The “gal” (pronounced gyaru in Japanese) is a uniquely Japanese phenomenon. Gals are girls who colour their hair, spray tan their skin, wear outlandish, revealing, eye-catching clothing, and generally act in the opposite way of what is expected of a “proper” Japanese woman. Gal culture has been showing up more and more in manga. With Gal Gohan (which roughly means “gal cooking” or “gal meal”) is the latest example. On the surface, it’s about a gal who wants to learn how to cook, but underneath, it’s something else entirely. Come with us as we dive deep into one of Seven Seas‘ latest releases; Gal Gohan Volume 1.
Characters of Gal Gohan
This volume is about two characters and two characters only: the gal and her cooking teacher. Miku Okazaki is the school’s “number-one gal” (although what makes her “number one” is never explained). She’s a nice person, but an absolutely awful student. At the beginning of the story, her graduation is in serious jeopardy.
Shinji Yabe is a home economics teacher who is relatively new to the school. He wants to come up with a better way to connect with students since home economics doesn’t give him enough face time with them (it’s the subject that gets the least coverage in the school). Obviously, he’s a great cook.
Ingredients for a good story?
Late one afternoon, Shinji is grading papers when Miku bursts into his classroom. She has a problem: she’s failing every class and is in danger of not graduating. She also has a solution, direct from the school principal: make some cookies for all her teachers. To the principal, Miku is a hopeless case, and it would be best for everyone if she were just to graduate. Just make some damn cookies to soften up the teachers, he tells her, and he’ll take care of everything else.
Shinji agrees to help. Together, they make cookies, but the results are no better than Miku’s attempts at academics.
The situation seems hopeless, so Shinji tells her to go home, and that he’ll make the cookies himself. He thinks he’s doing a good thing until he watches her face fall about a thousand feet. That’s when he realizes that every teacher Miku has ever had has given up on her. In that moment, he makes a different decision and changes both of their lives forever.
The two of them stay late and make a delicious batch of cookies, and Shinji finally gets the student-teacher connection he was seeking. Inspired, he starts up a cooking club the next day, but Miku winds up being the only person who joins. And as they spend time in the afternoon cooking together, it becomes clear that this isn’t a manga about cooking at all. Instead, it’s about a teenage girl who has a crush on her handsome (but clueless) teacher.
Gal Gohan Volume 1 spoilers
Like every male protagonist in this kind of manga, Shinji has no idea of the feelings Miku has for him. He at least has a good excuse, though; he’s a teacher, and getting involved with a student is career suicide. Plus, he knows nothing about gal culture, so any time Miku (or one of her gal friends) does something that makes it look like she’s into him, he just figures it’s what gals do.
Two people instantly figure out what’s happening, however: Miku’s two friends (also gals) who pop in one afternoon and start doing everything possible to make Miku jealous. These girls have no interest in Shinji. But, messing with Miku is too much fun to pass up, so they flirt, ask him if he has a girlfriend (he doesn’t), and generally do everything possible to get under Miku’s skin. They only appear on a few pages, but it’s still an entertaining diversion.
Miku isn’t a great student, but when it comes to Shinji, she knows what she wants and how to get it. She talks him into hanging out with her at Harajuku, under the pretence of going to a local restaurant as a club activity. She makes little effort to hide her true intentions, though, as she keeps calling their time together “a date”. Then proceeds to show up wearing something less appropriate for a day out with your teacher.
If it seems like she’s determined to have Shinji wind up in jail, remember that she’s a high school senior on the verge of graduation (meaning she’s either already eighteen years old or close to it), which isn’t an accident. As consent laws in Japan are far different from those in the US and other English-speaking countries. I’m assuming that the author wants her to be a legal adult by the time this love connection fully materializes.
And she definitely has a generous side. In the book’s final chapter, an overworked and exhausted Shinji falls asleep at his desk. Instead of going home, Miku (using her steadily improving skills) cooks him a nutritious meal to help him recover. “Girl cooking for the guy she likes” is a super common trope in this genre, but it definitely makes sense here.
It’s also worth noting that Miku teases Shinji every once in a while. However, it never comes close to reaching the levels of the annoyance of a Hana Uzaki or the pure cruelty of a Miss Nagatoro. It’s almost like the teasing is there because the genre demands it, but the author’s heart isn’t really in it.
The art of Gal Gohan
The art is solid if unspectacular. Shinji’s design is a little on the plain side, but the real star of the show is Miku, and she looks good in every panel. There isn’t an over-abundance of detail, but what is there works.
There is one strange mistake in the art, however. If you look at the above image of the two girls who crash the cooking club, you’ll see that one of them has an absolutely enormous, alien-sized right hand. I have no idea how this error happened, but it’s there. And once you see it, it can never be un-seen.
Is Girl Gohan Volume 1 worth reading?
Yes, so long as your expectations are in the right place. When I originally ordered Gal Gohan Volume 1, I was expecting it to be a cooking version of How Heavy are the Dumbbells You Lift?; an in-depth cooking manga with humour and a little fan service to keep things interesting. I’m not sure why I thought this. Probably because it popped up in my recommendations whenever I looked up the Dumbbells manga. However, this is a very different type of story.
And that’s all right. At its core, this is a manga about a relationship between two genuinely lovely people. And I recommend it for one simple reason: as soon as I finished it, I immediately went searching for Volume 2. The story and the characters definitely left their mark.