Reading Ristorante Paradiso, I was expecting to get six chapters of setup for what was going to be a 56-volume series. Imagine my delight in finding out that Ristorante Paradiso only lasts a single volume. The eponymous establishment returns in another series, Gente: The People of Ristorante Paradiso, but this first volume provides a self-contained story and (I assume) a sampling of the rest of the series.
The book follows a young woman named Nicoletta whose mother, Olga, abandoned her at a young age to run off with a man who doesn't date mothers. Nicoletta travels to Rome to out her mother, but ends up with a job at her mother's restaurant and an affinity for Claudio, a member of the all-male, all-bespectacled wait staff. Provided, of course, that Nicoletta can keep Olga's motherhood a secret.
It's a quaint, slice of life romance comic, albeit one that lacks tension. Everyone seems to get along, which is fine to some extent, but the stakes aren't quite high enough. Nicoletta doesn't have a whole lot to lose by outing her mother nor does she have much reason not to. I really wish Natsume Ono explored their relationship a bit more, displaying some give and take and presenting actual reasons both for and against Nicoletta exposing her mother's secret.
She doesn't have any particular aspirations to work in a restaurant and outing her mother as her mother only affects her mother. She can still, one assumes, live in Rome and date the handsome, older waiter. There needs to be some give and take between the mother and the daughter considering they're the only characters with anything to lose. Will Nicoletta reveal her secret? Why would she? She has little reason to.
The most fatal flaw in the execution, however, is the lack of food. Maybe it's because I haven't had dinner yet, but I find it a hugely missed opportunity to not give a comic called Ristorante Paradiso a food porn quality. Romance simply isn't enough for a manga that takes place in an Italian restaurant.
However, it's hard not to like Natsume Ono's style. She pays a lot of attention to strict geometry for backgrounds and objects, but the characters often have a sketchy fluidity that makes the characters feel friendly and hand-drawn. Especially great for such a quaint comic is Ono's ability to draw simplistic yet sweet smiles. It's hard not to read the book in anticipation of a panel with some smiling.
I suppose then, considering most manga last a zillion volumes, Ristorante Paradiso qualifies as a short story. Given that, the book is good read by sheer virtue of not overstaying its welcome. However, I'm not sure that, without more food and higher stakes, I'd continue onto Gente. Though I would watch someone's indie movie adaptation of Ristorante Paradiso.
What did you think of this book?
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