story by Tadashi Agi; art by Shu Okimoto
published by Vertical; $14.95 US
While the technical problems — balloon text collisions, computerized lettering inconsistent with the art, repetitive pages at the end/beginning of chapters (due to its original serialization) — continue from Book 1, this second volume improves on the first where it counts, in the story. The tales this time around have plenty of heart. Instead of focusing on dad’s insane will, a plot gimmick that isn’t even mentioned until over halfway through this book, wine genius Shizuku and sommelier Miyabi concentrate on using their knowledge to help out families in trouble.
First, it’s a French restaurant that Shizuku’s competition, critic Tomine, has nearly put out of business by criticizing its wine and food pairings. The chef owner’s wife has passed, and she used to stock the restaurant’s wine cellar. Their daughter Suzuka has an interest in the subject but hasn’t handled her mother’s death well. Her rebellious nature reminds Shizuku of his own relationship with his departed father.
The lessons for the reader here revolve around how flavors can change depending on the combination of food and wine. The characters discuss compatibility and enhancing the tastes together. But even beyond the wine knowledge, a main source of appeal for this series, there’s the comfort of seeing what’s left of a broken family come together through shared adversity. Dad learns to see his daughter as an adult, with her own skills and ability to contribute to the family business, while Suzuka finds out that her father has new appreciation for his wife’s talent. The generational passing from mother to daughter parallels Shizuku’s situation, where he is stepping into his father’s shoes. The difference is that Suzuka wants to follow in her mother’s footsteps, in spite of possible opposition from her father, while Shizuku is much more resistent to his father’s wishes.
I also learned that reading chapter after chapter of people talking about which Chablis to drink with oysters would make me really hungry for seafood, in addition to teaching me how wines are characterized by their region, type of grape, winemaker, and grade. I was pleased to see how open the characters are to choosing the right wine, even if it’s cheaper, since that got past some of the snobbery I saw in the first book. There’s a later story with a wine distributor needing help replacing a wine that went bad that makes the point even more directly — if you can drink good wine for half the price, why not choose that one?
The next major struggle for Shizuku and Miyabi is to help a divided wine shop. Two twin brothers, one a college-educated snob, the other a populist former gang member, can’t work together, so they’ve split their father’s store down the middle. The snob only cares about labels and brands, while the other wants to keep the prices down and open up wine drinking to the general public. In this reconciliation, the wine is Burgundy, and Shizuku winds up finding a reasonably priced, lesser-known choice for his upcoming battle with the Italian lover (set up in the first book).
That tasting battle, pitting three French wines against three Italian, provides ground for the artist to excel in drawing images symbolizing the taste of the beverages, as well as continuing to contrast a snob’s love of labels with what will appeal to the masses (represented by the cast’s beer-drinking co-workers). That exaggerated imagery, using visuals to substitute for taste, continues into the end of the book, with the reveal of the first description of one of the bottles needed to fulfill the conditions of Shizuku’s father’s will. That actual bottle is promised to be revealed in the next book, out in March. I’ll be reading. Many of my concerns about the series have been assuaged with this second volume.
The publisher has created a dedicated website for the series that includes a preview.