Toriko, Vol. 1

Imagine, if you can, an extreme sports edition of Iron Chef, one in which the contestants have to catch and cook the show’s theme ingredient. That’s essentially what Toriko is: an over-the-top food manga in which a hunter and a chef find — and eat — the world’s rarest delicacies.

Toriko, the titular character, is a peculiar mix of id and super-ego. On the one hand, he’s pure instinct: he hunts with his nose, uses brute strength to overwhelm his opponents, and gobbles every meal with animalistic gusto. On the other, he’s a hunter-philosopher who disdains slaughter for sport; Toriko may wrestle six-armed gorillas into submission, but he only kills creatures for food.

His sidekick, Komatsu, is a small, nervous chef who plays Chester to Toriko’s Spike, twitching and talking up a storm whenever they embark on a new mission or face danger. Komatsu is initially assigned to supervise Toriko; Komatsu’s boss, head of the International Gourmet Organization (IGO), wants to make sure that Toriko successfully fulfills an order for garara gator, an eight-legged, bus-sized monster prized for its delicate meat. Though Komatsu spends most of their expedition screaming, cowering, and clinging to Toriko, Komatsu is moved by Toriko’s passion. “When I saw you on the hunt close up,” Komatsu tells Toriko, “I decided it’s worth risking my life to follow you.” He elaborates:

I want to understand where those ingredients come from and what they look like in their natural habitat. By the time the high-level prey are shipped to us, they’re already slaughtered and just pieces of meat.

I never thought I’d see a Shonen Jump character extol the value of slow foods, but that’s a big part of Toriko‘s appeal: the concept screams Ted Nugent, but the underlying philosophy says Michael Pollan. Toriko still barks like a shonen manga, of course, with lengthy fight scenes, colorful opponents, and jokes a-plenty. But there’s a more thoughtful dimension to the story than is warranted by the material; many of the characters’ soliloquies wouldn’t be out of place in Oishinbo or The Omnivore’s Dilemma, as Toriko and Komatsu wax poetic about the flavor and succulence of freshly-caught meat.

Toriko‘s other strength is the artwork; look past that god-awful cover, and what you’ll find is some excellent cartooning. The monsters are fierce and slightly repulsive but plausibly edible, while the humans run the gamut from ridiculously virile — Toriko looks like a youthful Sylvester Stallone — to thoroughly decadent — the IGO’s Bureau Chief wears a leisure suit, aviator shades, and an ill-advised shag. Artist Mitsutoshi Shimabukaro renders each setting with enough detail to make it feel like a distinctive habitat; his mangrove swamp, where the garara gator lives, looks just pre-historic enough to harbor a pterodactyl or two. Not all of the visual gambits work: Toriko lives in a candy house, for example, a choice that seems out of character for a manly meat-eater, while a rainbow fruit tree falls flat in grayscale. Shimabukaro never belabors a sight gag, however, nimbly moving to the next set-piece before the failures even register.

I’d be the first to admit that Toriko won’t be every locavore’s idea of fun. I nearly lost my appetite watching Toriko lay waste to an entire banquet’s worth of food, and found some of the hunting scenes too protracted. If you’ve got a hearty constitution and a deep, abiding love of cooking competitions, however, this macho food-fest might just tickle your taste buds.


12 thoughts on “Toriko, Vol. 1”

  1. BurningLizard says:

    I’ve been wanting to read this manga for a while. I’ve been looking at the first three volumes at Borders, but haven’t been around to buying them yet (curse this part time employment). I’ll probably get them soon, after I pick up the third volume of Hyde and Closer.

    From what I’ve heard of this manga it successfully blends all the important aspects of popular shonen into something unique. It has action scenes, and plenty of gags, and a quirky fighting style.

    1. Katherine Dacey says:

      it successfully blends all the important aspects of popular shonen into something unique. It has action scenes, and plenty of gags, and a quirky fighting style.

      I smell a back-cover blurb!

      Seriously, though, your assessment is spot-on: Toriko is a tournament manga, but, like Iron Wok Jan, it incorporates food into the storyline in totally creative ways. Not all of the jokes are funny, but the story has a great, buoyant energy.

      1. BurningLizard says:

        I’ve been practicing my blurbs. 😛

        Definitely need to pick this one up, I’ve been looking for some good shonen to read.

  2. David Welsh says:

    Thank you for writing this! I freely admit that I considered the hideous cover a deal-breaker and failed to expend any other mental energy on the series.

    1. Katherine Dacey says:

      Yup, that cover is pretty terrible! My first thought when I saw it: “Wait, someone has made a manga about BILLY RAY CYRUS? Wow, there really IS a manga about everything!” I was pleasantly surprised when none of the characters sang “The Achy Breaky Heart.”

  3. Melinda Beasi says:

    I’m really glad you liked this series so much more than I did. I couldn’t get over my personal issues enough to enjoy it, and I’m glad to see it get a positive write-up on the site.

    1. Katherine Dacey says:

      Believe me, if the animals had been cute and furry, I’d have packed it in around page 10! (I know, I know… I’d make a terrible vegan. I’m not supposed to discriminate against the scaly, the slimy, or the toothy.)

  4. Jade Harris says:

    Toriko was too conspicuously goofy for me. Toriyama or Takahashi can get away with material like this because they’re wildly imaginative and present their goofy creations as credible components of their respective worlds. Shimabukaro throws a few extra limbs on an animal or has things growing on plants that do not normally grow on plants and shoves it right under your nose like it’s an accomplishment.

  5. animemiz says:

    I definitely found this to be a great series to read, loved the unique composition of the animals… Definitely don’t believe that there is going to be that much of an issue.. now a question.. in an eating contest of Shonen Jump characters who would win? Luffy, Goku,Toriko or Gintoki?

    1. Katherine Dacey says:

      Good question! Goku and Luffy are world-class gluttons, so I’d probably vote for them. Bonus points to both for staying so skinny!

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