La Sommelière and Naruto Crossover?!

Scott Green of AICN Anime posted on his twitter account an image of Uzumaki Naruto with apprentice wine specialist Itsuki Kana from my favorite wine manga La Sommelière (not that I’ve really read any others). The image is done by the artist Matsui Katsunori, and is in celebration of Naruto‘s 10th Anniversary.

Now this is a crossover I can get behind. I bet much like Wolverine, Naruto can take a lot of alcohol due to having an unusually powerful self-healing ability.

If you want more information on the series, I’ve previously reviewed the first three volumes of La Sommelière.

Volume 1
Volume 2
Volume 3

I’ve most recently picked up Volume 11, though truth be told I haven’t really been reviewing later volumes as once you get the sense of the first two or three you’ll definitely be able to tell if you’ll like it. Later volumes introduce some new characters and still have the same fantastic wine stories, but somewhat like Golgo 13 once you’ve seen one you’ve seen them all.

And if you don’t know Naruto, well, I’m sure someone on the internet will tell you very quickly.

La Sommelière

Book Off 20% Off Sale

For those of you who like manga at extra-affordable prices and live near a Book Off, you should know that Book Off is having a sale now until the end of February. They’re taking 20% off anything that doesn’t already cost $1.00, and this is on top of the already low prices that Book off gets due to having primarily used merchandise.

I myself picked up two volumes of La Sommelière and two volumes of Nazo no Kanojo X. Don’t worry though, Book Off also has English-translated manga for sale too.

The New York store is selling the third Gloizer-X box set for only $162. If that doesn’t get you out of your seat, I don’t know what will!

Teaching Japanese People French Profanities: La Sommelière Volume 2

You know a woman is passionate when she eats dirt for fun.

With her soil-sampling quirks and love for wine La Sommelière Itsuki Cana continues to adjust to life in Tokyo. Last volume found our intrepid wine-serving heroine working at L’espoir, which is a French restaurant and certainly not some kind of creepy boat. Naturally, Cana is still helping others work through their respective problems by conveying messages via wine where words simply fail.

I should point out two mistakes I made in the previous review, and you just saw one of them. I had previously spelled her name as “Itsuki Kana” thinking that “Kana” written in katakana was just them being cute. But no, Ms. Itsuki actually has a foreign name, and it’s a reference to the place where Jesus turned water into wine. The next mistake is that I didn’t say where she was from, and the answer is France. Cana is Half-French, Half-Japanese with a biblical name.

Volume 2 of La Sommelière expands greatly upon the supporting characters, comprised primarily of Cana’s fellow staff members at L’espoir. In one chapter, Cana finds herself acting as a mediator between the restaurant’s chef and her estranged mother. In another chapter, an innocent lie forces the waitress Minami into assuming the role of Sommelière, with Cana there for backup. New characters are also introduced, namely THE MOST RENOWNED WINE TASTER IN JAPAN MINOSHIMA RYOUICHI. Not only is he THE MOST RENOWNED WINE TASTER IN JAPAN but there’s some antagonism between him and L’espoir’s supervisor, and on top of that Minoshima has a connection to Cana’s past.

Volume 2 also begins the trend of having special bonus chapters in each volume showing what Cana’s life was like in France.

The artwork in Volume 2 is consistent with Volume 1, emphasizing the beauty of people and wine of all shapes and sizes. Minami the waitress is drawn particularly well here; with a drunken Minami looking incredibly cute. Cana meanwhile is as gorgeous as ever, with stylish new outfits in addition to her already snazzy Sommelière uniform. Panel flow puts great emphasis on the emotions and wine, and adds to the romanticism of the whole situation. There’s only one small nitpick with the art, and it has to do with one particular image where it looks like Cana’s head was cut out and the body drawn awkwardly around it. It’s only because the rest of the art is of such nice quality that this error stands out.

Volume 2 of La Sommelière is really more of the same as in Volume 1, but that’s exactly its selling point. It’s a romantic portrayal of a girl from two different cultures who brings love and understanding to those around her through the power and majesty of wine. Characters old and new bring with them ideas as to what it means to enjoy and recommend wine, and the volume even ends on an interesting note that leads directly into Volume 3.


My Friend the Nattou

Following a Sunday where I delighted myself with a traditional Irish breakfast (blood pudding is delicious), I spent Labor Day with friends at the New Jersey Japanese-based Mall known as Mitsuwa. The last time I was there was over a year ago, and I looked to relive some of that experience, particularly when it came to my dining experience. I knew before I even went that I had to get the Nattou Set, otherwise known as a traditional Japanese breakfast. And just as the idea of a pudding made of blood turns some off, so does the sticky stringy fermented soybean dish known as nattou.

I am well aware of the fact that nattou is easily purchasable in New York City, but I tend to not buy it these days as a courtesy to others. I owe a lot to nattou, as it was the key food in keeping me healthy and keeping my wallet fat while I studied in Japan. It is perhaps as important to my time in Japan as my bicycle and Ogiue (Ogiue riding a bike while eating nattou?) The traditional nattou-based breakfast is a combination of rice, nattou, and raw egg. Each bite was a combination of satisfaction, strong-yet-pleasant flavor, and nostalgia.

It is delicious, if you’re me. A friend of mine who accompanied me to Mitsuwa knew of my affinity for nattou, and so he decided to try it for the first time. One whiff and he decided to hand it over to me. I was happy to oblige.

As an aside, I thought of purchasing some manga or something while I was there, and I had my eye on a volume of the original Japanese Kino’s Journey light novel. I then realized that, having seen the anime, I already knew much of the story and decided to hold off on it, at least for now. Oh, but Volume 7 of La Sommeliere is out. I’m only up to volume 3, so I can’t jump the gun just yet. Sadly I couldn’t find Patrick Macias’ “Otaku in USA,” though I’m sure Kinokuniya or something has it. No worries there.

Introducing the Bratender: La Sommelière Volume 1

Forgive my misogynistic title. I just couldn’t resist.

Araki Joe is a man who Knows Alcohol. Readers may know Araki from the anime adaptation of his manga Bartender, which tells the story about a man whose mixed drinks brighten the lives of his patrons. He’s also responsible for Sommelier, which tells the story about a man whose wine-serving abilities bri- well you get the idea. Don’t confuse Sommelier with La Sommelière, though, as there’s a world of difference between the two.

And by world of difference I mean the fact that the main character is a woman.

Itsuki Kana is a young woman with a passion for wine. Having studied the art of winery in college, Kana lives on a vineyard with a kind old lady and a group of orphans and spends her days growing grapes and making wine. When a slick city folk kind of hombre (omubure) appears with a message from a mysterious benefactor, “John Smith,” Kana sets off to Tokyo to find Mr. Smith, her only souvenir from home being a bottle of white wine produced by Kana and the orphans, a wine which she proudly labels as the “World’s Best.” Kana begins work at an upscale restaurant as a Sommelière, or Wine Waitress. Her love and comprehensive knowledge concerning wine allows Kana to (say it with me) brighten the lives of her patrons, but also learns a thing or two about wine herself.

The artwork in La Sommelière is incredibly clean, with sophisticated character designs, elegant if traditional panel layouts, and an emphasis on the beauty and versatility of wine. The most detailed drawings are always wine-related, and when it comes to tasting the wine, the characters are drawn with facial expressions that can be summed up as “a very sophisticated and high-class Yakitate Japan.” As for Kana herself, her devotion to wine, enthusiasm, and pleasant demeanor make for an incredibly endearing and attractive heroine.

At the end of every story is a detailed explanation on a wine featured in that chapter. I personally have very little experience with wine (or most alcoholic beverages for that matter), so I cannot verify the accuracy of the information given. It really doesn’t matter, though.

Going into this manga, I was worried that the emphasis on wine would be reliant on certain universal factors dictating which wines are better than others, but I’m glad to say that isn’t the case. There’s one universal truth in the world of La Sommelière, the truth that context is queen. The context in which the wine is made, the context in which the wine is served, the frame of mind of the drinker, everything contributes to the idea that any wine can potentially be the “best ever,” even a white wine produced by an intrepid Sommelière and a group of orphans.

La Sommelière is not out in English, and as a seinen title it’s not the easiest read for people beginning their Japanese studies. Even if you are fluent, French words are being thrown around constantly and it can become daunting to decipher the mysterious world of wine. Still, even though I hardly know the first thing about wine, I can recommend La Sommelière simply for its pleasant atmosphere and strong, elegant art style.

Oh, blind purchasing how I missed you and your devilish ways

I was at Kinokuniya today, and decided that while I’m there I should totally buy something. This presented a problem, as there are plenty of manga there I’d like to pick up, but I’d be worried about getting locked into a very long series (Otokojuku), or fear of spoiling an anime I’m already watching (Shugo Chara!) or might get more episodes at some point (Bamboo Blade).

So my policy was to buy volume 1 of something I had no idea about. Something I wouldn’t recognize off the bat or have any preconceived notions of. Not easy, when you spend a good portion of your day reading, watching, or reading about the stuff.

In the end I decided to pick up what appears to be a seinen manga called “La Sommelière” and it appears to be about a female bartender. You know, as opposed to a just plain Bartender. I haven’t read through all of it, but you can expect a review at some point.

In any case, I’m pretty glad with my purchase as it fulfilled my desire to give a new series a chance, so that I don’t come at it with any preconceived notions or feel I’m retreading any old ground.

(It also means that I have no idea how long the series is supposed to be, so I don’t feel bad about not buying much more of it.)