animefringe february 2003 / reviews

Iron Wok Jan! Vol.1
Format: Left-Right manga, 187 pages
Production: ComicsOne / Shinji Saijyo
Comments: A surprisingly enjoyable little competition between Japanís best two Chinese chefs.
Animefringe Reviews:
Iron Wok Jan! Vol.1

At first glance, I wasn't sure what to do with Iron Wok Jan!. Obviously a cooking manga, I haven't been too familiar with what seems to be a pervasive theme in Japan, outside of a few clips of Yasuhiro Imagawa's (of Giant Robo and G Gundam fame) Mr. Achiko.. Shinji Saijyo's Iron Wok Jan! seems influenced by both Mr. Achiko and the Food Network favorite, Iron Chef. Despite the oddity of having an action packed manga set in a restaurant, Iron Wok Jan! is an entertaining read.

Set at Gobancho, the top Chinese restaurant in Tokyo's flashy Ginza district, Iron Wok Jan! stars Kiriko, the granddaughter of the restaurant's founder. Despite her young age, she is one of the best cooks (other than her uncle and her grandfather) at the restaurant... that is, until a mysterious stranger shows up demanding fried rice. When the rice isn't up to his standards, the stranger marches into the kitchen and cooks his own friend rice. It turns out the arrogant newcomer is Jan Akiyama, grandson of Kaiichiro, Kiriko's grandfather's major rival. Kiriko's uncle promised to hire the talented young cook, and the battle begins between the two.

Anyone familiar with British sitcoms will quickly draw a parallel between Iron Wok Jan! and the British Chef!. Both have group dynamics through the kitchen staff and a level of concentration on cooking and competition. This first volume of the manga deals with Jan and Kiriko's budding rivalry, as Jan arrives at Gobancho, as the duo prepare to wow Japan's top food critic (who looks suspiciously like the dried up judges on Iron Chef), and at Jan's first major cooking failure. There's a back-story in the manga, concerning Jan and his overbearing grandfather (which seems a bit odd, but I suppose adds depth to the story), but overall, it's an enjoyable read. Going in with an open mind, Iron Wok Jan! becomes a page turner. Once one gets over the absurdity of the premise, the manga does become very interesting. However, the love-hate relationship that will blossom between the two rivals (we've seen it a million times, no? Ranma and Akane, Videl and Gohan, etc) is immediately apparent, though no ground work has been laid for it in this first volume.

The art is pretty standard. The character designs are overall pretty good, but nothing particularly outstanding. Jan looks overwhelmingly evil throughout the manga, which takes a little getting used to. Iron Wok Jan! certainly benefits from an adorable female protagonist in Kiriko.

Kudos to ComicsOne for an excellent technical release. The manga has many notes, and most of the text overlays are pretty good. There is only one panel in this collection in which some English text looks out of place. It is on a building, the text itself looks weak and a phone number is XX'd out. There is also one strikingly odd translation; early in the manga, one of kitchen underlings bothers Kiriko, and when she yells at him, he says "D'oh" (which seems to be an inappropriate time to use it, going by the Homer Simpson standard). The manga itself is printed in the Japanese style, starting from the right cover (traditionally the end in English books) and it reads right to left as manga does. ComicsOne also left much of the Japanese onomatopoeia intact.

Manga fans looking for something different will want to check out Iron Wok Jan!. While it's ground covered before in the dojo, on the basketball court, boxing ring, baseball field and any number of iterations throughout anime and manga, Iron Wok Jan! does this story well.