With over one hundred volumes, it is very unlikely that the award-winning food manga Oishinbo will ever be licensed in its entirety in English, especially considering that the series is still ongoing at this point. However, seven volumes of Oishinbo, A la Carte have been released by Viz Media under its Signature imprint. These volumes are thematic collections which select stories from throughout the series proper. Fish, Sushi & Sashimi was the fourth Oishinbo, A la Carte collection to be published by Viz and was released in 2009. However, in Japan Fish, Sushi & Sashimi was actually the fifth volume in the series and was published in 2005. As a lover of both food and manga, it probably shouldn’t be too surprising that I enjoy Oishinbo immensely. And I’m not the only one. The series, written by Tetsu Kariya and illustrated by Akira Hanasaki, has been in serialization since 1983 and in 1987 the creators received a Shogakukan Manga Award for their work.
Because Oishinbo, A la Carte is a selection of stories from Oishinbo, the overarching story of the original series is obscured. Instead of the ongoing plot, the focus of Oishinbo, A la Carte is very much on the food itself. Fish, Sushi & Sashimi collects eight different stories centered around fish. Sushi rolls are probably one of the first things that come to many people’s minds when considering Japanese fish dishes, but not a single one will be found in Fish, Sushi & Sashimi. Generally, the fare tends to be simpler and fish the primary ingredient. The fish specifically featured in Fish, Sushi & Sashimi include white trevally, chub mackerel, sweetfish, tiger blowfish, freshwater goby, flounder, salmon, and shinko, many of which are considered to be some of the best and most desirable or delectable fish in Japan. There is also a wide variety of preparations shown, everything from raw sashimi to fried tempura.
When dealing with fish as a source of food, freshness is key. This is true for most seafood, too, and is something that most people probably know. However, Fish, Sushi & Sashimi shows that there is much more involved in the freshness of fish than just how long it has been since it has been caught. Fish are very sensitive to changes in the environment in which they live. Simply put, quality fish come from quality waters. The healthier and less polluted those waters, the better the fish. Additionally, the same fish can taste significantly different due to seasonal changes, where it is caught (and how far it has traveled afterwards), or when in its life-cycle it is eaten. As is often the case in the Oishinbo, A la Carte stories that I have so far read, Fish, Sushi & Sashimi emphasizes the importance of locally sourced and sustainable foods, which is particularly true of fish.
One of the highlights of Oishinbo, A la Carte is Hanasaki’s artwork. The people tend to be stylized but the food is always realistically drawn. The catching and cleaning of the fish, the steps in the various dishes’ preparations, and the skilled knife-work employed are all important to Fish, Sushi & Sashimi. Because Fish, Sushi & Sashimi focuses on aquatic life both in and out of its natural environments, Hanasaki also has the opportunity to beautifully illustrate Japan’s oceans, rivers, and other waterways. Another thing that particularly struck me about this volume of Oishinbo, A la Carte was how many young people were included in the stories. Family drama has always been a part of Oishinbo with the intense father-son rivalry between Kaibara Yūzan and Yamaoka Shirō. It’s extremely entertaining to watch them battle it out over and with food, but it’s also nice to see some more wholesome family relationships in the series, too.