Jan Akiyama, a cocky arrogant teenager wants to fulfill his grandfathers wish of defeating his arch nemesis Mutsuju Gobancho. When he arrives at the Gobancho restaurant he meets his granddaughter Kiriko Gobancho. Their rivalry is easily compared to theirs grandfathers, for Jan believes cooking is about competition and Kiriko believes cooking is about heart.
Tetsunabe no Jan was published in English as Iron Wok Jan! by ComicsOne and Dr. Master Productions from October 30, 2002 to December 18, 2007. The first thirteen volumes were published by ComicsOne, which went defunct and passed the license to Dr. Master Productions.
Let’s get one thing straight, if you sigh in discontent whenever there is a tournament in a manga, you won't like Iron Wok Jan. Period. If you do then this will be a feast, literally. The whole series is composed of 2 major tournaments with the rest being stuffing to fill pages and a chance for the characters to show off their cooking-skills even more.
The story kicks off with the introduction of Jan Akiyama, a strong-willed guy who will do anything to reach his goals who lives by the motto “cooking is about winning” who have been sent by his grandfather to be a chef
at Japans number one chinese restaurant the Gobancho. At this restaurant he meets, aside from the general staff, Kiriko Gobancho. She is the granddaughter of the owner and a kind girl with an equally strong will but her motto is “cooking is about heart” which quickly causes her and Jan to clash and an rivalry forms.
Since the series is tournament based you can guess that during its course, there will be several opponents. They all have their own quirks and more often than not they have an attitude just as bad as Jan and will not stop at anything to winl. The real antagonist of the story isn’t an tournament opponent though, it’s the food-critic Nichido Otani with the self-proclaimed “tongue of god”. After being humiliated and getting his judgment questioned by Jan he begins an campaign to crush him and thus Otani becomes an judge at the “Chinese cooking competition”. Sadly, with this (and many more) interesting personalities there are nearly no development, what you get from the start is what you will see. Even some of the food-dishes get’s more development as you often get to read about every minuscule detail that is involved. Of course that last part is a great remedy for underdeveloped characters since it takes the focus from them to the food itself.
When it comes to the art it can’t be mentioned without first asking: Who the heck taught the author anatomy? I mean seriously, most of the female characters have boobs that take up 50% of their body. No joke. They are so ridiculously huge that it’s not even perverted or sexy, it’s just odd. What’s more odd than the sheer size is that only once during the series is there a mention about them, after stuff like Love Hina this is a “huge” relief. The other art really fits the series, Jan never ceases to look vicious, the side-characters are all unique, the crowds at the tournaments are often really detailed and the food looks well-drawn. It’s artistically quite pleasing apart from that one flaw mentioned.
What about enjoyment then? Well, this is where the series shines the most. Seeing how Jan, unchanged, acts like the world’s biggest Jerk just to prove himself to be the best for about 250 chapters is nothing but a joy to witness. So is the food that he and the other characters in the series produces, everything from blood-eggs to ostrich is on the menu and since the description of the dishes are so thorough and the art so detailed you can almost imagine how it will taste. This can either get you to feel nauseous or hungry, a manga provoking such feelings are quite rare. Another thing I like about it is the way that Jan and his rival Kiriko interacts, they are enemies but still friendly at times you can sense that they care for each other. It's not a tsundere deal though and love is out of the question.
Without spoiling too much I must say that the ending was really disappointing, while the manga as a whole felt awfully dragged out the ending was abrupt and rushed. The" extra ending" didn’t add anything more then a few laughs. However, I must give the series credit for not involving that much romance and thus not pleasing a large chunk of what many manga readers are looking for. The focus stays on what it’s about to and does best: cooking.
To summarize: the whole series is nothing more than a flamboyant measuring of penises and who will come up with the weirdest dish. Nothing more nothing less. I don’t find this to be an entirely bad thing though, it has its moments and unexpected plot turns but it all boils down to variety. Iron Wok Jan has very little of that and for me a, 27 volume manga simply about cooking with seemingly no character development, it just isn’t enough. Darn enjoyable though and well worth a read if you can find it cheap or loan it at your local library.