Review: Oishii Kankei
And so, I have returned. I was originally going to insert a corny Code Geass reference here, but I think most of my Twitter followers are kind of tired of my corniness…
To celebrate my return, I am FINALLY doing that post I kept telling you I was going to do. That’s right. Today is the day my Oishii Kankei review is released for the whole world to see.
More after the cut.
(This is, without a doubt, the longest post I’ve ever posted on this blog. EVER. Don’t say I didn’t warn you when you all say “TL;DR” to me in the comments. thx guyz.)
Summary: Growing up, Fujiwara Momoe loved to eat, and was always treated to gourmet meals by her affluent parents. After her father’s death, Momoe and her mother find themselves in an unstable financial situation, and Momoe is forced to support the both of them, without any of the delicious food she once enjoyed (she can’t cook to save her life). One day, she walks into a small French restaurant, and after falling in love with the food, asks to work their under head chef Oda Keiji. The story then begins to follow Momoe’s journey and professional growth within the culinary world, and her own personal growth as a result. Will Momoe be able to overcome the shortcomings she possesses by being the product of doting parents and learn to assert her independence?
I’ll be honest – I’ve been thinking about and trying to finish this review for well over a month now. While some of the reasons for my delay do stem from genuine procrastination, a lot of it was due to the fact that I just couldn’t find the right words to describe my thoughts about this manga. I would start off on one tangent, and then think that my analysis wasn’t deep or meaningful enough, and I would get delayed again…
(If I look at the editing history, I actually started this on AUGUST 16TH. And I’m finishing this NOW. This should give you some indication of how long this entry is going to be. This is longer than most essays I write at uni, actually. Although I don’t know how accurate a depiction that is of my academic career…OTL)
However! Here’s one thought that hasn’t changed throughout the passing of years: Gosh, I love this manga SO much!
When I first started reading this a few years ago, retro manga was really not my thing at all – back in my early days of reading shoujo manga, I vehemently refused to read anything published prior to 2005. Immature, I know. To this day, I really don’t know what made me try this manga. I guess you could say that I basically picked this up on a whim, like almost everything I end up reading and seriously enjoying. Note to readers: don’t be afraid to try new things!
I just love so many things about this manga, I don’t know where to start. Rather than starting with character analysis like I normally do, I want to begin with one of the defining moments of the manga, at least for me.
My all-time favourite moments of this manga – and in manga in general – occurs in Chapter 7. In it, Momoe’s mother remarks that it’s very easy for a wife who does all the cooking to kill her husband. Basically, by gradually increasing the fat, salt and sugar in the food the husband consumes, he will gradually become accustomed to it, and will be victim to heart disease and other heart conditions; there is no real way for such methods to be prosecuted by the justice system, since “strongly seasoning” someone’s food to the point of death isn’t really a crime.
I feel like this is a moment that a lot of readers would gloss over, and I can understand why. I mean, it’s not a groundbreaking plot development, or anything. But it’s just that for me, Oishii Kankei up to that point had been a lot about Momoe’s lack of domestic abilities, and now her mother (who is generally portrayed as a very traditional-values woman) acknowledges this power that women have over their husbands. Even after reading this manga years ago, that part of the series has always stuck so strongly with me. Maybe it’s because I had never had any reason to think of such a notion before, or perhaps it’s the fact that that moment demonstrates a thoughtfulness that a lot of manga I was reading at the time didn’t have. (Then again, I was reading a lot of shoujo, in comparison to josei manga like Oishii Kankei, so that probably explains that. But I digress.)
One of the features that makes this manga one of my favourites is its cast. Every single character of the main ensemble feels like a REAL PERSON, which isn’t something I say if I don’t mean it. Granted, I do say that characters feel “believable” or “relatable” in other reviews, but there’s a strong sense of realism that I sense from the characters in Oishii Kankei that really sets it apart from the pack.
While the cast may not be large, I’m going to put the majority of my focus on the three characters I thought were the most interesting. Rest assured that the other characters I’m not going to mention (Kaoru, etc.) are all just as interesting, but I don’t want this post to finish at 2000 words.
At the start of the manga, I was really tempted to just paint Momoe with a really broad stereotype brush – the spoiled, rich girl who is forced to overcome her hard-learned habits in order to achieve a goal. However, as the series progressed, I began to realize the author had greater things in mind for Momoe. Yes, she does start out in that vein, but she transforms into a completely different person by the time the series ends – and the transformation is so gradual that I barely even noticed until halfway through the series.
One of the things I really like about the way Momoe matured is that she genuinely DOES get better at cooking. Not with the help of some fairy or superpower, or because she’s motivated to get some guy she likes, but because she wants to prove her own PERSONAL worth. And even though she grows exponentially, she still has the sense to realize that her skills, however impressive to her group of wealthy socialites, pale in comparison to that of her peers, and especially her boss, Oda.
Ah, Oda. Let me get started with this guy.
Oda does start off as this aloof, ill-tempered kind of guy, with a really STRONG work ethic. While I do say he’s aloof, he’s not like the socially-aloof Vivi of Hana to Akuma kind of aloof – it’s just that he’s very driven and focused. What I like about Oda is that he’s not motivated by money or prestige, he just genuinely enjoys cooking and wants to do it on his own terms. It’s not this quest of “oh, I want to be number one and be famous”, but his drive to cook is more intrinsic than anything else. This is a real shift from a lot of shoujo heroes, in my mind – granted, in the world of culinary shoujo manga (Mixed Vegetables, for example) there are guys that aren’t motivated solely by a desire to be #1, but it’s not a wholly uncommon theme, either.
I especially liked the part of the series where he started going out with Kanako, and you could really see this very human part of him come out. Their relationship really has this sense of mutual respect that I don’t see in lots of manga – yes, they LOVE each other, but they respect each other on an intellectual level very strongly. This isn’t something I normally see in a lot of josei I read (coughcoughHotarunoHikaricoughcoughNANAcoughcough), so I really enjoyed it here. The really professional part of him at that point is just stripped away, and you can see this man who is willing to give of himself to the point where he can’t give anymore. And I just really enjoy seeing this come out of a male protagonist.
I really like Kanako, I really do. I like that she’s a driven woman and I like that she doesn’t rely on other people to take care of her. I like that she doesn’t derive her sense of self from a significant other. Yes, she does go through a lot of ups and downs in her relationship with Oda, but it feels like a natural progression of emotions rather than manufactured inner conflict.
Granted, I kind of disliked her when she went a little bit psycho mid-way through the manga, but I’m glad that the psycho character actually went and got REAL COUNSELLING this time! WOW! People with emotional problems getting actual counselling in manga NEVER HAPPENS. This makes me both amused and happy at the same time. Thankfully, she had real AND believable reasons for her emotional problems, which I also appreciated – she had real, underlying reasons for her insecurity, rather than just seeing Oda with Momoe one random day and making a bunch of weird assumption (although she does do this).
But in all seriousness, I think that Kanako is sort of a foil to Momoe in a lot of ways. Unlike Momoe, she starts off as this very focused, driven career woman (unlike Momoe, who is basically marriage-ready, skill-wise), who slowly…descends into this immense emotional dependence on Oda. And while I faulted her for it in my younger days, I am finally old enough now to understand what was going through her mind. That need for emotional support, especially without real family to be there for her, is completely understandable, and I can understand why she reached out to Oda to fill that void.
As for the ending, a lot of stuff I’ve been reading online is fairly on-the-mark – it is VERY SUDDEN and VERY UNEXPECTED. It was BAD, per se, it just left the manga feeling incomplete. While I can’t say I want an Oishii Kankei II at this point (it’s already been almost twenty years since the original was published), I do think a small book of spin-off stories wouldn’t be un-called for.
In short, I do think this manga has a lot to offer. So I guess you’d better check it out-
OH WAIT. I forgot to mention the art. So…
The art! Well, it looks very…90s shoujo (although it’s josei, BUT WHATEVER). The guys are attractive, but not pretty – exactly how I expect my josei to look. The food looks semi-realistic, rather than cute (hey, this isn’t a manga about kyara bento, so what were you expecting?). Overall, the art is fairly pleasing to the eye, and while I do tend to favour more modern shoujo styles, I still found the art nice to look at.
Anyway, if you, the reader, are one of those people who refuses to even look at 90s manga, you need to get your head out of the sand. Look past that bias of yours and read this anyway. You’ll thank me later. The internet likes this particular josei manga for a reason, and if you’re gonna follow the crowd, go for it with Oishii Kankei. You won’t regret it!