Otherworldly Izakaya Nobu Volume 4

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 14 Jul 2019

Member Reviews

'Otherworldly Izakaya Nobu Vol. 4' by Natsuya Semikawa with art by Virginia Nitouhei is the first book in this series I've read, but I really liked it.

Izakaya Nobu is a bar in a rather unusual place.  It has its regulars and a great chef running it.  The house beer is simply called whatsontap and if you order the usual, you will discover that the place knows what you like.  There are villagers wanting to provide octopus for the menu, a witch who lives in the area, and a visit from an unusual mercenary.

I discovered the world of food maga a while ago, and it's fast becoming a fun, favorite genre.  With 3 volumes I haven't read, I'm not entirely sure what's happening, but I can figure things out from hints.  The stories and art are fun.  I like the mix of Japanese, German and French foods that get served up.  

I received a review copy of this graphic novel from Udon Entertainment, Diamond Book Distributors, and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.  Thank you for allowing me to review this graphic novel.
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I first became aware of Nobu via the anime, viewed on the Crunchyroll video streaming service. As the title suggests, it’s part of the “isekai” genre of anime, manga, and “light novels” in Japan, a booming (or is that boomed?) subgenre of fantasy fiction. “Isekai” is usually translated as into English “otherworld” or “otherworldly”, though “parallel universe” works just as well. The core of the genre is someone from “our” world—usually a modern Japanese person—winding up in a fantasy world with a roughly Medieval European culture. Its roots as a genre go way back, and while we could discuss the origins in franchises like Knight Ramune & 40 or .hack, it’s just as easily traced to the same impulses and desires behind A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court: the standard is an otherwise unnoticed person winds up in a world where their modern knowledge makes them a great hero. 

Nobu is part of an arguable sub-sub-genre of isekai, where the focus is less on heroic deeds, and more on heroic meals. Food-centric series are a staple of anime and manga that do not often make a splash in the west, and the recent examples of this theme crossing with isekai tropes are some of the best and brightest on both sides, from the stellar Nobunaga no Chef (”A Chef of Nobunaga”) to the more calming, casual mood of Isekai Shokudō (”Restaurant to Another World”). 

Like the latter, the focus in Nobu is less on the modern Japanese characters who come to the fantasy world of Alteria, and more on the experiences of its customers, and how dining on a mix of traditional and contemporary Japanese pub food affects their lives. However, we also get a glimpse of how the relationships go both ways, as the staff of Nobu are enriched by their new customer base. 

Compared to the anime adaptation on Crunchyroll—both are spun from a prose-only light novel series by Semikawa—the manga goes down smoother. The Alterians pepper their speech with German and French names for food that were not clearly translated in the subtitles for the anime, and the wordplay flows more smoothly on the printed page where there is no need to account for time. Volume 4 serves as an excellent jumping-on point in the series, with the first “course” (chapter) being a play on rookie Hans’s confusion over everyone ordering “the usual”, along with their favorite drinks. For Hans, this includes “whatsontapp”, the Alterian misunderstanding of the concept of draft lager. 

As the focus of Nobu is less on the content of plates and bowls and more on the experiences of the diners, there’s less in the way of grand, dramatic shots of richly-illustrated dishes that you might find in other food-centric manga. This isn’t to say that Nitouhei’s artwork doesn’t make you hungry looking at lineart of tempura and bouillabaisse, but the thing that really does it is soulful responses of the diners and the resolutions to the troubles that they bring in with them. Unlike a lot of food-centric manga, Nobu doesn’t make you look at overblown reactions to the taste of a dish, but explores the whole emotional experience of dining through its revolving cast of regulars and newcomers. 

Volume 4 in particular doesn’t offer much explanation for why a modern Japanse izakaya is in a fantasy world, nor does it even especially dwell on this being the core plot device, though later chapters do touch on it. In that respect, this might not be the best choice for readers who may be unfamiliar with the basic conceits of isekai. However, it stands out strongly as a collection of stories for food lovers and fantasy fans alike. The pub fare of a standard izakaya as served by the fictional Nobu blends both traditional Japanese treats and contemporary European and American-derived dishes in a way that mirrors the cultural exchange of the cast: as the restaurant’s “Chief” experiments with dishes to meet the tastes of his Alterian patrons, he starts to come into his own as a chef.

If i had to complain about anything in the series—especially this volume—it’s that the female characters are almost exclusively defined in relation to the men. Even a story about a businesswoman who rejects the advances of suitors dwells on her relationship with her father and how it affects her views of men, and while Nobu’s core waitress is hinted to have a past of powerful influence and incredible culinary potential, she’s mostly presented as the cute young miss handing out glasses of whatsontapp. An extremely weak point comes in a chapter about a mysterious and beautiful lady turns out to be a visitor from a previous volume in drag, with the other characters reacting in shock and horror, albeit not as extreme as countless other examples of transphobia in media.

At the end of the volume, a reader’s guide to food vocabulary serves as an explanation for all the details the translation couldn’t fit in-panel, and though many may be familiar  to regular fans of Japanese food, there are also translations provided for the uses of French, Spanish, and German.

Content warnings for readers: alcohol, violence (in flashbacks), transmisogyny, animal death
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This book provided an enjoyable and unique reading experience.  The artwork was well done and I would recommend this title for comics lovers.
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I requested this without having read the first three volumes and now I can't wait to read them. The description for this as an "otherworldly gourmet fantasy" is pretty apt: it's about a Japanese bar that pops up in a medieval German city and transports its customers with delicious food. The stories are episodic; perhaps the characters are recurring, but reading it out of sequence didn't really pose a problem in terms of getting into this strange, slightly off-beat, magical world. These are love stories about food and its transformative powers. Fun and enchanting
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While I normally enjoy books on food it seems that this was not my style.  I was kind of bored throughout.  May have helped if the comic had been in color.  I know this is volume 4 and maybe I need to read the other three first.
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Review to be posted in August on my blog/amazon/goodreads.

I just couldn't resist requesting this one, I have heard of this series and I was already thinking of picking it up or watching it. So here I am, and I can tell you that you don't need to read the earlier volumes to read this one. There was a small moment I was a bit confused, but then I read the blurb/summary of this story and realised this is a magical cafe/bar. Problem solved.

This manga is about food, about customers, about magic. We get several new characters per chapter, but also have a cast that keeps coming back (and with that I don't mean the people who work there, but the customers). I loved meeting all the people and see their personalities and see them discover food that looks absolutely delicious. Really, I wish I could dive into this world and grab some food. I could also do with a nice cold ale though. Mm. 
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Another great installment in this series! I was wondering, with the previous two volumes, if the series would just stay light and fun, but there is some good character development and backstories going on in this volume. I'm excited to read the next volume and interested in seeing more development from the characters and story.
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I received a free copy for an honest review from Netgalley. 

I’ve seen all the available episodes currently on VRV, and this volume picks up after what is currently on air. These episodes were funny, well drawn and well written. I cannot wait to see them animated, and enjoyed seeing more of the Japanese food I love so much through the lens of a foreign time and culture.
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I don’t know if this was me jumping in at volume four, it certainly didn’t help, but i had a lot of trouble getting into it. The story, the characters, the universe, all of it felt distant to me and i never was able to enjoy it. It also lacks of bit of action, I like manga with more action than that, but that is personal preference. Wasn’t for me, but I think some reader my enjoy it. If you’re a hardcore manga fan, then you might want to have a look, but certainly not a must read!
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