Shinji Saijyo – DrMaster – 2007 – 27 volumes
That ending… well, the last volume ended with the stadium in chaos, but from there… I was not expecting any of what happened. Not a single thing. A battle with Mutsuju comes up, and he seems all eager about challenging Kiriko, Jan, and Ransei Koh. High stakes are wagered, such as Gobancho Restaurant, Jan’s arm, Oitani’s tongue. And then… and then.
What the hell, Iron Wok Jan.
I loved it. Right up to the end, that series was as insane as it could have possibly been. The artist even included a special ending just for the graphic novel that has a very different, non-cooking direction for the story. I don’t mind that either. I did think it was weird that Kiriko and Jan stuck together, though. It makes me think things about them, and I don’t want that.
There is a short story at the end of the volume that was apparently Shinji Saijyo’s debut work in Shounen Champion. It had a very Jan-like spiritualist in it that could steal souls with a red demon-looking hand. I would totally have read that had it been made into a series, too.
Thank you, Iron Wok Jan, for not only being the best cooking manga I’ve read, but for also being one of the most completely insane series that has been translated. Only Drifting Classroom can give this a run for its money.
Shinji Saijyo – DrMaster – 2007 – 27 volumes
I want to say that there were pacing problems with this volume. After all, we start with the judging and end with the judging not quite finished. The entire last half of the book is dedicated solely to talking about how awesome Jan’s dish is. An entire volume of judging… well, that’s hard to take.
On the other hand, I could not read it fast enough. I was literally flying through it to see what would happen when Jan’s dish came up for judging. I had my guess about what he used on his meat, and in the end, I was right. Except it’s much more horrible and grotesque than I could have ever possibly imagined, and seeing all the stuff drawn out and the judges puking and stuff like that… that’s why you should read Iron Wok Jan and not any other sissy cooking manga. Of course, many people will probably not get this far even if they do read it (it’s long, and its hard to take 27 volumes of straight-up cooking contests that move slowly), but know that vomit awaits you when you do.
Also, finally the judges called Koh and Kiriko out a problem I’ve been noticing with the dishes for the past several rounds. They were making dishes with the ingredient, but not dishes that featured the flavor of the ingredient. Why that factored in just now rather than in some of the more blatant violations earlier… I’m not really sure. But it was awesome to see both of them humbled like that. That’s not to say their scores were affected, really, but it did come up.
If you’ll excuse me, I have to read the last volume right now.
Shinji Saijyo – DrMaster – 2007 – 27 volumes
This volume was kind of a downer, but I knew it would be composed entirely of exposition leading up to the final judging of the competition. The real problem I had was with all the recaps. It is in the nature of a weekly series to want to remind the reader what’s going on, but there are literally two things that happen in this volume. Ransei Koh reveals his approach to 21st century cuisine (Kiriko and Jan having already done so last volume), and then we see how the three of them are preparing the meat. There’s one or two other revelations in there (the Ransei Koh part at the beginning takes a lot longer look at him than I give it credit for), but for the most part, amid all this, we are reminded again and again what everyone’s approach is, and how each is preparing the meat after every single character sequence. This has been going on all series, and it can be annoying when you get a slow volume like this, but I don’t think it’s ever been this bad.
The volume ends with Jan realizing that he’s made a horrible mistake in not making sure he was the first to serve his dish. I secretly suspect his technique is setting a group of flies to the meat so that what looks like fat deposits are actually maggots, or fly eggs, or something. I guess we’ll see.
Also, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the bizarre slang and pop culture references that entered this volume of the manga. Aside from the slang, the beginning of the volume was stuck on an analogy that kept comparing the various styles of cooking to the show “Extreme Makeover.”
The most notable thing about this volume is a gaiden-type story in the back about Kaiichiro and Mutsuju being jerks in China sometime during Japanese occupation. They both more or less have the same attitudes as Jan, something I wouldn’t have expected of Mutsuju (the current owner of the Gobancho restaurant), but I liked seeing the story about when he and Jan’s grandpa were friends. Of course, they accidentally do good deed during the course of their cooking studies, something that would never happen to Jan, so maybe I overestimate their evil. Hilariously, they run into Oitani and his father, and Oitani was a really bratty babydoll-looking youth.
Otherwise, the only other things going on in the main storyline are the slaughter of the ostriches and the very, very early prelim stages of the final round of the cooking competition. This will be a slow one, folks.
Actually, two other awesome things happen, things that keep me reading and very, very interested despite the slow pace and repetitive nature of the competitions. One is a horrible, horrible joke that Ransei Koh makes at the end of the volume for no reason about teeth. It’s like the type of joke that’s supposed to be a pun, but isn’t. I can’t say if it’s a bad translation making it fall flatter (Iron Wok Jan doesn’t have the best or most consistent adaptation), but I’m willing to bet that it was that horrible in the original too, and I love it a little more because of it.
The other is the extreme way that everyone kills their ostriches, but especially Jan. Kiriko’s method is purposeful and relatively straightforward (aside from the fact she’s using a meat cleaver to decpaitate them), Koh’s method is kind of silly, which seems to fit with him, and Jan… well, he uses a gold-colored cymbal monkey, a closed-off room, and gas. Yes, that’s right, he gasses the birds to death. I know that’s a minor spoiler, but I feel it necessary, because if even one person decides to pick up the series, it will be worth it. And if you’re still on the fence, know that things like that happen all the time.
Once again, this volume has a pretty unique cover. I don’t like it quite as much as the shark cover, but the fact it features the main character biting a live ostrich is pretty awesome all the same. Also, Jan’s on the back cover with one of those wands with a streamer attached… except instead of a ribbon, it appears he’s drawing shapes with intestines. Also, he’s drawn in a “chibi” style. Excellent.
The outcome of Ransei Koh’s dish is shown at the beginning of the volume… and I liked that they addressed the factor of the everyman judges. The points raised are legitimate, and I remember wondering about the point of contention myself when the dish was explained.
The final match will be an ostrich meat battle. The entire volume is spent in pre-tournament preparation with all the characters researching ostrich meat. Ostrich meat is apparently inedible except under very specific conditions, and most of the volume is spent cracking the mystery. In the end, it turns out only Jan will have problems preparing the ostrich. Because of his bloodlust. Again, I love this series for having the most vicious hero on the planet.
For an example of what I’m talking about… one of the best scenes in the series is in this volume, actually. Jan sneaks into an ostrich farm at night. Then, when the ostriches start running away from him, he takes his meat cleaver (?) and literally hacks one apart and starts eating it raw. When accosted by the owner of the ranch, he simply turns around and stares, with bloodshot eyes, raw meat hanging out of his mouth, and blood all over him, then says “This ostrich meat is terrible!” The image is one of the best EVER. But in case that wasn’t enough for you, Kiriko drops down right next to him with her own cleaver and begins hacking the meat apart herself and eating it raw in big chunks, blood running down her face, and comes to the same conclusion, the ranch owner looking on in horror.
See, that’s just how major plot revelations in Iron Wok Jan go.
It’s also worth noting that, for some reason, there were a few panels of fanservice in this volume. As I’ve said, there is an astoundingly small amount here, given the fact that both Kiriko and Celine have breasts that are literally larger than their heads. And the fanservice was relegated to two or three suggestive zooms. That’s it. It’s… weird.
The shark battle will forever assure Iron Wok Jan’s place at the top of my list of cooking manga, and it only gets more ridiculous and extreme in this volume.
I forgot to mention last volume that the “to be continued” page featured a room full of syringes with no context whatsoever. That’s just what kind of manga Iron Wok Jan is: it makes you try and figure out why a room full of syringes would have anything at all to do with cooking sharks.
Most of this volume is exposition to the actual judging, with just a lot of cooking going on. Jan is as ridiculous and extreme as always… he apparently stays in a freezer that is fifty below for half an hour doing something mysterious, and then promptly deep fries a live shark afterwards. He’s not looking so good when the time to judge comes, but they dig him all the same. Moreso than usual. I was really looking forward to how Oitani was going to be persuaded.
My predictions for how the scores would fall out were all wrong. I was suspecting that Kiriko and the American would be eliminated for masking the taste of shark meat rather than using it, but apparently that wasn’t a concern. Technically, though… only Jan and Koh made dishes that tasted like shark meat. Jan in particular, because even Koh mixed the flavors with other things.
And the edge-of-the-seat excitement continues as the judging goes into the next volume! I actually had to read a bit to make sure what I thought was going to happen actually occurred. Rest assured that I am once again ensnared in Iron Wok Jan’s simple, yet effective net.
This book has one of the best shounen manga covers I’ve seen. I just love the comparison between the shark’s teeth and Jan’s own open-mouthed smile. Looking at it makes me feel happy for some reason.
Reading this volume made me feel even more happy, though, as I remembered why I love this series so much. Every time I start a volume, I forget and have my doubts because they’re going through some incredibly boring cooking terminology. But then Jan will jump into a tank of live sharks and judo kick one out, or someone will use an electric saw to gut a gigantic shark, or the story will flash back to a little kid being forced to stand and balance on the edge of a knife while cooking with a gigantic wok, and then I’ll remember why it is I love Iron Wok Jan so much.
This volume is all about cooking sharks, the next stage of the cooking competition. Oitani actually proposes this battle because he doesn’t think anyone can cook an edible dish with shark meat. Aside from the fact that shark meat smells like pee (apparently excess ammonia is not dispersed while the shark is alive and is held in the cells of the creature itself), there’s the fact that harpooning the creatures out of the tank seems to cause them to cannibalize each other and that no knife can easily penetrate shark hide and the meat is not of good quality in general. Aside from the fins and a few other select parts, sharks are apparently entirely disposed of because they are not fit for human consumption. But Jan et al are up to the challenge.
That alone is entertaining, but there are other amusing and extreme things, as there always are. Jan uses a knife grasped between his feet in order to cut a section of chain-link fence to use as a stove, Kiriko uses her super-sharp knife to strip the enamel scales of the shark hide, one of the other chefs crams his hand up the rectum of a freshly-plucked turky to gut it, then graphically squeezes out the contents of its intestines in order to use the organs for sausage casings, et cetera.
Much like any Shounen Champion manga, it goes above and beyond the call of duty to repulse/entertain.