Reviewby Carlo Santos, Aug 4th 2012
Toriko is a gourmet hunter, a macho man who goes in search of the rarest beasts and plants so that he can eat them. His latest adventures have taken him to the deep-frozen tundra in search of Century Soup, a dish so rare that it can only be extracted from its icy confines once every hundred years. However, several other individuals and organizations are on the hunt for the soup as well, including the Gourmet Corp., Toriko's sworn rivals. Will Toriko's team (consisting of hotel chef Komatsu, Takimaru the Gourmet Knight, and Match of the Gourmet Mafia) get the soup first? Or will the Gourmet Corp., represented by a team of first-rate chefs—including a freak of nature who summons insects from inside his mouth—come out on top?
Volume 9 of Toriko takes readers to that beloved staple of the action-adventure genre: the "snow level," where sub-zero temperatures and various forms of ice provide unique challenges for our heroes. This setting, combined with the series' usual catalog of wacky characters and bizarre beasts, ought to be an instant breeding ground for creativity. However, Toriko takes a disappointing turn and charges blindly into pure battle mode, barely even taking time to dwell upon unusual creatures and the tasty dishes you could make out of them. If this "gourmet hunter" adventure skips out on the "gourmet" part, is it even a story worth telling?
For those who enjoy the series' action side, getting all pumped up when Toriko goes on a fork-and-knife rampage, this volume is still just as good as anything that's come before. The challenge of a forbidding environment really puts Toriko's toughness in the spotlight—especially when the story exaggerates for dramatic effect, like having someone spontaneously freeze to death while trying to walk across the tundra. But even that doesn't compare to the excitement of facing a human opponent, as the later chapters show. The confrontation between Toriko's party and the Gourmet Corp. is a classic battle scenario, with the combatants paired up one-on-one and amazing powers clashing at full force. For over-the-top action, it's hard to beat the thrill of Toriko punching out a swarm of giant insects, or the creep factor of a villain who literally wears another human's skin.
However, a storyline that runs entirely on superhuman fights and super-sized creatures (ten-foot-tall penguins, believe it or not) soon wears out its welcome. Even the early chapters get boring quickly—after the exoticness of a new environment wears off, it devolves into a chronicle of Toriko and company trudging across the ice from Point A to Point B. (A rival party manages to find a shortcut, but this seems mostly a distraction designed to take up extra pages.) Meanwhile, the Gourmet Corp. is shown deviously planning their next move, but their actual arrival on the scene is as straightforward as you can get for a troupe of boneheaded bad guys. "We're the villains, and here we are!", they're practically saying. The only attempt at subtlety is when Toriko's pals speak sentimentally about their motivation for finding the Century Soup, but that's quickly dismissed as everyone goes back to trudging through the ice.
If the story content sounds unimpressive, though, at least the art is something to look forward to. As always, the series shines when fantastical beasts come into play—and even more so when one of the major villains has the power to pull terrifying, oversized insects out of his mouth. But if these biological curiosities are an intricately drawn treat for the eyes, they're also an example of the same old trick being used over and over again: just take any common creature, then make it way bigger than normal. Exaggerating the human characters, though, has a more positive effect: we get some memorable larger-than-life types like a strongman, a mystic, and a gangster, among others. Bringing them all together in combat leads to plenty of impressive panels with collisions, explosions, and speedlines galore. However, this love of visual excess also has its downside, as the density of all the lines—especially in the early scenes, with the wind and snow swirling about—makes some panels hard to follow.
If the storyline is painfully straightforward, the same can also be said of the dialogue, which basically points out exactly what's going on in the story. Toriko talking about how beastly cold it is, his party members describing their personal backgrounds, the Gourmet Corp. outlining their battle plans—everyone here is a master of the obvious. It's only in the way people speak that the writing shows any personality: some of the side characters have a more colloquial tone, and one in particular loves talking to himself (until he realizes he ought to shut up). Still, the ultimate goal of this script is to move things along with minimum fuss. The sound effects, all of which are edited into English, also take the same approach: they're there simply to emphasize what's going on, and manage to do so without interfering with the busy artwork.
With little else to push it forward except pure fighting action and some wilderness exploration, Toriko stumbles weakly through yet another volume. It may be fun for those who are easily satisfied by the thrill of battle, but any plot complications, personal drama, or even just mouth-watering food descriptions are nowhere to be found. The striking artwork still remains one of the highlights, but at this point, even the technique of enlarging every single member of the animal kingdom is looking pretty worn out. Without the gourmet element, this "gourmet hunter" adventure becomes just another run-of-the-mill shonen fight series. Which goes to show, whether it's in fiction or in real life, good food really does make everything better.
Overall : C-
Story : D
Art : B
+ Plenty of exciting, superhuman fight scenes as heroes, villains, and beasts battle it out in the ice.
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