Seinen – Adventure, slice-of-life
5 Volumes of 27 Volumes (complete)
Media Do (Nihonbungeisha)
Throughout Japan, there are restaurants on the verge of closing. Chefs who have lost their mojo, are looking for something new, or keep trying to take shortcuts can all lead their shops to decline. However, with the help of a certain restaurant revival specialist, these pass-turants can become yes-urants!
SHOKU-KING is Kitchen Nightmares in manga form, just with some… interesting training regimes.
The restaurant Goryokaku was established in the late 1800s. Years later, his descendant, Toshizo now runs the place, serving all kinds of cuisine using quality ingredients and leading the team of 30 chefs. In fact, he supposedly shows up to Goryokaku every day. But there are rumors that he also takes jobs in making failing restaurants turn around — for a high price, of course, considering his background and skills.
Of course, the rumors are true, and SHOKU-KING follows Toshizo as he accepts requests from chefs, family members, and friends. Occasionally, he swings by joints to try out their food and gets jobs that way as well when he firmly (arguably rudely) expresses his displeasure at the taste or effort in the food.
But Toshizo doesn’t just give them new recipes or tells the chefs to clean up their kitchen. (Although he does a lot of that.) Most of them have to get special training. Some are directly connected to making food (being a cafeteria worker for a day), but other routines are so off-the-wall they frustrate the trainee. I mean, who expects to be a better chef by playing table tennis or paragliding? Toshizo will not explain why; he demands you do as he says. Most of the places he drags his clients to for training are old acquaintances of his, having helped them before.
It’s only after completing this often-weird training that Toshizo will begin giving them more typical advice. For some, it means a complete reinvention of their signature dish; others need to avoid store-bought ingredients or avoiding keeping food sitting out for too long.
SHOKU-KING is similar to some of the author’s other works (particularly Bakumeshi! aka Food Explosion!), but I like this one better for a couple of reasons. One, I like how Toshizo is summoned most of the time instead of wandering. Even when he does stumble upon a restaurant in need of help, we don’t know how long it has been since his last gig; it’s not like he stumbles directly from one to another. Most stories cover several chapters, starting in one volume and continuing in the next. SHOKU-KING is episodic, but this format prevents readers from just buying a random volume and enjoying a stand-alone story. With 27 volumes, that’s a bit of an issue since there’s no overreaching arc. Admittedly, that could change.
So far, there hasn’t been much revealed about Toshizo himself. He’s fiery in his passion of culinary pursuits, and even if you’re not a jerk, he’s harsh in his criticisms. It is easy to understand getting older and using premade ingredients or designing a restaurant around your favorite food. Toshizo knows that doesn’t lead to a successful restaurant. Toshizo is big on natural and fresh ingredients, so he’s the antithesis of most fast food or chain restaurants. His high fees help go toward obtaining these items, but of course the clients don’t know that when they hire Toshizo. Other than that, we almost get to know his clients more than him. I’m sure there will be some more pieces of info that comes out over the course of this long manga, but the story is more about his clients than him. Toshizo is unlikely to have been a delinquent in his past unlike the protagonists of many of Tsuchiyama’s manga, but he still is strong.
Tsuchiyama’s manga tend to feature a lot of big men, and SHOKU-KING in no exception. Toshizo is built like a linebacker, and we do see his clients gaining muscle or whatever during their training. So far, the clients don’t just look like clones of each other, which is good in a series like this. He’s helped everyone from old pros to young ladies just starting out. There’s no fanservice here unless you count the food. SHOKU-KING explains the process of making the dishes, and it is interesting to see what goes into making some of these Japanese classics by hand. The various training locations add a lot of interesting humor and uniqueness to the manga. You totally want to see an old man rock DDR. I can’t even imagine all the places his clients will end up at.
Honorifics are used. There were some typos, generally incorrect spacing (“a te” for “ate” or “workinto” for “work into”). Footnotes are used for much of the food and to explain details like puns, old sayings, and some Japanese greetings. Some letters and stuff don’t have translations when they should have. Some Japanese dialogue is left in with English to the side. At least four times (all in the same volume!), the dialogue is repeated so that it shows up twice in the same panel instead of whatever the correct line is. The fifth volume requires flipping pages the Western way.
SHOKU-KING is the longest of Tsuchiyama’s work, which may make it expensive to own, but combining his signature food style with crazy training regimes makes it easy to understand why it went on for so long.
Many of Tsuchiyama’s manga are available through Media Do including the sequel Super Shoku King.
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