Pop Culture Gadabout
Friday, May 05, 2006
      ( 5/05/2006 07:50:00 AM ) Bill S.  

"I HAVE NO USE FOR AN IDIOT WHO CAN'T EVEN STEAM FISH PROPERLY!" – Reading one of the newer Iron Wok Jan! books (#14) from DrMaster Publications recently, I noted a variation on a scene that hadn't appeared in the last few volumes of Shinji Saijyo's tongue-in-cheek manga series. In a cooking contest 'tween our arrogant chef hero and a technosavvy lady competitor, Jan flashes back to his brutal tutelage at the hands of his grandfather Kaiichiro, whose idea of teaching the young cooking student how to best steam fish is thrust the kid's hand into the still-hot entrée. Later, during a televised cooking contest, French/Chinese Celine Yang also has a brief flashback as she recalls watching her zaftig mama working at the stove.

When I wrote about the first volumes of this series, I noted that one of the series' big themes appeared to be a contrast between teaching and rearing styles: ultra-competitive Jan, who sees every cooking project as an opportunity to best an opponent, was raised and taught by an abusive elder; Kiriko Gobancho, the EE-cup granddaughter of Gobancho Restaurant's owner, comes from a more supportive family background and thus sees cooking as an opportunity to share her love of cookery. (From Celine's flashback, it seems clear that she also was raised in a positive environment.) But over time, this core contrast has been largely pushed aside in favor of cartoonish cooking competition.

I've enjoyed the series' contests, even as they grow more outlandish by the volume: in fourteen, for instance, Jan, Celine & Kiriko are tricked into participating in a cook-off against a "fruity" French chef while wearing pig suits. But without an ongoing acknowledgement of the characters' underpinnings, all this huffing and posturing can grow rather rote. I don't see Jan ever fully "maturing" as a cook – he's much too entertaining being an ass – but it's good to see Saijyo remembering how his character(s) got to be that way . . .
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Pop cultural criticism - plus the occasional egocentric socio/political commentary by Bill Sherman (popculturegadabout AT yahoo.com).

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