IJapanese pop culture has been obsessed with a type of storytelling called isekai over the last few years, and it’s become a pervasive part of the manga landscape. The word isekai (異世界, lit. ‘different world’) has come to represent a wide swath of fiction with escape as their central theme. These are transportation or reincarnation stories, stories where average people get transported to a fantasy world, often with the memories of their old lives intact. You might even call these stories their own genre at this point, and that genre has been growing and changing. One such example is Otherworldly Izakaya Nobu, a story of a Japanese pub that has a back door that leads into Japan, and a front door that leads into a Germanic medieval fantasy world. Illustrated by Virginia Nitouhei, written by Natsuya Semikawa, this is Udon Entertainment’s first foray into cooking manga, and it’s an odd choice.
Told through the lives of the patrons of the restaurant, each chapter of Otherworldly Izakaya Nobu shows a Japanese pub meal being experienced by people who don’t have access to refrigeration and modern food preparation. Their fascination with traditional modern cooking methods (double frying, sashimi-style fish) is part of the crux of each chapter, as is their enjoyment of the food they eat.
To that end, the character illustration of Otherworldly Izakaya Nobu is serviceable if nothing special, and the food illustration is good. Any type of food comic has to have great food illustration, otherwise it’s just not that interesting or fun to read, and Otherworldly Izakaya Nobu does a fine job, on par with other food manga currently being published.
This is a very conservative comic, in the sense that it celebrates the food of Japan in a way that compares it to Western, albeit medieval food cultures. There’s a traditionalism to Otherworldly Izakaya Nobu that I’m sure some readers will find enchanting, and others will find off-putting. There’s a sense that this book is a celebration of specifically Japanese things, even when those things are… steamed tofu in broth? Look, I’m sure it tastes good, but so does chicken pot pie. To folks looking to find out more about what kind of foods are served in Japanese pub-style restaurants, I’m sure this is great. But there’s nothing much that is interesting about double deep-fried chicken.
There’s not much in the way of plot to Otherworldly Izakaya Nobu; each chapter is self-contained, although characters bleed from one story to the next. Each discovers something to love in the otherworldly pub, and each becomes a regular diner. With that wrote plot line in play, the comics contained in Otherworldly Izakaya Nobu function more like the food they celebrate; they’re not flashy, they’re not even really that interesting, but they are comforting.
If you like food comics, Otherworldly Izakaya Nobu has something to give you. People who like the food-based battle manga like Yakitate!! Japan and Food Wars! Shokugeki no Soma will find some similarities at a much slower pace. If you liked Giant Spider & Me, a book I recently reviewed, you’ll be right at home with Otherworldly Izakaya Nobu.
Personally, I think this dish could use a little salt.
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