Feasting on ramen, “Oishinbo” style

There’s a fascination with delving into the nitty-gritty of everyday things and realizing that what you may take to be simple, uncomplicated things often actually requires a lot of thought and work. It’s especially intriguing with something you’re a fan of or that you particularly enjoy.
And so enters the manga “Oishinbo: Ramen & Gyoza.”
eagerly drink up
In Japan, the manga “Oishinbo” clocks in at a whopping 100-plus volumes, and it’s still going.
because of the way viz decided to bring out this series in the U.S. — taking stories from different parts of the entire manga and compiling them into volumes by subject — this manga is something that needs to be enjoyed carefully and digested slowly.
Numerous notes at the back of the book explain the (vagrancies, quirks) of not only Japanese cuisine but the Japanese culture. While such notes are becoming more common, I really have to give props to Viz for also including numbers on the majority of its pages. Many other manga released in the U.S. lack this basic feature, which makes it very difficult to figure out what page the notes refer to.
There’s a fascination with delving into the nitty-gritty of everyday things and realizing that what you may take to be simple, uncomplicated things often actually requires a lot of thought and work. As someone whose ramen feastings are either prepackaged instant noodles or steaming bowls brought to the table that are immediately devoured, I certainly had no little thought left for the care that goes into just the creation of the raw noodles.
I love ramen, but that love is mostly limited to either prepackaged instant noodles at home or steaming bowls brought to the restaurant table that are immediately devoured — forget about all the meticulous work that went into making the noodles perfect or the char siu tender or the broth not too salty.
If you’re not already familiar with many of the basic noodle dishes or common ingredients served in Japan or China, the terminology might cause your eyes to cross as you keep flipping back and forth to the end notes for their descriptions. Most of us in Hawaii have been immersed in Japanese culture one way or another from small-kid time without realizing it, so things like miso and nori are everyday items here that need no explanation.

(Jason’s note: The monthly Manga Movable Feast virtual gathering of manga bloggers usually celebrates series and artists. This month, though, the Feast, hosted by Khursten Santos over at Otaku Champloo, is hewing a bit closer to its name and celebrating … food. Or, to be more specific, Oishinbo and other food manga. With that in mind, here’s our contribution to this month’s potluck.)

There’s a fascination with delving into the nitty-gritty of everyday things and realizing that what you may take to be simple and uncomplicated often actually requires a lot of thought and work. It’s especially intriguing with something that you particularly enjoy.

And so enters Oishinbo, a manga written by Tetsu Kariya and drawn by Akira Hanasaki that’s been serialized in the pages of Big Comic Spirits since 1983. The story follows Shiro Yamaoka, a journalist with the Tozai Times and a serious foodie who’s been tasked by his editor to come up with the “Ultimate Menu” as part of the newspaper’s 100th anniversary. The meal is meant to embody the pinnacle of Japanese cuisine, so Yamaoka and his partner, Yuko Kurita, set out to discover the best of the best.

oishinbo ramenThe books being released in the U.S. by Viz are actually only a small part of the entire Oishinbo series. There are more than 100 volumes in Japanese, so rather than taking a chance with a relatively niche subject and publishing as is, Viz has instead taken highlights from the overall story and compiled them into so-called “a la carte” editions on one topic. And the particular one that caught my eye was the Oishinbo: Ramen & Gyoza volume.

I do love ramen, and in fact I’ll urge my ever-patient fiance to out-of-the-way places to try a shop that I’ve been told has good stuff. (And by the time I finished this review, my keyboard just barely managed to escape the destructive slobber of a stomach made ravenous for hot noodles topped with tender char siu and crunchy menma and garnished with green onions and … I’m going to have to stop there. My keyboards have come much too close to destruction lately.) But with those ramen feastings consisting of either prepackaged instant noodles or steaming bowls brought to the table that are immediately devoured, I certainly have far more interest in the delectable finished product before me and have little thought left for the care that goes into the individual elements.

But that very enjoyment is also what leads me to appreciate the detail that “Ramen & Gyoza” goes into regarding the many factors — including the science! — that can influence the taste and texture of each ingredient and, therefore, the entire product as well. Despite the title, the book centers on ramen and has just one story on gyoza, although, like an Iron Chef episode, that story is just as dramatic and insightful as the others.

Because of the way Viz decided to publish the series, readers miss things like people’s introductions and backgrounds, interactions and story progression. However, because the manga is episodic, brief descriptions of the characters and a synopsis of the overall story at the beginning are sufficient enough to grasp the plot. The only part that needs explanation — which is given in the numerous notes at the back of the book — is the sudden declaration of Yuko being out on maternity leave and the situation surrounding that.

Those notes also explain the intricacies of not only Japanese cuisine but the Japanese culture. So if you’re not already familiar with many of the basic noodle dishes or common ingredients served in Japan or China, the terminology might cause your eyes to cross as you keep flipping back and forth to the end notes. Most of us in Hawaii have been immersed in Japanese culture one way or another from childhood without realizing it, so things like miso, nori and even the Obon festival are well-known here and need no explanation. Aside from that, the notes aren’t required reading, but do give more background for those interested.

While such commentaries are becoming more widespread, what I really have to give props to Viz for is including numbers on the majority of its pages. Many other manga released in the U.S. lack this basic feature, which makes it very difficult to figure out what page the notes refer to.

One thing that remains obvious despite the omissions is Yamaoka’s advocacy of pure, natural ingredients and farming methods to make healthier, better-tasting food. This focus on organic methods — with all the assertions made by both Yamaoka and his father, Yuzan — isn’t annoyingly preachy and definitely opens your eyes to all the additives and shortcuts that go into making food these days that you don’t realize, and that may not necessarily be great for your health.

The characters are likable enough, and there’s enough conflict among all involved as well as non-food plot to keep things interesting. Yamaoka’s humorous stubbornness is clear throughout, and we see the hint of the romance starting between him and Yuko. Still, the main draw of Oishinbo is the depth at which they explore food and the discerning palates of Yamaoka and his cohorts. The series isn’t geared toward gourmets so it’s easy to follow along and doesn’t make you feel like a food fool. Oishinbo is a manga that is ultimately thoroughly enjoyable.

“Dragon Age” film left seeking more substance

DA_titleNote from Jason: We get in a lot of titles for review here at Otaku Ohana Central. Granted, it’s all Funimation anime and Vertical manga these days, but hey, that’s still a LOT of stuff, so it keeps us busy. So busy, in fact, that if you haven’t noticed, we haven’t posted any reviews of anime here since … well, it would take an extensive search through the archives to find that last true anime home video review. (I want to say it goes back to the old “Drawn & Quartered” column in the Star-Bulletin, but I’m probably missing something that’s run since then.)

Recently, though, we got in an advance copy of Funimation’s Dragon Age: Dawn of the Seeker, bowing on Blu-ray and DVD on Tuesday. I knew exactly who to hand it off to: coworker/friend/Dragon Age fangirl Christina Chun. Here’s why I thought she’d be more qualified than either me or tag-team partner in fandom Wilma J. in writing this review:

  • Wilma has heard of Dragon Age, and that’s pretty much it.
  • I managed to pass my Joining and meet Alistair in Dragon Age: Origins, which I believe is 0.000001% of the game’s story (add a few zeroes if you count the downloadable content in that total).
  • Christina played through Dragon Age: Origins. And tweeted about her party. Often. Enough that I remember that she tweeted about her party often to this day.

Game, set, match: Christina. Here’s her review.


I wasn’t inclined to pick up Dragon Age: Dawn of the Seeker, an animated movie based on Bioware’s Dragon Age fantasy RPG series. I didn’t even know about it, and even if I had, I like to play my games, not read them or watch them. I usually pass on video-game-related books or movies. They’re rushed and bland, and rarely contain any magic from the game itself.

Having played Dragon Age Origins (DA:O) and some of Dragon Age II (DAII), however, I was the most qualified person nearby to look at the copy that came to our office.

Here are some thoughts:

Dawn of the Seeker has high production values. As with most anime, background detail is lacking. On the other hand, I’m impressed that Bioware hired MOZOO Inc. and Studio Oxybot to add slick motion capture animation and 3-D modeled characters with an appealing anime cel-shaded look.

Dragon Age wouldn't be Dragon Age without dragons, it's true.

It works well. In true Japanese tradition, watch everyone’s eyes carefully to decipher their emotional level, as faces are expressively rendered. I’d love to play a Dragon Age game in this visual style.

Screenplay writer Jeffery Scott has fashioned a serviceable story. Movie music composer Tetsuya Takahashi does a utilitarian job riffing off Dragon Age game composer Inon Zur, and end credit music by Seether and GACKT is a nice touch. All the voice actors did a fine job of blending in with the one temperament assigned to each character.

The story takes place prior to DAII, and after the fall of Kirkwall in the DA:O expansion “Awakening.” Cassandra Pentaghast, a DAII character, is the focus in this movie as a tsundere warrior descended from a royal Nevarran dragon hunting bloodline, and a member of Seekers of Truth.

From left, Byron, Cassandra's sword teacher; Cassandra; and the High Seeker kneel before the Divine.

Seekers answer to the Divine, leader of the Chantry, aka the world’s most powerful religious order. The story opens with Cassandra and her Seeker company preparing to to rescue a kidnapped Dalish elf girl, presumably at the Divine’s behest. Blood mages have captured her and no one knows why. To make matters worse, these blood mages have also captured a dragon.

To what end? I don’t want to say much more, as it feels much like a standard sword and sorcery plot to pull us from point A to point B. A conspiracy threatens the stability of the Chantry; see if you can figure out who the highest-level conspirators are before the movie outright tells you. Bioware has shaped a dependable Cassandra back story and prequel to DAII, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

My main beef is that there isn’t enough distinguishing the movie as distinctly Dragon Age except for Cassandra. “Keep your focus, Cassandra!” exhorts her mentor Byron as they prepare for battle. It’s a good thing I’m not her, because I found it difficult to focus with so few Dragon Age-specific cues to keep me hooked.

Cassandra's face covered in blood after battle.

There are scattered details such as blood splatter in an early combat scene, similar to that seen in-game with the “gore” setting turned on. A mage also casts Firestorm, a DAII spell, later in the movie. But overall, it’s as though the movie forgot how much enjoyment game fans get from spotting these touches. Without them, Dawn devolves into any other enjoyable, yet fluffy action-filled fantasy most of the way.

I would’ve also liked to see the movie’s templars be less pathetic. No one will ever want to play a templar after seeing them portrayed in the style of Star Wars‘ straw-stuffed Stormtroopers. The mages aren’t much better.

And feel free to skip the first chapter in the Select Chapter menu; it only gives back story to the series’ world that any Dragon Age player would know, and heavy foreshadowing of the plot ahead.

Dawn of the Seeker is entertaining enough for a Dragon Age fan to plunk down a few bills, but a hard sell at full retail. If you have any intention of ever watching it, pre-order before May 29 on Amazon.com to get a significantly discounted price (see below).


Bioware Studio Tour. Follow Dragon Age creative director Mike Laidlaw around his workplace.

Dawn of the Seeker Backstage Pass. Twenty minutes of movie commentary from Bioware-ians.

Dragon Age Production Art. About 60 Dawn of the Seeker art pieces live here.

Previews. There is a short slideshow of production art from the animated Mass Effect movie in the making, a notable addition for Bioware game fans.


English voice main cast: Colleen Clinkenbeard as Cassandra, J. Michael Tatum as Galyan, Chuck Huber as Frenic, R. Bruce Elliott as High Seeker, Christopher R. Sabat as Knight Commander.

Japanese voice main cast: Chiaki Kuriyama as Cassandra, Shosuke Tanihara as Galyan, Hiroshi Iwasaki as Frenic, Takaya Hashi as High Seeker, and GACKT as Knight Commander.

Running time: 90 minutes

MSRP: Blu-Ray/DVD combo pack ($34.98, contains one English dub disc, one Japanese voice/English subtitled disc, and one Blu-Ray disc with content from both DVDs) or DVD ($24.98). Pre-order the Blu-Ray/DVD combo on Amazon.com for $14.86 at the time of this writing.

Release date: May 29

The Cel Shaded Report, 5/3: Freebies assemble!

2012 FCBD logoSo there’s this really big movie opening this weekend. Really big. Several superheroes from recent movies rolled up into one giant juggernaut of a movie big. So big that the Associated Press began its weekly box office earnings story earlier this week by talking about how many hundreds of millions of dollars it made … and it hadn’t even opened yet in the United States.

Indeed, if you haven’t seen any of the other movies that have been out for a while, this weekend might be the best time to catch some of ’em, because it’s a given that all the theaters screening The Avengers will be the ones crammed full of people. The fact that it’s a big weekend featuring a blockbuster movie based on a popular comic book series also can mean only one thing: It’s time for the return of Free Comic Book Day, that one day out of the year when most comic book stores — one three-store chain in Virginia excepted — promote sequential art by giving away books by the boxful.

Four comic book stores are participating on Saturday:

  • Collector Maniacs, 3571 Waialae Ave., ste. 102A (Kaimuki)
  • Gecko Books, 1151 12th Ave. (Kaimuki)
  • Other Realms, Ward Warehouse, 1050 Ala Moana Blvd.
  • Jelly’s, 98-023 Hekaha St. (Aiea)

If you visit any of these stores, don’t forget to throw some money at them and buy something in appreciation, too — supporting local small businesses is always a good thing.

Thirteen libraries across the state are participating as well — 10 on Oahu, two on Maui, one on Hawaii island. (Sorry, Kauai — just as with The Secret World of Arrietty screenings, looks like you’ve been shut out again.) Some will also be hosting special events. The sites:

  • Aiea (99-143 Moanalua Road) — 501st Imperial Legion visits from 10 a.m. to noon; from 3 to 5 p.m., the gang from Comic Jam Hawaii, a group of local cartoonists that meets regularly for fellowship, drawing and creative brainstorming, will be at the library for a Free Comic Day Jam. The public can join in, too.
  • Aina Haina (5246 Kalanianaole Highway) — Oahu FanForce, a group with members cosplaying as various Star Wars characters, visits from 10 a.m. to noon.
  • Hawaii Kai (249 Lunalilo Home Road)
  • Hilo (300 Waianuenue Ave)
  • Kailua (239 Kuulei Road) — 501st Imperial Legion visits from 2 to 4 p.m.
  • Kapolei (1020 Manawai St.) — Rebel Legion Hawaii visits from 10 a.m. to noon.
  • Kihei (35 Waimahaihai St.)
  • Lahaina (680 Wharf St.)
  • Liliha (1515 Liliha St.) — Rebel Legion Hawaii visits from 2 to 4 p.m.
  • McCully-Moiliili (2211 S. King St.) — Rebel Legion Hawaii visits from 2 to 4 p.m.
  • Mililani (95-450 Makaimoimo St.) — 501st Imperial Legion visits from 2 to 4 p.m.
  • Waianae (85-625 Farrington Highway)
  • Waimanalo (41-1320 Kalanianaole Highway) — 501st Imperial Legion visits from 10 a.m. to noon.

While there aren’t any giveaways of Japanese manga — you’ll just have to resort to the increasing number of chapter samples available year-round on legal manga sites like jmanga.comvizmanga.com and pretty much any manga publisher website you can think of for that — there are a few properties that manga fans may be interested in, including Archie Comics’ Mega Man and Sonic the Hedgehog books and OEL (original English language) manga Voltron Force: Shelter From the Storm from Viz and The Infernal Devices: Clockwork Angel from Yen Press. As for properties without manga ties, I’ll certainly be keeping an eye out for … well … a bunch of other titles that I don’t have the time and energy to hyperlink at the moment, but you can pretty much guarantee that if it’s tied in to some cartoon, Mouse Guard or Moomins, I’m interested. A complete list is available at http://www.freecomicbookday.com/Home/1/1/27/981; note that the locations listed below won’t necessarily be carrying all these titles.

UPDATE, 5/5: I’ve gotten word of several neat online-exclusive freebies that will be available during Free Comic Book Day as well. For one day only, Audra Furuichi and Scott Yoshinaga are offering digital copies of nemu*nemu volume 1; not only do you get the first year of strips as they were printed online, you’ll also get commentary from Audra and Scott, character profiles and bonus sketches. (And trust me, Anpan and Nemu looked very different from how they look now.) Visit hensh.in/c0 and click on the banner at the top of the page.

Meanwhile, the gang over at Lime Media Hawaii is offering digital copies of Hawaii Star Manga Project issue no. 5. This giveaway’s not limited to just today; it’ll be available until the long-in-gestation sixth issue is released. Included are installments of the comics “The Hylanthean,” “The Tobias Wah Chronicles” and “Children of Aumakua,” as well as the continuing prose saga “River of Stars [:another realm].” Visit www.limemediahawaii.com and follow the links.

Anime around town

nakamaboko2MangaBento: This group of anime- and manga-inspired artists is hosting the “Coloring With Copics + Manga Mania” workshop from 1 to 4 p.m. Sunday at the Honolulu Museum of Art School, 1111 Victoria St., room 201. There will be demonstrations of Copic and other popular Japanese markers, as well as an art jam session in advance of the group’s “”Nakamaboko: Working Together” exhibit opening next month. (This is also a great time to remind you that you have until May 23 to submit work for that exhibit. More details in this post.) Cost is $10; bring your own drawing materials. Visit www.manga-bento.com.

Miku check, one, two, three

miku shrinkThe latest news from the Hawaii Entertainment Expo (HEXXP) camp that emerged over the past weekend is a tale of two personas — one real, one virtual.

His name is Kz. (Pronounce it “K-Zet,” please.) In 2007, he, along with Kajuki P, formed the music group Livetune. They started off as a doujin music group — think of it like indie bands in the United States — before Victor Entertainment signed them. In 2009, when Kajuki P left to work for Capcom, Kz became Livetune all by himself. He’s since moved from Victor to Toy’s Factory.

Her name is Hatsune Miku, a Vocaloid and the most famous contemporary virtual star this side of that holographic Tupac Shakur at the recent Coachella music festival. For those of you reading this blog who are unfamiliar with the whole Vocaloid phenomenon, gals like Miku are almost entirely computer generated, save for voice samples taken from Japanese voice actresses. Sometimes they even appear in concert, like the Mikunopolis concert at Anime Expo last year. Here’s a clip.

That team is forming the foundation of what we’re going to be seeing at HEXXP in October, as Babel Entertainment presents the Livetune DJ Dance Party Featuring Hatsune Miku. Expect plenty of glow sticks and people dressed up at Miku and all her Vocaloid friends bopping around to some of the crispest Japanese technopop beats out there.

When Livetune and Hatsune Miku get together, they’re quite a formidable musical combo. Livetune’s breakout album on the doujin music scene was the Miku-driven Re:package, which proved so successful that Victor Entertainment’s first release after signing the group was, well, a repackaged version of Re:package, with three new songs. It promptly rose to No. 5 on the Oricon music charts — think of Oricon like Billboard in the U.S. — selling more than 20,000 copies in its first week. A remix album, Re:Mikus, followed in 2009, as well as other singles that have popped up on the Hatsune Miku: Project Diva series of games.

Then there’s “Tell Your World,” just released by Toy’s Factory in March, available for your purchasing convenience on iTunes — a song that Google used in one of its commercials for its Chrome browser.

The Livetune dance party is the first spotlight event for the first day of the convention, Sat., Oct. 20. It joins the previously announced World Cosplay Summit regional qualifier and a concert featuring Nobuo Uematsu and the Earthbound Papas, which are both happening Sun. Oct. 21.

Two-day passes are $55 general admission (ages 13 and up), $20 children ages 6-12; single-day passes are also available. You’ll want to preregister, too, to be entered in the monthly prize giveaways leading up to the convention. For more information on HEXXP or to preregister, visit www.hexxp.com.