June 20, 2017

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All-Ages or Small-Ages #32 (Samurai Chef by Mayamada and Pinali)


See all of the past entries of All-Ages or Small-Ages here.

There are a wide array of all-ages comics out there from the classic Archie comics, through the  Sonic the Hedgehog and Disney, all the way to the original properties such as Lumberjanes. You might look at one of these books and think that, as an adult, it doesn’t have much to offer you. As someone who has discovered a deep fondness for titles such as this, I’ve been surprised by how rich and complex the stories can be. All-Ages or Small-Ages? is a feature that takes a look at the books that fall under this banner and attempts to analyse whether or not their assigned label is apt; is it a book that you can read along with your children?

“Originality” is a word that gets thrown around and overused by many people as the Holy Grail of properties of a piece of media. Another common lament that you’ll hear from people is that originality is dead; all of the ideas in the world have been used up and that there are simply no others left. To these people, I would point them towards Samurai Chef.

Samurai Chef is one out of a series of manga-inspired books that have created by the publisher Mayamada. Each volume follows a different television show that exists in-world as part of the same television network. This particular entry follows the on-stage and off-stage rivalries that occur in your standard reality show but, instead of a singing competition, the show pits the physical strength of a monkey chef against each of the meals that are presented to him; food is not judged on flavour, but on their defensive capabilities. Straight off the bat, we have anthropomorphism and animated food; it’s the perfect recipe for entertainment.


What needs to be emphasised immediately is that if you are coming into this book expecting anything else, you’re going to be sorely disappointed. It has the repetition of concept that makes each fight remarkably easy to picture as a short 10 minute animation that would be part of a larger children’s TV show. There isn’t any subversion of that initial idea, but that’s honestly admirable. Mayamada has crafted scenario after scenario where you're enraptured by a monkey fight with a sword against variously animated food and, thanks to artist Pinali, the book is rife with both energy and enthusiasm.

Mayamada writes in a subplot that follows one of the chefs rebelling from his original team, but doesn't attach any nuance to the character. Painted as a shriveling, desperate person, the chef strikes out into the reality cooking show underworld to recruit the worst of the worst. Subsequently, it's difficult to assign any motivation beyond narcissistic glory and it falls slightly flat. However, there is some humour to be found in the irony between how edgy and shadow-struck the gathered team are in Pinali’s art and how wholesome and creative their cooking ends up.


This is a comic that doesn’t hold your hand and charges on forwards into its concept without stopping for breath, which speaks to its maturity. Granted, the concept is simple enough that it may sound that it doesn’t need to but, nevertheless, there are never any conversations about the mechanics of how the world works and that was a detail that I really appreciated.

It might already be apparent from the appearance of anthropomorphic main characters, but suspension of disbelief will be your best friend when reading this book. It functions almost entirely on cartoon logic, where a little sprinkle of a “Secret Ingredient” is enough to raise a bowl of spaghetti and meatballs into life.

One particular highlight is the confrontation that demonstrates that Mayamada's forethought about the variety of fights that would take place in this universe. As the aim is simply to best The Chef, it makes sense that some teams would attempt a more subtle approach that is based in misdirection instead of brute force. The team in question, the Cherry Kitchen, create a "big ol' taffy cake" that bounces around the room and relies on hallucinogenic icing to subdue its aggresor, creating some genuinely hilarious moments.


However, there is a slight lack of purpose, beyond the obvious, to the story that makes it difficult to recommend to an older audience. It perfectly suits young readers, with them able to relish in the simple joy that comes from the fighting itself as well as the various animals that make an appearance. The background storyline with Kamu is a step in right direction, but is simply not pervasive enough to make up for everything else.

Based on its creativity and uniqueness alone, this is a comic that you should read, if only because you’ll never be able to get it out of your head. It has the simultaneous bizareness of the characters, the confrontations and the context; on top of that, the fact that this is a televised event in-universe is very engaging. Unfortunately, it is difficult not to fly through this completed volume. 

The Chef might have to stop for breath between fights, but you’ll be able to get to the end of this in a single one.


Let me know if there's a comic that you think I should be checking out. I'm always on the look-out for some more hidden All-Ages gold. Contact me at mcdickson101@gmail.com or head over to check out the podcast that I co-host You Know What I Like...? on SoundCloud.