Pop Culture Gadabout
Saturday, May 29, 2010
      ( 5/29/2010 10:21:00 AM ) Bill S.  

THE CALLS OF THE WILD: A loudly boyish Shonen Jump manga action fantasy about a world where gourmet living and gourmandizing go hand in hand, Mitsutoshi Shimabukuro’s Toriko follows a professional gourmet hunter as he ventures out into the wild, battling outlandish creatures in his pursuit of the ultimate full-course meal.

We first meet the hyper-muscled Toriko when he’s hired to capture a Garara Gator, a dinosaur-sized eight-legged alligator, for a dinner being put on by the International Gourmet Association. Accompanied by the diminutive chef Komatsu -- whose primary role in the story is to regularly get bug-eyed over a.) the dangers being faced or b.) our hunter’s exuberantly gluttonous capacity -- Toriko takes on the gator then has to best an army of massive four-armed gorillas called Troll Kongs so he can retrieve the rainbow fruit that they’re guarding. The beasties that our hero must battle are all comically grotesque slavering monsters, but Toriko always manages to come out on top.

Shimabukuro treats this all for action comedy -- and isn’t averse to throwing in the occasional cartoonish joke: after Toriko gorges himself on a whole gator, for instance, we see him pinned to the ground by his ballooning belly. Our hero also appears to possess Popeye-ish strength. Told that he can’t enter the compound where the Troll Kongs are guarding the Rainbow Fruit tree, for example, he uses his fist to punch a hold in the wall. Makes you wonder whether spinach is gonna be a component of the salad course of his ultimate meal.

If our hero doesn’t prove as engaging as the goofier heroes of Shonen Jump’s big money manga series, Naruto or One Piece, Shimakbukuo has an inventive way of setting up obstacles for our hero and the tag-along Komatsu to overcome. In the Troll Kong story, for instance, Toriko defeats one of the lesser apes in hand-to-hand combat, only to have the creature puke on his as it falls. With the scent of “one of the lowest ranking apes in the troop” all over him, he provokes every other Troll Ape into attacking him. Torika, to his credit, refuses to kill any of the apes: “I don’t kill anything unless I’m gonna eat it!” he pronounces. Words to live by.

In a brief note at the beginning of the first volume, Shimabukuro notes, “Scenes of characters eating can be kind of plain, but at the same time interesting . . . At least, I’ve always thought so.” The fantastic foods that our title hunter pursues are anything but plain: they’re like an omnivore’s menu re-imagined by Willy Wonka. Think grilled Vernicious Knid will show up on Toriko’s list?

(First published on Blogcritics.)


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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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