Reviewby Lissa Pattillo,
In a world where gourmet eating and the quest for the ultimate flavour sensation is key among this strange psuedo-Earth's inhabitants, there lives one man who fears nothing and backs down to even less in his quest to create the ultimate menu. Toriko, a 'Gourmet Hunter' by trade, is a beast of a man in its own right - an unstoppable mass of muscle and know-how with a keen sense of smell and the resolve to match, he takes on every monster no matter the size and consumes every tasty bite with bravado. Komatsu, a newly appointed Head Chef, joins Toriko on a quest to capture the GaoroGator, a ginormous alligator said to possess some of the world's most succulent meat. On his own journey to become a better cook, Komatsu still doesn't know what he's into when he follows Toriko into the wilderness.
Touted by many manga readers lately as the ‘most manly English-released manga’, it's hard to argue the description when looking at this testosterone-laden tale of cooking and killing. Bon appetite!
The story's title-character, Toriko is definitely up there on the testosterone scale. His character design is the first thing that'll pop out to readers. With his tree-trunk thick neck and broad muscled build, Toriko is a guy who could easily give the cast of Dragon Ball Z a run for their money. His eyelashes and odd lip shapes feel more reminiscent of Tetsuo Hara's art from Fist of the North Star. The art isn't always the most polished, such as numerous scenes where Toriko's head should just collapse into his suddenly-massive neck, but with bulging biceps, monstrous creatures and action abound, it's never short of dynamic at least.
Toriko's character design, and those of a few very similar in appearance side-characters, will likely prove a deterrent for some readers, but if you're one of them, its worth pushing yourself past a style you may not be keen on to enjoy the odd charm that this story exudes. Its also worth noting then that the majority of the cast (human at least) are far less testosterone-laden, and its this contrast that helps bolster how rather out of place someone like Toriko is, especially when you then see what this mammoth of muscle can do. A good consistent measure of this is his new sidekick of sorts, Tomatsu – a pretty small in physical stature chef out to become an even better cook and learn more about the world of flavor even if it kills him (though he'd of course prefer it not).
The story wastes little time in hurling Tomatsu out into the wild to witness the renowned Toriko for himself. During his encounter with the gourmet hunter, he witnesses the man fishing with a grasshopper the size of a school bus, scarfing down a cooler of animals near-whole, then washing it down with a bottle of bourbon that he 'opens' by slicing off the bottom with his finger before topping off his casual dining experience by smoking a tree branch cigar-style.
The methods Toriko uses to defeat and capture his prey crosses the border of ridiculous in similar fashion. His signature attack is the ‘fork and knife’ where he first stabs the target through with one hand and then cuts them clean in half with the other. While it may not sound completely out there at first, put him against a creature twenty times his size and covered in scales, teeth and fur and you have yourself a much more unique, if not hilarious, image. From taking on huge beasts with his bare hands to using his hand like the world's sharpest slicing instrument, Toriko is a force to be reckoned with that takes anyone's requirement to suspend belief to a special level. Tomatsu responds in pretty believable fashion, both awestruck and dumbfounded, and scared half to death to bladder-loss degrees.
Their first expedition together leads them to enter an especially dangerous part of the world – which in itself is a pseudo-Earth populated by both humans and massive Jurassic creatures – called the Baron Archipelo. Their goal in this place is to find a rumored creature said to have lived for over 300 years. Toriko drools at the thought of how succulent its meat has become while simultaneously realizing what the out of balance ecosystem suggests. From giant leeches to the wild assortment of crazy creatures they encounter, this opening arc finishes with a Toriko-versus-Gator fight that really sets the tone for the series to follow. And it's a weird one.
In order to sustain his strength, and cinch-hold his role as a shonen hero-type, Toriko eats ravenously including living in a house made of food. At least his seemingly insatiable appetite fits with his profession as a gourmet chef hunter and his love of good directly ties to his goal to create the ultimate menu (whether to the benefit of him or others remains to be seen). The pleasure he takes in food is an infectious part of the story, and despite the situations in which he partakes of these embellishments, many readers will still finish the volume hungry – though likely not for the same food being consumed there anyway. Still it's interesting that the story's setting is home to such a vast assortment of crazy creatures and species leaving us only to guess how they'd taste while still being affected by the character's enjoyment of them. We have to assume they're pretty darn good though, if characters' reactions and willingness to hunt them kamikaze-style in the first place is any indication.
In earnest contrast to his testosterone-drenched stereotypes however, Toriko though is a pretty laidback, nice individual – well, until he gets super pumped and territorial anyway. Casual and fairly laidback all things considering, Toriko seems generally easy to get along with providing you can keep up. When faced with the greatest of beasts however, he brings out an inner animal of his own – a humongous and ghastly demonic-looking figure that no one's going to want to mess with, merely a manifestation of his physical prowess or not. He's almost more force than character but has enough about him to warrant curiosity for learning more in future volumes about what lead him to be as he is today.
Further escapades in this volume of introduction includes a visit to the Biotrope gardens to fetch a Rainbow Fruit from a tribe of nasty looking multi-armed gorilla and the first successful addition to Toriko's ‘ultimate menu’, providing an almost game-level accomplishment feel to his self-ascertained achievement.
Toriko definitely proves itself something to behold – an in-your-face action story riding on the back of a gastronomic fetch-quest. The monsters are scary, Toriko in his own way even scarier and the prospects intriguing. This first volume is a bit rough around the edges but manages to be so strangely fun it's pretty easily forgiven as a first go at the gourmet hunter's world.
Overall : B
Story : B
Art : C
+ An interesting premise of culinary-quests given a fresh twist with the strange exotic locale and often-terrifying creatures; Toriko's insane abilities are entertainingly out there while his passion for provisions is infectious; Tomatsu offers good character balance
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