29 Jun, 2010

Toriko, Vol. 1

By: Erin Finnegan

By Mitsutoshi Shimabukuro
Viz Media, 208 pp.
Rating: Teen

The first few pages of Toriko are mind-bending. First, Shimabukuro establishes the existence of a bizarre parallel Earth covered with trees that flower king crab meat and streams filled with ambrosia. (The first page was utter nonsense in a scanlation I saw two years ago; this is reason enough to buy the pro translation.) Next, we’re introduced to pint-sized chef Komatsu, who is sent on a mission to provide Garara Gator steaks at his boss’s next big party. Komatsu is tasked with hiring the only man in the world manly enough to catch a Garara Gator: Gourmet Hunter Toriko.

As chapter one continues we’re introduced to Toriko fishing off a cliff face. Seven feet tall if he’s an inch, Toriko uses an enormous grasshopper as bait. Remember those monster bugs in the beginning of (Peter Jackson’s) King Kong? While waiting for a bite on the line, Toriko slurps down a lobster tail for lunch, washes it down with an entire bottle of Maker’s Mark (poured from the bottom of the bottle), and follows up the meal by smoking a branch from a nearby cigar tree. Komatsu watches, slack-jawed, as a gargantuan clawed fish goes for the monster grasshopper, only to be picked up by an eagle the size of a building.

Unfazed, Toriko slams the eagle, still holding the fish, into the ground by swinging the fishing pole over his head. The line and rod do not break, because, as Toriko explains, “It’s a 76 millimeter iron rod wrapped in elevator wire.” Komatsu, sweating and shaking, hires Toriko for the Garara expedition.

So far in America we’ve been lucky to see the import of a few food manga titles, but Kitchen Princess, Oishinbo, and even Yakitate!! Japan are all sissies compared to the uber-machismo of Toriko. Toriko is the Golgo 13 of Iron Chefs, the Kenchiro of the kitchen. And he lives in a house made of candy. This is a man who eats his coffee cup after breakfast.

Toriko fights snakes with two mouths and gorillas with four arms. Like Ted Nugent on crack, Shimabukuro lays out Toriko’s hunting philosophy: he only kills what he plans to eat. Other dangerous animals are put down with incapacitating, yet temporary, drugged needles. Some of the equipment is explained in little pseudo-educational panels, like this:

Obviously Toriko can’t use guns; that would be way too objectionable for a mainstream manga magazine in a country where guns are illegal. All the smoking and drinking makes Toriko a Teen title Stateside, but this is clearly for younger boys (and foreign foodie Golgo 13 fangirls like me, obviously).

The artwork ranges into the absurd and the grotesque. Komatsu seems to get smaller with every chapter, until he’s riding Toriko piggy-back by the end. Toriko’s battle aura is a demonic mountain gorilla/yeti thing drawn with all the flourish and extra lines of a doodle in a junior high boy’s notebook, (except the art is professional). Shimabukuro often draws heads and faces proportionally too large, a standard convention of gag manga in Japan, but totally unseen in the States outside of Bobobo-bo Bo-bobo.

Imagine if Oishibo was a present-day sci-fi title starring Paul Bunyan. A mysterious mega-corporation called IGO has genetically engineered an extinct rainbow fruit tree in their Biotope Garden. The fruit of the rainbow tree is so sweet that it leads to my favorite panel of volume one:

Toriko follows a straight-up Shonen Jump formula. It is Toriko’s goal to consume (construct?) an ultimate Full Course Meal. But unlike in Oishinbo, it looks like Toriko will actually accomplish his task in a reasonable amount of time; the menu is spelled out with eight blanks, and volume one completes the dessert slot.

Volume one of Toriko is available now.

Review copy provided by the publisher.

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