Astro Boy: the correct answer to who would win in a fight between Superman and Goku.
Astro Boy: the correct answer to who would win in a fight between Superman and Goku.
I’ve always been fascinated by the Dragon Ball franchise. I caught several episodes of the show while I was in college, mostly from the Frieza and Majin Buu arcs. In particular, I love the character designs – the spiky hairstyles of Amira Toriyama’s designs have always appealed to me somehow.
The trouble is I’ve always found the show to be… just really really boring.
So far the best way I’ve discovered to indulge in my interest in the series is the video game Dragonball Fighterz. I get to kill an hour or two while enjoying the stellar character designs I like so much. Unfortunately, I’m terrible at fighting games, and each gaming session usually leaves me crying amid a pile of shattered Joy Cons.
Maybe I can try the manga?
The Girl from the Other Side tells the story of a strangely bitter recluse who has to care for a precocious young girl OKAY SERIOUSLY IS THERE LIKE A NAME FOR THIS GENRE OR SOMETHING I SWEAR TO KIRSTIE ALLEY.
Yes, it’s another entry in the “Braddy Really Wishes He Was a Single Dad” series, last exemplified by Sweetness and Lightning. I’m genuinely not sure why manga seems to like this trope so much, but I’m super grateful that they do. These books are consistently some of my favorite comics, and The Girl from the Other Side is no exception.
Of course, The Girl from the Other Side differs from those other books, which tend to be saccharine slice-of-life adventures about embracing the wonderful mysteries of life, by being a tight, tense horror story.
Our (whom I’ll call Teacher, as I genuinely don’t remember if it has another name) is some sort of demon/monster thing called an Outsider. By contrast, his ward – Shiva – is an Insider, who is stuck in the forests of the Outside until her aunt comes to claim her. Insiders cannot touch Outsiders, lest they be cursed to become Outsiders themselves. Teacher helps Shiva navigate the forest and tries to keep her safe… all while knowing, somehow, that Shiva’s aunt isn’t coming for her.
The first two volumes carry an “all ages” recommendation on their covers, which genuinely surprises me. The first volume ends with one of the tensest moments I can remember in comics: Shiva, convinced her aunt is nearby, wanders deeper into the forest to bring her an umbrella. Meanwhile, soldiers from Inside have come into the forest seeking a demon in the shape of a little girl and have strict orders to kill her on sight.
Then this happens:
I legit lost my mind when I turned to this page. The Girl from the Other Side is already one of the most beautiful manga I’ve ever read, with a distinct style that reminds me more of Hayao Miyazaki’s Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind comic than, say, this nonsense. I already adored the scratchy backgrounds, the almost impressionistic rendering of all the major characters… but the picture of a small girl innocently carrying a damaged umbrella past the armed soldiers searching for her to kill her scared me more than just about anything in fiction.
Oh, and the second volume shows Teacher gruesomely hacking another Outsider to pieces with an axes. It takes until volume 3 for the age rating to get corrected to “teen.”
Truthfully, I’m not sure the story in The Girl from the Other Side is all that novel. As I’ve said, there are a million “cute young girl” stories out there for The Girl from the Other Side to draw on. In addition, it’s pretty explicitly riding the coattails of another highly successful manga about a supernatural being serving as mentor to a human girl. In the end, though, I’m not sure how much all that matters. The craft on display in The Girl from the Other Side is enough to have me hooked: masterfully executed tension, beautiful art, and a chilling atmosphere.
Also, I’m still waiting to figure out what the significance of the Irish part of the title is. So I’m at least hooked until that becomes more apparent.
So stick with me. This one get weird. There’s this Japanese comic out there about a high school girl who has a crush on her teacher…
Wait! Come back! Let me try again.
One of my favorite genres of fiction is the “lonely single guy has to take care of a charming young girl” genre. Yes, there are enough of these stories (particularly in manga/anime) that I feel pretty secure in calling it a genre.
Another thing I really like? Cooking.
So imagine that there’s a comic book that combines the carnal pleasure of eating with the emotional manipulation of watching a reclusive, broken young man learning how to love again thanks to the precocious antics of his young ward. That’s Sweetness and Lightningin a nutshell. And it’s really wonderful.
Sweetness and Lightning is the story of Kohei Inazuka, a young schoolteacher still reeling from the loss of hi wife just a short time ago. He now finds himself raising his young daughter, Tsumugi, all by himself. And neither of them, it seems, have really dealt with their grief from losing a loved one. However, a chance encounter with a student from Kohei’s class leads to the two of them learning to reconnect, as well as really deal with life’s myriad challenges, by making some of the dishes their wife and mother had made for them before she dies.
…Okay, yes, there is this ongoing subplot about Kotori Iida, the teenager who maybe has a crush on Kohei? It’s a bit awkward, and it totally smacks of unhealthy wish-fulfillment fantasy. But she’s not simply some manic dream waifu. She’s a pretty well-realized character in her own right, who uses her cooking sessions with Kohei to feel closer to her own mother, an accomplished chef who taught Kotori how to cook before more or less disappearing completely from her life.
The central theme of Sweetness and Lightning is on family, and how important it is to break bread with those we love. Good food and good company don’t simply have to be hedonistic rooms or momentary distractions. The bonds we forge over a bowl of soup or a plate of homemade donuts can actually make us more emotionally resilient after we leave the dining room. It reminds me of something I swear I heard Alton Brown say in a podcast or something once about how the most important bit of kitchen hardware for a young family to buy is a kitchen table… but I couldn’t actually find that quote. So you get this one instead:
“You know we fixate on the food so much itself: “Oh, the ultimate brownie or the ultimate this or that” — well, let me tell you something: It’s all poop in about 12 hours, okay? The real power that food has is its ability to connect human beings to each other — that’s the stuff right there and, to me, everything else is secondary to that.”
Of course, we still want our food to taste good. One of the neat tricks Sweetness and Lightning pulls is that it ends each chapter with the recipe for whatever dish Kohei attempted during that part of the story. And so, it was with a great deal of excitement and only a little trepidation that I decided to attempt one of the recipes from this Japanese comic book.
I’m basically trying to be the Binging with Babish of weaboos, I guess.
So I made a few judgment calls. I chose to replace the boullion with vegetable stock in an attempt to control the sodium. I replaced the Japanese eggplants with a single conventional American (?) eggplant, although I suspect two eggplants might have been a better choice. Lastly, I replaced the brown rice in the picture below with burned rice that I threw away, because I’ve been cooking for how long and I STILL can’t cook rice without burning it?!
Frankly, the veggies themselves were so colorful and tasty-looking that I could have probably just added some salt and pepper and walk away with a pretty satisfying meal:
But I persevered. I added everything to the pot that the recipe called for. The recipe took a few curious turns. The addition of grated apple reminded me of a pie filling recipe I made with my mom once, where the drained flesh of an apple was added to a berry mixture as a sort of naturally-occurring pectin meant to help the filling set up. I suspected that the apple here served a similar purpose, but I didn’t notice the sauce getting especially thick.
Meanwhile, the raisins actually somewhat reconstituted in the liquid. Nearly whole grapes seemed like a curious addition to a savory dish like this, but they were sweet and delightful and absolutely worthy of inclusion. I wound up saving the raisins for last, because they were just so good.
So, yeah, this recipe turned out really well. One of the best things I’ve made in recent memory. Who knew one could get such good culinary advice from the back of a Japanese comic book?
…REALLY could have used some rice, though.
Teenage rom-coms, man… I seem to be a bit obsessed with them nowadays.
Not sure why that is.
Maybe I’m nostalgic for the day when love came easily?
Maybe I’m seeking some sort of catharsis for my perpetually adolescent awkwardness?
Maybe my taste isn’t as discerning as I’d like to think?
Gah, this is scary thinking!