Monday, November 29, 2010

Eat This Manga

Manga is already renowned by its fans for its impressive breadth of subject matter, which ranges widely from stories of superpowered heroes, to super-talented surgeons, to Scandinavian goddesses hanging with regular guys, to even—gasp!—simple stories about everyday life. Manga can also be famously weird, which often leads non-manga fans to look upon it with a skeptical eye. 
That said, otakus and the rest of the world may not have agreeing tastes, but if there is one thing that they all can agree on, it is this: Food is awesome.

And since there are manga about the above varied subjects and more, it is only natural that there should be manga about food and the culture surrounding the preparation of it. Check out two of the most recent food-themed additions to the library’s manga collection:

Arguably, today’s best food manga series (and this author’s favorite manga of all time) is Yakitate!! Japan by Takashi Hashiguchi. Protagonist Kazuma Azuma is a kid from the country who wants nothing more than to be a baker at Japan’s leading bakery chain, Pantasia. A number of challenges stand in his way—the simplest being that Japan isn’t really a bread-eating country, preferring rice instead—but like the main character of just about every shonen manga, he has the determination to make himself succeed, as well as the baker’s equivalent of his own little superpower. He has spent every day since childhood inventing his own special series of breads, which he names “Ja-pan,” aided by his “Hands of the Sun.” The latter refers to his unusually high-temperature hands, which give him an advantage when kneading bread, as the added warmth causes the dough to ferment and rise faster than it normally would.
Speaking from my own experience, baking bread is not very exciting. It mostly consists of doing one five-minute step, letting the bread sit and rise for a few hours, revisiting it to do another five-minute step, letting it sit for another few hours, and so on. Not quite the stuff one would expect to put into a shonen manga, which generally relies on fast-paced battles to keep its readers’ attention. What makes Yakitate!! Japan such a great manga is how it seamlessly blends the cooking genre with the shonen genre and does it with intense and hilarious results. Iron Chef has nothing on this series. The cooking matches featured here are often as action-packed as any battle you’ll find in Naruto or Bleach

One of the largest selling points of this series, though, is its sense of humor and its hidden complexities. Yakitate!! Japan would probably be a hard series to tolerate if it took itself seriously. However, it knows how wacky its premise is and runs with it, adding to its own absurdity by featuring over-the-top villains and judges that would rarely be seen in an actual cooking competition, but seem perfectly fitted to shonen manga. The main characters are a bit more realistic, but even they have their own notable quirks. The title itself is a small indication of the wacky humor that shows up in this book. It translates into “Freshly Baked Japan,” “pan” itself being the Japanese word for “bread,” thus Azuma’s appropriate insistence on his truly Japanese bread being named “Ja-pan.” This pun is just the first of possible hundreds that show up in the series itself, but even people who detest puns should still give this series a try, as there is much more to its humor than just cheesy wordplay. Hashiguchi’s art is wonderful, fluctuating from the comical to the realistic to the comically over-realistic, and this art provides half the humor. 

Neko Ramen by Kenji Sonishi is one of the most recent entries into the food manga genre and simultaneously one of the most absurd. As the title suggests (to anyone loosely familiar with Japanese), it is a comic about a cat (“neko”) and ramen—more specifically, a cat who owns a ramen restaurant (Yes, you did read that correctly).
Main character Taisho is not a kitty of the Hello variety; in fact, he’s quite the opposite. Originally he came from a family of cat models , but couldn’t pull off the basic cuteness required of a modeling cat, much less the standard of cuteness established by his father, who was famous for being adorable. Unable to take the abuse that his dad inflicted upon him for not being cute enough, Taisho ran away from home and, after tripping through various jobs, finally found his place as a hot-tempered ramen cook. 
How he has managed to keep his place as a ramen cook is a mystery, as his ramen is apparently horrible, but this comic isn’t concerned with that. Presented in 4-koma style (with single-shot stories depicted in four vertically-arranged panels), Neko Ramen thrives on short bursts of comedy. Most of this comedy comes at Taisho’s expense and often deals with the difficulties a cat experiences when trying to run a restaurant in a human-dominated world. “It takes some time to pick the cat hair out” is something you might hear said of your food in Taisho’s shop. Deliveries are difficult for Taisho as well, especially when the delivery to be made is inside another cat’s territory. Taisho’s business sense, too, is another source of amusement, as he misinterprets and overprices just about every ramen dish that he makes. His Zero Calorie Ramen, for example, is a bowl of hot water, and when he briefly gives up on authentic ramen and sells instant noodles, he sells them for a whopping $8.00 a bowl. He also tries to pay his human employees with glasses of milk and hires other cats to work at his shop, not minding that they’re essentially paid to nap all day. Then again, he’s a cat himself, so maybe he expects that.
The primary flaw in this manga is that, in many ways, it takes some getting used to. The art is not of the big, watery-eyed sort typically seen in manga, with artist Sonishi opting instead for a rough, sketchy look. It’s not unattractive, but it is unexpected, and until the reader becomes accustomed to looking at it, it’s hard to really enjoy the story. The story itself takes a bit of getting used to as well, simply because of its absurdity. At the beginning, readers don’t know the context in which Taisho is being written—we don’t know if it’s a world in which cats commonly run restaurants, for example—but once this is established (It’s not such a world), the humor begins to take off. 
The level of wide appeal that this manga might have is debatable. While the back cover of its first volume declares itself a must-have for ramen aficionados, cat lovers, and manga collectors, an appreciation for the nonsensical (and sometimes downright ridiculous) is necessary for full appreciation of this manga. Anyone who doesn’t love the weird and absurd might find other cat-themed comics like Chi’s Sweet Home or What’s Michael? more palatable.

If you find these comics to your taste, then you may also want to try some of our other food-themed manga. Kitchen Princess by Natsumi Ando and Mixed Vegetables by Ayumi Komura are recommended for fans of cute or romantic shojo manga, while Café Kichijouji by Kyoko Negishi should suit those who like comedies with quirky characters.

by Heather, Teen Services Assistant at the Headquarters Library

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Tara's Book Review: X-Isle by Steve Augarde

The world has drowned, covered by water after widespread flooding. People are running out of food. Often, the only way for young boys to survive is to be sent to X-Isle, a mysterious island far from the mainland where the three Eck brothers dive for canned goods and bring them back for trade. Getting a spot on the boat to X-Isle isn’t easy, but Baz finally gets his chance, along with a smaller boy named Ray. They think they’ll finally have a decent life—getting three meals a day, having shelter over their heads, and working with the Eck family—but when they get there, they discover they couldn’t have been more wrong. The longer Baz and Ray spend on X-Isle with a group of other boys, the more they learn about how dangerous their situation is, and eventually realize that they must determine what they are willing to do to survive. While this book has a dystopian aspect to it, which I loved, it focuses more specifically on the evils of the Eck brothers and the necessary evils of living on X-Isle. The beginning started slowly, but quickly built up into a fast-paced story that I found myself unwilling to put down. The boys’ inventiveness and close relationships were amazing, and the twists and turns of the ending will catch you completely off guard. I highly recommend this book to anyone looking for a good adventure novel with a hint of horror.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Coming Soon: Teen Winter Reading! (by Lisa)


December 1, 2010 to February 28, 2011

Around this time of year, with exams looming and term papers due, are you tired of textbooks and required reading? Are you craving a really riveting and entertaining read—one that fits your personal style and taste? If your answer to any of these questions is “Yes, please!” then you get the true purpose of Teen Winter Reading. Here’s how it works:
Step 1: Choose any book that you think looks awesome
Step 2: Read and savor
Step 3: Write a brief review (you can use the handy review forms available at all SCPL locations or submit it online)
Step 4: Turn in your review to any SCPL location to be entered into the weekly drawing!

We’ll randomly draw four winners every Friday for cool Teen Winter Reading prizes—books and bags like the one pictured below. But, the real rush of Teen Winter Reading isn’t the prizes—it’s the pure and powerful feeling of freedom that comes from choosing books that you really enjoy!



Monday, November 08, 2010

125 Years: The Anniversary Contest (READ THIS. YOU COULD WIN $125!)

Do you love the library? Do you wish you had $125? Then it’s your lucky day--we’re having a contest to celebrate the 125th anniversary of the library and the winners will receive $125. Just share with us your experiences—learning, entertaining, growing—or fun times you’ve had @ your library. Write it. Tell it. Draw it. Build it. Sing it. Whatever “it” is, express it your way. Entries for the 125th library celebration contest will be divided into four age categories and judged on creativity, connection to the library and the fun factor. A winning entry will be selected from each age group to receive $125. Good luck and have fun!

Age Groups:          0-5          6-11          12-17          18 and up

Teen Halloween Party 2010

If you couldn’t make it to this year’s Teen Halloween Party, you missed a good time--the costumes were great, the games were fun and the food was decimated!

Monday, November 01, 2010

Tater Tots, Cherry Coke, and NaNoWriMo (by Heather)

Thornton Wilder had to take long walks. Toni Morrison had to make coffee while the day was still dark, and then work as the sun came up. Amy Tan had to work amidst objects that carried their own histories and thus inspired her with them. Agatha Christie had to eat apples in the bathtub.

Most established writers, it seems, have some sort of ritual that they repeat to put themselves in the writing spirit—something they do, eat, wear, or write with that lets them know that it’s time to write and do nothing else. As a writer, I find that I have two magic combinations that put me in the creative mood: for most of the year, a comfy chair by a window within range of my cats and Special Writing Candle, or for November, an endless supply of tater tots and Cherry Coke—anywhere.
What’s so special about tater tots and Cherry Coke in November, you ask? It’s quite simple. Tater tots and Cherry Coke were what I ate for breakfast the first day of my first year participating in NaNoWriMo, and they have become a tradition ever since. 
Now you’re probably asking, “What exactly is NaNoWriMo?” NaNoWriMo is short for “National Novel Writing Month,” an event started in 1999 to give novelists and would-be novelists an excuse to get their novel down on paper without having to worry about the troubles of editing, punctuation, or whether their novel even has a plot. It is truly writing for writing’s sake. For many who participate, it is a slam-bang writing marathon that is unmatched in its creative intensity. In many regions (our own Spartanburg included), it’s not uncommon for WriMos to meet together as one huge group and simply write together for hours on end, pausing only for a snack or short discussion to help thwart that ever-pesky writer’s block (which shouldn’t be a huge problem during NaNo, anyway, since writers are encouraged to do whatever it takes to keep their novel going. Even if it involves throwing giant talking robot lemurs into a melodramatic vampire romance).
There are two versions of NaNoWriMo: the full version and the Young Writer’s Project (YWP). The full version, meant for ages 18 and up (though of course younger writers are welcome to try it), challenges participants to write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days. The YWP version, which is meant for ages 18 and under, allows participants to set their own word goal. That 50,000 words, after all, can be pretty daunting, especially to someone new to NaNo. The YWP also offers some neat resources for students that the full version doesn’t, such as handy printable writers’ handbooks for the Elementary, Middle School, and High School writer, respectively. Its main webpage also features an idea generator that can help writers who are stumped as to where to go next in their novel (though most of its ideas are admittedly a bit goofy).
Despite the general freedom of NaNo’s premise, there are a few rules that participants are expected to follow. Planning one’s novel before November, for example—jotting down ideas, making up outlines, etc.—is allowed, but actually writing the novel before 12:00 AM on November 1 is a definite no-no (and, according to the website, punishable by death). Writers are also not allowed to write novels with partners, nor can they use one word 50,000 times and count it as their NaNo novel. Other than those basic rules, though, NaNo is essentially free of restrictions. Writers can write about anything they please, be it sci-fi, drama, fanfiction, what have you—as long as it’s in prose—which makes it an excellent opportunity for even uncertain writers to pursue writing for the pure and simple fun of it.
So grab your tater tots and Cherry Coke—or whatever inspirational equivalent you prefer—and start writing! 
For more information about NaNoWriMo, or to sign up, visit (for the full version) or (for the student version). Also, for more insight into what other famous authors do to get their creative juices flowing, check out The Writer’s Desk by Jill Krementz.
Want to participate in NaNoWriMo at the library? Come check out the writing prompts we’ve posted around the room, our book display of NaNoWriMo-related books, and put your name on our poster to chart your progress throughout the month. We’ll also have write-ins every Friday from 3:30-5pm in the Teen Room if you want to write with other teens and share your ideas and experiences.