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KANTA ON MANGA / A wandering samurai’s search for gourmet food

© MASAYUKI QUSUMI, SHIGERU TSUCHIYAMA, GENTOSHA 2014

By Kanta Ishida / Yomiuri Shimbun Senior WriterThe manga this week

Nobushi no Gourmet: Manga-ban (Samurai gourmet: A manga version)

Story by Masayuki Qusumi, illustration by Shigeru Tsuchiyama (Gentosha)

The slang term “meshi-tero” (literally, “food terrorism”) has yet to be listed in Kojien or any other major Japanese dictionaries. It could be defined as the criminal act of indiscriminately stimulating ordinary citizens’ appetite, causing such health hazards as an increase in body weight and body fat.

Based on this definition, Shigeru Tsuchiyama, who died in May at the age of 68, would be the most bewitching meshi-tero manga artist.

I discussed with some people which of Tsuchiyama’s manga best represents him. Interestingly, each of us had a different favorite. One person claimed it was “Kuishinbo!” (Gourmet Fighter), a manga describing rivalries among people who boast of being heavy eaters.

Another chose “Kenka Ramen,” which is about the pursuit of creating the tastiest ramen, and still another picked “Shoku King,” the story of a man whose work is to help revive B-class gourmet (cheap, tasty) restaurants. I myself feel “Gokudomeshi” is the most unforgettable. This is a story about prisoners competing with each other by talking about their memories of the best food they’ve ever eaten.

Even this brief discussion obviously indicates how prolific and broad Tsuchiyama’s works are. As soon as I think about any of his work, my mouth starts to water and I have a hard time keeping my stomach from rumbling.

This week’s manga, “Nobushi no Gourmet” (Samurai gourmet), is a series of short stories that Tsuchiyama worked on from 2013 until last year.

Takeshi Kasumi, the protagonist, has just retired from work at 60. One weekday, while enjoying yakisoba fried noodles with a glass of beer for lunch, he compares himself to a nobushi, or a wandering samurai, because he no longer has a job. He declares to himself that from now on, he’ll eat whatever he wants to without reserve and live as he desires. Thus begins the tale of a retiree on his whimsical journey of pursing his impulsive eating desires.

Tsuchiyama’s manga usually conjure an image of someone shoveling down rice from a big bowl. In contrast, “Nobushi no Gourmet” is more delicate, both in its descriptions of foods and in its thoughts related to food and its flavors. I’ve been impressed that Tsuchiyama was able to illustrate such a world.

“Nobushi” may remind its readers of “Kodoku no Gourmet” (Solitary gourmet) illustrated by Jiro Taniguchi. This makes sense because both stories had the same writer, Masayuki Qusumi.

Yes, “Nobushi” is a post-retirement version of “Solitary,” in a way. Tsuchiyama seems to have been quite conscious of Taniguchi’s style, and has imitated monologue scenes and the touch of the drawings of “Solitary.” The result is equal to Taniguchi’s quality to a praiseworthy degree, and makes me wonder what skills and talent Tsuchiyama still had hidden within.

The title of this week’s manga mentions “a manga version,” because it’s an adaptation of a collection of essays with the same title by Qusumi. But I feel that this manga version is more entertaining, as the imagination of Tsuchiyama gave more breadth and new twists to the storyline. I’m convinced that Tsuchiyama, who aims for our bellies with his meshi-tero intrigue, is still underestimated and deserves more recognition.

Ishida is a Yomiuri Shimbun senior writer whose areas of expertise include manga and anime.Speech

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