animefringe june 2003 / reviews

Iron Wok Jan Vol.2
Format: right-left manga, 186 pages
Production: ComicsOne / Shinji Saijyo / Keiko Oyama
Comments: Iron Chef meets Yu Yu Hakusho, means it’s time for a cooking battle!
Animefringe Reviews:
Iron Wok Jan Vol.2

What would happen if you combined Yu Yu Hakusho with Iron Chef? I’m not sure, but I think it would look like Iron Wok Jan. Volume two of Shinji Saijyo’s manga continues the quests of Jan and Kiriko, two hopefuls for the title of Japan’s greatest chef of Chinese cuisine.

In this volume, Jan begins by teaching Okonogi a bit about Chinese cuisine, as the two hunt for chicken and quail. The next story has Jan facing off against a new competitor, who is brought to the Gobancho Chinese restaurant by the disgruntled food critic, Otani. However, the bulk of volume two is taken up by the Nationwide Chinese cooking competition, where Japan’s best Chinese cooks are competing to see who is best. Of course, not only are Jan and Kiriko competing, but so are many of Japan’s top chefs.

If the basic premise of Iron Wok Jan sounds familiar, it’s because it has been done before, in a number of ways; character A trains to be the best martial artist/baseball player/tennis star/etc. It’s even been done with cooking before; Yashiro Imagawa directed Mr. Achiko, and there is, of course, Iron Chef (the reality of which, is questionable). In fact, Iron Wok Jan seems to throw every manga cliché at the wall; Jan is archetypal talented young man with a chip on his shoulder, while Kiriko is the, equally-talented but more-levelheaded love interest (Ranma anyone?). Kiriko wails on Jan (Love Hina?). As for this volume’s cook-off, all the competitors are stereotypical tournament (a la Dragonball or Yu Yu Hakusho) competitors; there’s the wild, eccentric adult, the kid obsessed with his lineage, the ladies’ man, it’s all there - and most of us have seen it before. It is astounding how many clichés smack you in the face while reading Iron Wok Jan.

Of course it’s easy to get the wrong idea about all this. Of course, ninety percent of manga is as clichéd (or more so) than Iron Wok Jan. The only reason it might not seem that way to the American market is that we don’t read ninety percent of Japan’s manga output. We read the ten percent that makes the trip across the Pacific. However, it seems odd that ComicsOne would decide to bring such an offbeat title to the States.

Iron Wok Jan does have a number of things going for it. The character designs (especially for the needlessly busty Kiriko) are cute, though Jan tends to come off looking psychotic. I’m not a cook, but the foods look realistic. And, though the gimmick is incredibly overused, the story is engaging enough to hold one’s attention. Overall, the manga itself is middle ground. It’s not terrible, yet it’s not terribly enthralling either.

ComicsOne’s handling of the manga is pretty good. Iron Wok Jan is presented in the “unflipped” format, reading right to left. Each issue starts out with a brief synopsis and an introduction of the cast (great for those that didn’t start with volume one). ComicsOne also left the Japanese sound effects, writing English equivalents above each. I neither completely agree with this, as it changes the manga, nor completely disagree, as it is a good solution to a difficult problem. ComicsOne was, however, aggressive in translating signs into English only. Additionally, there are a couple of places in the manga where, normally, kanji would have been left in place by most manga and anime localizers (as in people’s names on shirts and chairs). Finally, there was one immediately apparent grammatical flub; one piece of dialogue was missing a word, “I have a job you.” While this is a minor point, I feel that those putting out manga and anime should at least care enough about the end product to double check their work.

Iron Wok Jan is an odd little title and, personally, I’m not sure who it would appeal to. Judging from the advertisements for their other wares at the back of volume two, ComicsOne seems to be picking up some very odd titles (admittedly, most seem very clichéd). Though it is no Shakespeare or Rurouni Kenshin, those who pick up the book might be pleasantly surprised.