“Judges! Begin tasting!”, said the announcer as the only two competitors, unquestionably talented men, looked on. We turn our attention to the judges with heightened tension at start of Volume 1, Chapter 10 of Kazuki Funatsu’s manga ‘Addicted to Curry’, published in Shueisha’s Weekly Young Jump since 2001. As of February 2013, the series ended with a total of 534 chapters spread over 49 volumes.
The manga revolves around two main characters. Sonezaki Yui, a high school student with a soft heart who is the heir to a small curry restaurant – Cooking Ganesha – in Tokyo, that is about to close down permanently; Koenji Makito, a man saved by Sonezaki Yui, with exceptional skills at cooking curry. He chooses to repay her kindness by keeping the restaurant open, despite being the only chef as Yui’s father, the former chef and owner of Cooking Ganesha, has left the country to improve his culinary skills.Care has been taken by the author to ensure that the conventions set by the ‘birthplace’ of curry – India – is respected. For example, Makito reminds Yui that if she were to cook the ‘Ground Beef Curry’ for an Indian, she should swap the beef with lamb, since in India, this curry is made only with lamb. Whilst promoting the restaurant with the introduction of a new curry dish, Yui wears a traditional ‘sari’ whilst handing out pamphlets or food samples. This piques the interest of the people passing by as they are unused to seeing a woman dressed in a ‘sari’. Each volume of the manga typically culminates in the preparation of a specific curry, the ‘Ground Beef Curry’ for instance, as explained above. This dish (and its ingredients) usually has some significance to the characters involved. For instance, Makito prepares a curry that looks un-appetising and plain for one of Yui’s friends – a materialistic girl very concerned with physical appearances who ignores anyone below her high standard of grooming. On eating the delicious curry, that she initially disliked because of its appearance, she realised the importance of looking beyond simple skin deep judgements.
The recipe used to make this curry (and others), is provided with step-by-step instructions, allowing the reader to recreate each volume’s primary curry dish.
Working hard, overcoming obstacles and striving for success are some of the most common plot constructs for a popular manga series. We see Naruto struggle to gain the approval of his peers in the series `Naruto` and Ichigo refuse to surrender in the face of certain failure in `Bleach`. In these and almost all cases, the protagonist has a central belief that drives him forward at all times. Whenever someone, or something, impedes this progress, we see the core nature of the drama – conflict.
In `Addicted to Curry` we have the same ingredients – a mysterious and talented protagonist with an unknown past, and a likable and innocent teen-aged girl facing harsh, and sometimes unfair, environmental factors. However, the resultant conflict when they take a stand for what they believe in is quite different from `Naruto`, `Bleach` or any action oriented series, for this is a series focused on cooking. Instead of exaggerated martial arts or magical effects, Makito and Yui use tact and simple wit to meet their challenges. For example, when competing against a professional Japanese curry chef who provides the judges with chopsticks, Makito makes the judges eat his curry with their fingers as is the custom in India. Eating curry with their fingers adds a new dimension to the curry, allowing them to feel the texture of the food, making the judges consider his prepared dish in a new light.
While many authors have written wild tales of heroism, the more famous ones, those pushing for space on the bestsellers list, are those where the hero has a worthy opponent – one who forces the hero to examine his honour and search his soul for the courage to conquer his demons. It is safe to assume that for any serious protagonist, an equally imposing antagonist is necessary to keep the story balanced.
In this manga series, the antagonist is in the form of an evil company, known as the `Surin Corporation`, where a high ranking executive called `Kanamori` wants to buy the curry restaurant ‘Cooking Ganesha’, from the Sonezaki family. Rejecting his offer, after seeing Makito’s passion for and ability at cooking curry, Yui sets in motion the series of events that take the reader across cooking competitions of staggering variety, with the fate of the seemingly indestructible curry restaurant, inextricably linked to the outcome of these matches.