Iron Wok Jan! Vol. 6

By Shinji Saijyo
208 pages, black and white
Published by ComicsOne

When I reviewed the first volume of Iron Wok Jan! back in January, I enjoyed the book a great deal. There’s nothing worse than a series you loved going horribly wrong, though, so I figured that it was time to make sure that all my readers knew that in fact, Iron Wok Jan! has not gone horribly wrong. In fact, it’s even better than ever.

After a three-volume cooking competition, things are back to normal at Gobancho restaurant… or is it? Not only are Jan and Kiriko still at each other’s throats, but now their rival Celine from the competition has come to work at Gobancho with her nouvelle Chinese cuisine skills. Celine’s arrival will take a back seat, though, when a chef from Gobancho’s past arrives, one whose skills and arrogance may even rival Jan. And as everyone knows, seeing one’s worst traits reflected back at you is never a pretty sight…

Who knew cooking could be so pulse-poundingly dramatic? Saijyo certainly did when he created Iron Wok Jan!, with its theatrics and cliffhanger cooking moments. What Saijyo never loses sight of is that Iron Wok Jan! is a book that is primarily about competition, and just like any story involving sports, it takes a mixture of both knowledge and innate talent to truly succeed. Maybe that’s why it’s so enthralling to watch Jan creating new dishes against a rival, or to hear the other chefs judge which person cooked the better dish. This isn’t a book where you’re getting a laundry list of ingredients thrown at you, but one where the emphasis is on how and why things are done. Saijyo explains things in such a way that not only will cooking novices quickly understand what’s going on, but also why decisions are being made. At the same time, Saijyo has to keep the variety going, so it’s fun to see things like one-handed and no-handed cooking matches getting thrown into the mix. More than just gimmicks, they really let Saijyo show why Jan is an excellent chef and deserves to win his challenges. That’s impressive for a comic about cooking.

With each new volume, Saijyo’s art grows on me more and more. Jan still looks over the top and devilish, but it’s something that makes more sense as time goes on. Yes, it seems like an easy cop-out to make Jan look a little evil, but it’s also an important part of Iron Wok Jan!‘s complete package. Jan’s appearance makes sure that you never grow too comfortable around him; every time you see him you’re reminded that this is a thoroughly unpleasant (if immensely talented) person to be around. It’s a great contrast to the girl-next-door appearance of Kiriko, or the exotic Celine. They’re the people you should be cheering for… even as you find yourself hoping that Jan somehow wins. Now that’s the sort of visual storytelling that art should be accomplishing in every series; imparting additional emotional strength to the story that might not exist without it.

Iron Wok Jan! Vol. 6 keeps the series fresh and exciting as ever, especially with Jan’s new rival. Seeing all the bad parts of Jan in one person (and amplified, if that’s even possible!) is a perfect match for Jan, and Saijyo actually makes our protagonist look a little meek, something long-time readers might have never thought possible. It’s just another example of how Saijyo doesn’t rest on his laurels with Iron Wok Jan!, and another reason why everyone should be reading this book. Start with the first volume or jump right into this new one (Saijyo makes it very easy for a new reader to give the series a whirl), but either way you won’t be disappointed.

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