By Dustin Cabeal
Umami is one of the most delightful comics I’ve read all year. The storytelling has a strong manga influence, but not so much that a non-manga reader would be turned away from the structure and style. Because it’s embracing both styles though, there is something incredibly pure about it. Something that resonates because it’s a comic, trying to be a comic and nothing more.
In the last several years of comics, there has been a trend of creating comics as this weird backdoor into movies. Stories have become more cinematic in structure, production, and design. While this is fun and entertaining at times, something purely comic related was lost. For me personally, so many stories have read like Hollywood pitches instead of comics that it’s become extremely difficult to enjoy and digest the medium that I love.
When comics like Umami come around and have a laser focus on their craft, it makes it shine so much brighter than other titles. Simply put, I would take this single issue of Umami over 80% of the creator-owned/self-published titles I have read this year.
The story takes place in a fantasy world with a bit of modernism, but also some medievalism. For instance, there’s giant birds and special cookbooks, but then also refined culinary skills. The story introduces us to our first character, a little girl looking for salt. She’s searched everywhere and found none, but everyone has stated that the Capital would be the place to check. Now, this little girl has made the perilous journey on her own until she runs into the second main character. She helps her get her special cookbook back from the previously mentioned giant bird, and they end up heading to the Capital together.
You’re probably like, “Hey, jerk, learn the character’s names!” Well, usually you’d be right because unless the character is worth a shit I don’t learn their names, but this time there’s an actual reason for me not using their names. Maybe in the second issue review.
Ken Niimura is one of those storytellers that understand when to reign in the dialogue and when to let it lose. Personally, I will always favor artist/writer combos over any other creative team because nothing gets lost in translation when it’s just one person. It’s rare that a story is overwritten or that the art isn’t trusted to get the job done. Niimura’s dialogue is on the nose; it gives each character a personality even if we’re never to see that character again.
The art is in all black and white, and while I was shocked to see that it was that way, I wasn’t disappointed. I’ve just come to expect Panel Syndicate titles to be fully colored and with the colored cover, well, I fooled myself. The art is beautiful. The panel choices are intelligent and move the story forward at the perfect pace. The details are light, but important when there.
I only paid a buck for this issue, because like all Panel Syndicate titles it’s “pay what you want.” I will likely pay more for the second issue because this first issue was quite the read. Support it if you think it sounds good, I’m glad I gave it what I could, and I hope that it gets a lot of support and becomes Panel Syndicates next big book. I would like to see them do more titles, but it seems like that’s slowed down since their first book. Umami though stands out in many wonderful positive ways, and I will be anxiously awaiting the next issue.
Creator: Ken Niimura
Publisher: Panel Syndicate