Seinen – Adventure, slice-of-life
3 Volume of 6 Volumes (complete)
Torico / Media Do (NIHONBUNGEISHA)
It is said that there’s nothing like a good meal, but can a meal change your life? Well, if you meet a certain wandering chef with a talent for gambling, it certainly can!
This series has been released in full under the title Food Explosion! and is being rereleased with an updated translation under the title Bakumeshi!, which has only one volume currently out. That’s very unusual. For this review, I am reading Food Explosion!, as I could read further.
We first meet the unnamed Hanjiro as he’s eating a meal, about to head off to bet on bicycle races. There, he sees a kid so hungry he’s about to eat some food off the ground. Hanjiro stops him just in time, and after he places his bets (and wins), he returns to find what turns out to be the boy’s father trying to steal Hanjiro’s backpack that the boy was watching. Hanjiro treats them all to a meal — and the father to a lecture. As Hanjiro muses about his lack of funds after the meal, then he meets a man who asks him to make a meal. Hanjiro will for the low, low price of one hundred million yen. Thieves overhear and threaten the two, but Hanjiro agrees to give them the money if they can manage to find which one of three onigiri has plum inside.
If I sound like I’m rambling, that’s kind of the point. It’s a story about an eccentric chef and the people he meets during his wanderings. The first couple of chapters are pretty quick, but Bakumeshi! quickly switches over to longer arcs by the end of the first volume. They have the same flow: Hanjiro gets dragged into a situation (or barges in when he sees someone abusing basic food etiquette), and a combination of food and gambling gets him through until the next situation arises. There are some food tricks, recipes, and general cooking information, but I don’t think they’re detailed enough that you could go right out and make them yourself. Some require specific sauces or ingredients anyway, but you may be intrigued enough to go search for a similar recipe online.
Hanjiro is quite a character. He has a gambling habit, but he also wins. Luck, skill, who knows, but either way, bet on him. That doesn’t mean he just goes through life coasting however; Hanjiro takes his work as a chef very seriously no matter where he’s at. He is not in it for the glory, and there’s a reason why he’s not the head chef at some five star restaurant. Many times he receives a pile of cash, but he only takes enough for him to place more bets. At the same time, while this is lovely, he’s also hardly unemotional or some wise almost-deity. He’s a gambler — usually a winning gambler, but he still has his unlucky streaks. But whether betting at the tracks or in the kitchen, it’s not like he knows the result before he started or is laying some 4D trap. Readers know things are always going to work out in the end, but Hanjiro puts in a lot of effort to get there — and he is vocal about his frustrations along the way. But if you are nice to him, he’ll be nice to you. Be a jerk to him, and Hanjiro will dish it right back. That makes him a nice mix of a real person and the seemingly unassuming mentor found in fiction.
The thing is that I’m already halfway through the story. With arcs now taking up half a volume or more, and hints that Hanjiro’s past is about to be revealed, there can’t be much to the series left. Reading it, this feels like a series that goes well into double-digits. It has a lackadaisical feel to it, and with the big, bushy-eyed protagonist does look a lot like some other heroes in long-running series. Either the manga is going to have to switch to preparing for and entering its final arc immediately after this current one or it’s going to have a rushed ending. Right now, I kind of have the same feeling for Bakumeshi! as a trip to the beach: a long day where you just relax? Fun. A short day at the beach? Sure, it could be fun, but by the time you pack up, bring everything with you, get settled in, it’s time to leave. I don’t think there are going to be a lot of plot points left unresolved since the only issue is Hanjiro’s past. But this series was going to be relatively short, I think I would have rather had more episodes/arcs and shorten the ones we have. Having more adventures than fingers would probably have helped give the illusion of a fuller, longer series.
The art, as I alluded to before, has an old-timey feel to it. Tsuchiyama got his start in the 80s, and much of that is reflected here. Food is a big part of the story, so obviously there’s a lot of pics of food. As an American with a very unhealthy diet (burgers, pizza, and chicken), I have to admit I don’t really get all the fish and noodles and burger noodles. So it’s not as appetizing to me as other food-centric manga. But if you like manga with big, bulky men and women with pursed lips, this series will be right up your alley. Think of something like Urasawa’s works, Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure, or Takeo from My Love Story!!
The two versions have different translations. First line is from Food Explosion!, second is from Bakumeshi!:
“The Appearance of an Unheard Chef!!”
“An Off-the-Wall Cook Appears!”
“Here you go! Rice with motsu stew.”
“Your motsu nimoki is reeeeedy!”
“Did you get it?” “It starts now!”
“Did you win?” “I am on my way to the races now!”
Bakumeshi ends without a credit page or the final bonus drawing. Both seem to have pages out of order at times. Both have times where they replace Japanese text and others where they leave it alone, sometimes with translations and sometimes not. Like Bakumeshi! replaces the big gulp in the opening pages but leaves an entire menu untouched with no translation. Both can sound overly polite at times. I only compared a bit, but so far, neither one is the far-and-away winner. They both kind of stink in their own ways.
Bakumeshi! is somewhat ridiculous, as most chefs wouldn’t go and float from job to job while gambling. But it’s also fun to see a big guy either put people in their place or unite hearts with the power of food. Unfortunately, it may be a bit short for it to be anyone’s favorite.
Many of Tsuchiyama’s manga are licensed by Media Do.
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