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Manga / Oishinbo

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The Tozai News is celebrating its 100th anniversary. Part of the celebration is creating the "Ultimate Meal", one that represents the pinnacle of Japanese cuisine. The job has been assigned to Yamaoka Shiro, cynical and a bit lazy but a man with a wide knowledge of food and cooking techniques. He acquired this training from his father, Kaibara Yuzan — a man with a reputation as a premier gourmet and a nasty temper. Things go from bad to worse between the two when Yuzan agrees to assemble the "Superior Meal" for the Tozai News newspaper rival the Teito Times.

Shiro teams up with colleague Kurita Yuko and other co-workers on a quest to find the best of the best of Japanese cuisine. An interesting introduction to Japanese food, culture, and some history.

The English version is a variety of a la carte volumes, collections of earlier stories sorted by subject matter. This disrupts the storyline, but the editors try to keep the reader informed of what has occurred during the transitions.

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Examples:

  • Aesop: At the end of each volume, there are cautionary tales that teach a lesson. At the end of Japanese Cuisine there is an Aesop about simple values; at the end of the volume Sake there is one about sobriety, and at the end of the Ramen and Gyoza there is one about racism.
  • Always Someone Better: Being Shiro's mentor in cuisine matters and being a very much skilled gourmet, Kaibara always makes one step further than Shiro in countless cooking matches. Nonetheless, Shiro himself manages to make an edge of himself through sheer determination and creativity to balance his own father's raw cooking skills.
  • Art Evolution: The style in the early comics is softer and feels more expressive. Also, while Kurita looks very young in them Shiro actually looks older than later on.
  • Big Fancy House: Several, given Tozai News' clients' financial capabilities.
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  • Body Horror: The extended discussion of the potential hazards of eating raw freshwater fish is horrifying. And the drawings of flukes and tapeworms are beautiful but ewwwwww. All of the judges are rightfully being scared to death due to the revelation in that discussion.
  • Brilliant, but Lazy: Shiro, for most of the time.
  • Brutal Honesty: Both Shiro and Kaibara have the tendency to act like this whenever they spot a bad dish. Also, despite Shiro is being honest as ever regarding his opinion about bad dishes and other people's unwillingness to voice their opinion, his honesty actually helps him to solve every single problem he encounters.
  • Calling the Old Man Out: Much of the dramatic tension in the manga is between Shiro and his father.
  • Cannot Spit It Out: One of many problems that Shiro has to face is the Japanese people's tendency to not express their dislike towards bad food directly and to follow others' opinions about food (even though they're obviously bad) without concern for their own opinion. Shiro laments that this is the reason that many bad restaurants flourished because anyone who has an honest opinion about them gets reprimanded by others.
  • Character Development: Big time. Shiro started off as an apathetic and abrasive man who was traumatized by his mother's death who only do things because others told him to pleadingly. Even worse, he referred to Kurita (who was still a new employee at the time) as a naive woman who isn't supposed to stay late for work and a superstition-believer woman who was hindering his work. He eventually got a lot better by the end, being genuinely more caring for others.
  • Chekhov's Gun: As soon as the wild grape juice showed up during the turnip dish match, it became a great help for Shiro in his vegetable dish match.
  • Cooking Duel: Lots of these throughout the series, especially between Shiro and Yuzan or between Shiro/his colleagues and some other parties.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: Kanegami. His name even suggests it: "Money overall".
  • Culture Clash: In the Ramen & Gyoza volume, one of Shiro's superiors takes some out-of-towner colleagues from China to his favorite noodle shop; only to have them stop dead when they see the restaurant, accusing him of deliberately insulting them, and threaten to break off relations with the Tozai News. Turns out the restaurant's name uses an old Japanese word for China that many Japanese see as no worse than old-fashioned, but the mainland Chinese consider highly insulting because of its association with the horrors of the WWII occupation. Good thing Shiro has the connections to set things right.
  • Cynicism Catalyst: The reason Shiro became a verily cynical man in his outlook for life (especially in the beginning), was because he blamed his father for overworking her mother to death and Yuzan didn't even consider himself being at fault for causing her wife's death.
  • Easy Evangelism: Anyone who is okay with the use of pesticides at the beginning of a story will be converted to a rabid anti-pesticides advocate by one meal of non-pesticide using food—even if their other points besides taste are never addressed.
  • Expy: Kaibara Yuzan's personality is based off Kitaoji Rosanjin, a renowned epicure and artist from the Showa era in Japan, down to Rosanjin's Real Life tendencies for being a Jerkass and prideful artist because of his artistic skills.
  • Everybody Laughs Ending: Many of the story arcs end with everyone laughing, usually at either Shiro or Tomio losing it over some imagined outrage.
  • Failure Hero: Shiro is this only in his matches against his father. Although curiously, it is an example of Downplayed Trope as he actually managed to conclude his matches in a draw or even outright victory against Kaibara, although these instances are sadly not shown enough in the English-translated versions.
  • Family Business: Mariko's family hires Shiro to plan a restaurant, but there is an ulterior motive. It turns out that he is going to match Shiro with Mariko as a means to further Mariko's own restaurant business and to force him to resign from Tozai News.
  • Friend to All Children: Whenever kids are involved, Shiro will do everything to ensure their wellbeing, much to the surprise of his colleagues. Even before his Character Development kicks in, during a visit to Dainichi Electronics, he defended a child's opinion when said child stated that the sashimi prepared by Dainichi Electronics' CEO wasn't as good as the one prepared by the child's grandmother. As everyone is pretty much gutless to voice their honest opinion, only Shiro actually stepped in to defend that child, despite his cynical looks at the time.
  • Food Porn: This could alternatively be titled Food Porn: The Manga. Granted, since the manga was first published in the time where the Japanese society was experiencing a "gourmet boom" hype in the 80s and early 90s.
  • Green Aesop: This is pretty much one of the most consistent moral messages throughout the series, given the main characters' quest to look for the best cuisine dishes that can be passed on the future generations. You can at least find the main characters lamenting the state of Japan's current natural state amidst its drastic urbanization attempts, where it is harder to procure natural products that are chemical-free since major agricultural spots only produce commodities for the sake of profit and less about natural health.
  • Hachimaki: Worn by Jeff Larsen as he is perfecting his knife skills.
  • Hidden Heart of Gold: Despite being abrasive as ever, Kaibara never actually acts like an asshole to Yuko, especially after her marriage with Shiro. After winning a rice ball match, for instance (after Yuko's married Shiro), Kaibara only asks about who's the one doing the cooking for her family. When he knew that it is Yuko, he merely stated that she needs to take care of her family well without raising his voice. Kaibara being not a jerkass to Yuko usually comes off as a sight of an anomaly to Shiro, given Kaibara's personality to pretty much everyone else who is below him.
  • Improbable Food Budget: One has to wonder how come Tozai News manages to pool up a significant amount of budget to perform regular cooking matches with Teito News.
  • Insufferable Genius: Kaibara is considered a brilliant artist, and is an expert gourmet. And he takes every opportunity to exploit this, throwing his weight around with no consideration for others. This was the germ of the conflict between him and Shiro...
  • Jerkass Has a Point: While Kaibara usually chastises Shiro during their food matches just to brag about his skills and opinions for the fun of it, no one disagrees with him when he points out the dangers of using raw salmons by Shiro's raw sashimi dishes. Given the obvious health hazards that may entail to those who like eating raw fish dishes (even though the fish itself has been checked off any parasitic eggs), his heated opinion is justified at that time.
  • Kimono Is Traditional: Most of the older characters, like Kaibara Yuzan, Toyama, and Kyogoku, wears traditional kimonos.
  • Last-Minute Baby Naming: One chapter revolves around the Official Couple deciding on names for their twins after the birth. Shiro has to be extra convincing to explain the Meaningful Name he's giving his daughter.
  • Long Runner: Over 100 volumes, which is why the English translation is using the "A La Carte" option.
  • Meaningful Name: When the twins are born Shiro names the girl Yumi and Yuko names the boy Yoji. There are very good reasons for these names.
  • Never My Fault: Yuzan didn't even try to understand or contemplate that his insufferable antics about cuisine caused Shiro's mom to die an early death, where he instead blamed Shiro for turning on his back and defamed his name for leaving the Kaibara household.
  • Nice to the Waiter: Shiro and his companions are always sure to show appreciation to the cooks and waitstaff that artfully prepare and serve the food they eat.
  • Nom de Mom: Shiro, as part of his break with his father.
  • Not So Different: In Oishinbo: The Japan-America Rice War, the arrival of a pushy US Senator in Japan to discuss a political dispute regarding rice imports attracted the attention of a Japanese rice purist who considers that American-made rice commodities are below Japan's since he thought that the American ones are produced with herbicides and pesticides, thus nullifying their quality. It took Yamaoka and Kurita to bring him into his senses that Japanese farmers are doing the same thing as well to their rice fields, thus proving that the Americans and the Japanese are not that different in their treatment of rice products.
  • Official Couple: Shiro and Yuko.
  • Picky Eater: Although violently opinionated eater may be more accurate.
    • More specifically, Shiro is picky, while Kaibara is violently opinionated. As Shiro points out, he thinks art, fine food included, should serve people, and he's fine with more casual forms of Japanese cuisine so long as they are created with care and appreciation. Another person's worth to Kaibara is dependent on the refinement and discrimination of their palate. In fact, he will castigate, lash, harrow, etc. you to the nth degree if you make even the slightest deviation from the way of fine cuisine. How bad is it? He drove his wife to an early death because of her culinary errors. That is the reason Shiro uses his mother's family name (Yamaoka), rather than his father's.
  • Sibling Team: Yang Bailong and Yang Honglong are twins that run a ramen shop together. It briefly turned to Sibling Rivalry when the two started arguing who among them have contributed more to their store's reputation. Shiro has to amend the relationship between them by showcasing the flaws in each sibling's cooking skills and how to fix them.
  • Single-Issue Psychology: Quite a few stories revolve around a character's Irrational Hatred of food, drink, or eating style, usually because of a bad experience or simply never having gotten "the good stuff." Shiro introduces them to the good stuff and wins them over. For example, one character's hatred of champagne turns out to stem from an inferior wine falsely advertised as "champagne" before Japan made that illegal. It didn't exactly help that his exposure to Western films had led him to believe that champagne was the next best thing to divine nectar.
  • Sommelier Speak: Sometimes used.
  • Spot of Tea: A whole chapter on the tea ceremony in the first volume. Shiro notes that there are many tea ceremony masters who forgot the essence of humility and subtlety in the modern tea ceremonies, which resulted in him rejecting an experienced tea ceremony master's teachings when the tea ceremony master uses too many additives in his dishes.
  • Star-Crossed Lovers: Koichi and Hiroko.
  • Stealth Mentor: Yuzan acts as one to Shiro several times, thanks to Yuko being able to see through Yuzan's hidden intentions while Shiro cannot.
  • Stereotypes of Chinese People: Bit more realistic than usual, when compared to American characters in the manga.
  • Supreme Chef
  • Tastes Like Chicken: Frog legs.
  • Took a Level in Kindness: Shiro started off as an apathetic and cynical man who just recently severed his relationship with his utterly temperamental father to a rather lazy but well-intentioned person who genuinely loves food and cares about people around him, even though his relationship with Yuzan is as belligerent as ever.
  • Tsundere: When you think about it, Kaibara is actually a textbook example of this when he has to deal with Yuko. He always gruffs and scolds Yuko's tenacity in asking favors from him, but he never actually manages to reject any of them and opts to help her in some ways. Even Kaibara's own servants notice this.
  • Vomit Discretion Shot: When Yuko gets seasick in the first episode.
  • Women Are Wiser: Although Shiro is pretty much the best cook in Tozai News, it is Kurita's wits and attitude that enabled him with many successes along the way. Her being more emotionally sensitive compared to Yamaoka also contributes to this well. For example, Kurita actually has the gall to ask for help from Kaibara himself and managed to do that successfully, an action that others would definitely not dare to do.

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