Toriko, vol. 1
By Mitsutoshi Shimabukuro
Rated T, for Teen
There is something very primal about Toriko: It’s a story about hunting for food, and although there is a veneer of gourmet sensibility over some of the quests, it always comes down to the massive, overmuscled Toriko having a showdown with some enormous animal over who is going to eat who.
Other food manga, such as Oishinbo and even Kitchen Princess, hinge on the main character’s refined palate and esoteric knowledge. Toriko’s world is much simpler: The best foods are the ones that are hardest to get. Deliciousness, it seems, scales with difficulty, and the prizes in the first two volume present formidable challenges: Garara Gator, a huge, dinosaur-like creature, and Rainbow Fruit, which grows on a tree protected by massive four-armed apes.
Toriko is a basic shonen battle manga, in which the battles take place between Toriko and the creatures he plans to eat, or who are getting in the way of a meal. His companion on his hunts is Komatsu, a chef at a hotel run by the International Gourmet Organization. Komatsu is small and more at home in a kitchen than a jungle, and he spends most of the first adventure cowering in fear, but his reactions are an important part of the story. (Presumably the creator’s choice to name him after a brand of construction equipment was deliberate irony.)
Although he seems to spend a lot of his time eating, Toriko does have a plan, of sorts: He wants to construct an ideal multi-course meal of the best foods on earth. His quest to track down the hard-to-find foods, in order to determine whether they are worthy of this meal, adds a bit of structure to the series. Also, the characters mention that Toriko is one of Four Heavenly Kings, the four top gourmet hunters, although the others aren’t seen in this volume.
Like many shonen heroes, Toriko combines crudeness, strength, and extraordinary knowledge: When a leech attaches itself to Komatsu, for instance, he squeezes the juice from a mangrove leaf onto it; the juice contains salt, which leeches cannot tolerate. Later on, he makes a rather remarkable leap of logic: Just as the Komodo dragon (a real creature) has bacteria in its saliva that weaken its prey, so the Garara Gator (not a real creature) allows leeches to live in its mouth, because the leeches travel and draw blood from potential victims, and the scent of blood leads the gator to its prey. There is an interesting sort of reasoning that runs through the book, and for someone who rips things apart with his bare hands and tears into raw animals with his teeth, Toriko has quite the philosophical streak. He won’t kill the four-armed apes, for instance, because he doesn’t plan to eat them; instead, he stuns them with a double needle.
There is a lot of food in this manga, but most of it is imaginary: Plants that grow leaves of bacon, banana cucumbers, cod with the claws of a crayfish, and the wondrous Rainbow Fruit, which changes its flavor seven different times in the process of being eaten. Toriko has an enormous appetite and seems to be constantly eating, but he doesn’t so much prepare his food as rip it out by the roots and tear it apart. Then he rips a branch from the cigar tree and lights up. Toriko has a penchant for fine old
brandies bourbon as well; he can slice the bottom off the bottle with his bare hand and down the contents in a single gulp.
At its heart, Toriko is a battle manga, so all this talk of rare fruits and delicate tastes is accompanied by depictions of the gargantuan Toriko slobbering as he shoves hunks of meat into his massive jaws. The art style is also crude, with strong emphasis on the grotesqueness of the creatures and the action of the fights.
With its Rabelaisian hero and imaginative array of preposterous foods, Toriko is a fun read, and it’s not surprising that it is one of the top five series in the Japanese Shonen Jump. It is clearly pitched at teenage readers, and the nonstop shonen action doesn’t stray far from the confines of the genre, but older readers may enjoy the flashes of wit and the portrayal of the ultimate iron-man gourmet.
This review is based on a review copy provided by the publisher.