~written by Tetsu Kariya
~illustrated by Akira Hanasaki
1987 Shogakukan Manga Award Winner
2010 Eisner Award Nominee
Oishinbo, A la Carte: Sake, written by Tetsu Kariya and illustrated by Akira Hanasaki, is the second volume of the Oishinbo, A la Carte collections to be released in English by Viz Media's Signature line in 2009. Originally, Sake was the twenty-sixth volume in the series when published in Japan in 2007. Oishinbo is a very popular and successful manga in Japan. It began serialization in 1983 and is still ongoing even after more than a hundred volumes. in 1987, the series won a Shogakukan Manga Award. The Oishinbo, A la Carte collections are thematic compilations of story arcs taken from throughout the regular series. I had previously read Japanese Cuisine, the first volume of Oishinbo, A la Carte to be released by Viz, and thoroughly enjoyed it. So, I was looking forward to reading Sake as well, especially since it was a subject I wasn't particularly familiar with.
In the West, "sake" is generally used to mean Japanese rice wine, or nihonshu. However, in Japanes "sake" tends to refer to all drinking alcohol in general. Appropriately enough, while the main focus of Sake is sake, the volume also explores wine and champagne, shōchū, awamori and kūsū, and briefly mentions beer, cognac, bourbon, whiskey, vodka, and brandy. I was somewhat surprised so little time was spent on whiskey since Japan has recently gained some notoriety in that realm. Instead, Sake examines and celebrates the authentic and traditional Japanese alcohols and delves into the good and the bad of the sake industry. Many of the drinks and breweries mentioned in Sake actually exist.
I found Sake to be a little less interesting art-wise than Japanese Cuisine, mainly because it is more difficult to visually convey the differences between liquids than it is for foods. However, Hanasaki still does a lovely job and the bottles of alcohol in particular are beautifully rendered. For the most part, Hanasaki's style is very simple until the real stars of the show, the food and drink, appear and are captured in photorealistic detail. One of the things I found especially interesting in Sake is how closely Kariya equates sake with Japanese culture. There is a certain amount of intense pride and confidence in sake and in Japan exhibited. The failings of the sake industry are also seen as a failure to treasure what makes Japan, Japan. Throughout Sake, Kariya's characters express concerns about the over-Westernization of Japan and mourn the resulting loss of respect for Japanese food and drink cultures. But at the same time, they show that Japan still has a lot that is unique to offer the world.
Kariya is not afraid to use his characters to tear into Japanese businesses, people, and governments over the poor state and practices of the sake industry. They have no patience whatsoever for "fake" by-the-book gourmets and do not hesitate to express their opinions. But it is their enthusiasm and passion about food and drink that makes Oishinbo so engaging, even when the manga occasionally becomes a sequence of talking heads. So far, I love the Oishinbo, A la Carte collections and find them to be both highly entertaining and educational. The only real problem that I've encountered is that I immediately want to go out and try all the food and drinks mentioned in a particular volume--something that isn't really very feasible. Still, I'm looking forward to reading the next book, Oishinbo, A la Carte: Ramen and Gyoza, very much.