Sunday, May 13, 2012
Natsume Ono is on a roll with me. All three series of hers that I have read have become hits with me. 'House of Five Leaves', 'not simple', and now 'Ristorante Paradiso'. I think I can safely say that she has become one of my favorite manga authors.
Twenty-one year old Nicoletta makes the trip to Rome to find her estranged mother, Olga. You see, when Nicoletta was just a little girl, Olga left her in the care of her grandfather. The reason she left her was because the man she loved "would never marry a divorced woman", so he must never find out about Nicoletta. Nicoletta finds Olga at Casetta Dell'orso, the elegant little restaurant owned by Olga's new husband, Lorenzo. Here, Nicoletta is bemused to see that it is entirely staffed by handsome, glasses wearing, older gentlemen, including, head waiter Claudio, who Nicoletta instantly takes a liking to. Bitter from being essentially abandoned, and jealous of her mother's happiness in love, Nicoletta sought her out determined to tell Lorenzo that she is Olga's daughter.....that is until Olga offers a job at the restaurant, an apartment to live in, and some romantic help with Claudio.
The first thing most people will notice about this manga is the art. In a style similar to Natsume Ono's other work, 'House of Five Leaves', I think most casual manga readers will find it a bit odd. I personally find it to be a great change from the more ordinary manga styles that I, and I think most other mainstream manga readers are used to. It is quite distinctive, and though odd in comparison to the usual, it is visually appealing. You can sample the art, and a bit of the story in a free preview of chapter one at VizManga. If you end up liking the art, splendid. If not, I recommend looking past it because there is still something to enjoy in Natsume Ono's writing.
This manga is very well balanced. It had just enough romance, and just enough drama. No aspect of the story overpowers another. You may say that it sounds as if the story has no focus or direction, but that is not so. Being a slice-of-life, it is laid back, and readers not a fan of the genre may find it boring, but it does have it's key themes. One of my favorite parts of the book is the rekindling of the relationship between Nicoletta and Olga. Starting out as a way to keep Nicoletta quiet, Olga connects with Nicoletta over their common feelings of being in love. Nicoletta with Claudio and Olga with Lorenzo. Olga takes this chance to make up for lost time and teach Nicoletta about being a woman. It's quite sweet to see the once estranged pair become mother and daughter again.
Now this manga isn't just about Nicoletta and Olga. Remember I mentioned the restaurant staff completely made up of handsome, bespectacled, older gentlemen? Well, life at Casetta Dell'orso is made interesting because of them. In the book, the restaurant is made popular because the frequent customers have a preference for this certain type of man. Somehow I have the feeling that this is also a real life fetish of sorts, and women who engage in this fetish might find this book extra appealing because of that. That's not to say our restaurant staff is just eye candy for the women. They are a diverse group of personalities that actually pull most of the weight when it comes to this book's entertainment aspect. Sharing the spotlight with Nicoletta and her story, we don't get to go as in depth with them as I would have liked to, but I think that's where this book's sequel series, Gente, comes in. Which I will definitely be reviewing in the future.
As I said, this book has just the right amount of romance, comedy, and drama, so you never feel like you are watching a soap opera. That's why I think that this story could be enjoyed by both men and women. Though the down-to-earth, slow, slice-of-life type story would probably be most attractive to adult readers, rather than a younger audience looking for something more exciting. Being one volume though, I'd make the argument that it wouldn't hurt for any age or gender to try something a little different. I personally enjoyed it immensely, and it solidified me as a Natsume Ono fan.