Arabashiri – Sake Spirits with Soul in a Manga

I’m back on my usual shenanigans with another manga that I picked up purely due to my own preferences that only a select few will care about. Being completely honest; I actually forgot this manga was happening. I saw the announcement and went “that’s neat. I should keep my eyes peeled for that” and promptly forgot about it. Until, I saw that a first printed volume was being released and then I immediately knew I’d need to pick it up.

The manga in question? Arabashiri – a manga produced in partnership with Tachibana Kenichi of EXILE the Second about sake of course.

Arabashiri is the story of Kinzou’s grandson, a reluctant heir to a sake shop and restaurant who returns to Tokyo, after his late grandfather has passed. In the dilemma of deciding to keep his childhood home or sell the estate as is, the new heir is greeted by three guys squatting in his house! Ibuki, Akabu, and Kamonishiki aren’t your ordinary squatters; not only are they attractive men but they are the human embodiment of the heir’s late grandfather’s love of sake! This heir is in a whirlwind to figure out the in’s and outs of these sake spirits, turned almost human, customer’s eagerly awaiting the re-opening, and even more sake related shenanigans?!

Can’t blame Kinzou’s grandson – I’d be freaked out too.

Or, as my brain so kindly supplied after reading the first volume; sake turned into some hot-ass men who help a lost soul find his passion.

I went in blind, and honestly Arabashiri is a pretty entertaining read. The plot, aside from sake being embodied in hot spirit dudes that only true lovers of sake can see, is pretty standard development. Our protagonist, which despite looking online and in the manga several times, is not explicitly named in the first volume, is pretty straight forward. He clearly loved his grandfather and knew how passionate he was about sake, but for some reason drifted away from him. It’s the standard ‘build up a hesitant heir’ plot, but with a bit more shenanigans in there. It’s not the most unique plot, but it does have a nice twist. It’s developing nicely, and I can see it playing out well.

As for the characters; who knew that sake had such distinct personalities?! I’m not a novice when it comes to sake, nor a pro but even I’m pretty impressed with how distinct each character is so far. From mild mannered, easy to approachable Ibuki hailing from Fukushima, to the gruff but hard working Akabu from Iwate, and finally mellow and blends in with the crowd Kamonishiki from Niigata – all are pretty distinct characters in themselves, with another three who are set to be introduced in the next volume!

The whole crew is there, plus a kitty!

Art-wise, Takumi Yu was recruited to be the main artist for their ability to draw ikemen and they did not disappoint. Each character, even our heir, has a solid design that’s distinct but tasteful and leans into the sake descriptions without being too obnoxious. I’m also surprised how light all the characters feel, even our most fierce sake boys don’t have any harsh lines or super chiseled faces.

This is coupled with the overall, airy feelings of the series, which is surprising for a shonen title. There’s only a sparing amount of solid black used in this first volume, with most everything leaning into more light grey’s pallet-wise. Surprisingly, there’s a lot of texture work to balance the reality of the situation, the more supernatural qualities, and even the progression of time. It’s a really distinct stylistic choice that at first I didn’t really appreciate, but has grown on me a lot since my first reading.

The only tricky bit was some of the dialogue. As you can imagine with this premise, the sake spirits more often then not jump in to help our clueless heir and that includes some page or two long info-dumps. There’s a fair amount of technical language regarding sake brewing, which can be a bit tricky even with furigana. However, thanks to the furigana most of this was comprehensible to me and once those explanations were finished, my reading resumed a smooth pace.

Yeah… this page was a bit of a tough one for me.

The other big thing, is that something that could have been so easily made for a cash grab, is being made with passion. I’ve read a handful of interviews with Kenichi about this project, and you can tell he’s genuinely delighted at the somewhat ridiculous nature of it all. He still has put in the time and the effort to make something worth publishing. I’d honestly say that he’s put as much effort in the manga as, as he does with his actual sake collaborations. He’s quite the connoisseur, especially in the special photo book where he’s taking his junior, Yuta Nakatsuka of Generations from EXILE TRIBE, on tour at several sake breweries.

I went in with a certain expectation of Arabashiri, and was pleasantly surprised by the actual outcome. I’m not saying this is the most original idea, but the tropes play out well and the new elements as of this first volume tie in nicely. If you want to learn about various regional sake taught by the spirits of said brew, this series will be of interest to you. It’s one of those series that since it has such a limited market, probably won’t be translated anytime soon… so if you see it unofficially somewhere it might be worth perusing. I’m personally looking forward to the second volume and seeing where it goes. So with that, I’ll see you next post!

6 comments

  1. Sounds like a fun premise. Manga is not really my thing, though I’ve sampled a few over the years. If this was translated, I’d probably give it a go. 🙂

    Actually, your post made me think of a jdrama from 2015 (Liquid ~ Oni no Sake, Kiseki no Kura), which I really liked. Liquid also has a protagonist who comes back home when his mother gets seriously ill and he eventually takes on the ailing family business. The drama was oddly soothing and it made me feel at peace. Surprisingly I found the whole sake brewing thingy quite interesting too. I also seem to recall that the cinematography was lovely. Liquid is a short one, only 3 episodes. Maybe I should consider a rewatch…

    Liked by 1 person

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