do battle, he has a heart attack and dies.
  • Evil-Detecting Dog: This trope becomes a plot point in one arc, when Jan terrifies ostriches by his very presence.
  • Hold Up Your Score: During the cooking competitions, with Otani playing the role of "unpleasable judge" for Jan. This becomes more of a plot point during the semifinals of the second Young Chef's competition, when all the competitors get scores above 90 out of 100, and Otani's ten points are a matter of life and death for Jan.
  • Honor Before Reason: Jan's grandfather committed suicide when he realized that his cancer had destroyed his taste buds, A Fate Worse Than Death for him. This is the reason Jan was sent to the Gobancho in the first place.
  • Lethal Chef: "Taoist" Gogyo, who is in fact a trained assassin able to cook delicious non-poisonous food that nevertheless will kill the eater. Jan himself, while not strictly trained to kill with food, has no compunctions about creating dishes that will put people in the hospital.
  • Lightning Bruiser: Ganou Riku from the second Young Chefs' competition. One bystander even says "How can someone so big move so fast?" watching him cook.
  • Serial Escalation: Maggots. Chainsaws. Brains. Kicking live sharks out of their tanks. Cymbal Banging Monkeys. What ingredients will Jan use? How will he cook them? And why will the judges be compelled to eat this time?
  • Serious Business: The Young Chefs' competition is able to fill a dome stadium; audiences are willing to wait outside for hours, in the rain, for the finals. (Oh, and Ransei Koh casually deduces that control of the worlds' restaurants would mean control of the world itself...)
  • Social Services Does Not Exist: Want to take your grandson out into the middle of nowhere, keep him out of school, and beat him to the point his back is layered with scars whenever he's critical of your cooking or fails to complete training exercises such as tossing rocks up and down in a wok a thousand times without stopping? Go for it; no one's going to stop you.
  • The Spartan Way: Candidates for the title of Bai Lan Wang (like Koh) are trained literally from birth as expert chefs.
  • Straw Critic: Otani, whose skill is undeniable, but uses his influence in the restaurant world to crush chefs he dislikes for personal reasons.
  • Technician Versus Performer: Played with by Kiriko Gobancho and Jan Akiyama. Jan, is an inverted Performer in that he cooks to deliberately earn the hatred and disgust of the audience, using bizarre ingredients and cooking methods - to make the victory of his cuisine all the sweeter. On the other hand, he scorns chefs who put more effort into their dish's presentation than himself. Kiriko's ideals are to keep the customers in mind, and is a skilled food sculptor, but she is a much more deliberate, no-nonsense chef than Jan. The two are both portrayed as equals in skill.
  • Training from Hell: Jan undergoes this at the hands of his grandfather, and Ransei Koh is revealed to have done the same, only worse. Kiriko partially averts this trope, however: She's just as good at cooking as the previous two characters, using "normal" training methods. Granted, she won't rest until she can cut steel pipe with her cleaver without ruining the blade — but nobody makes her do it.
  • Villain Protagonist: In any other cooking-based manga like Food Wars! or Hell's Kitchen, note  Jan would have likely been written as The Rival, if not an outright antagonist (Compare and contrast Jan to Soma and Satoru who are far nicer than him.). Here he's the main character.