Ristorante Paradiso by Natsume Ono

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A josei, slice-of-life story about Nicoletta, a young twenty-something woman who has come to Rome in search of her birth mother, Olga.  She finds Olga at a charming little restaurant in Rome, staffed entirely by older men in glasses.

Yeah, that’s kind of the whole schtick.

SPOILERS

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I picked up this weird little seven chapter volume and its companion piece, Gente, at the library I worked at today.  I almost put the volumes back on the shelf because of Ono’s art style, which you might know from her other work, in particular: House of Five Leaves.

The art takes some getting used to, but I decided to tough it out for the promise of slice-of-life, which, as I’ve said here many times before, is one of my all time favorite manga genres.  This one really embraces slice-of-life.  In fact, I found some of it so ‘realistic’ as to be a little jarring–the action jumps forward jerkily in places.  For myself, I could have used a few more scenes drawn out, but, instead, we get a series of snapshots of the action.

But, like with the art, I got used to that, too.

The basic story is about Nicoletta figuring out her life.  Even though she initially comes to the little Italian restaurant to cause a scene to disrupt her mother’s life, she begins to realize that her mom has made a nice life for herself here–surrounded by good food and interesting, kind people.  Nicoletta is particularly charmed by one of the older gentlemen servers, a man named Claudio.

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Thus, instead of bursting her mom’s bubble, Nicoletta decides she’s going to play the part of “the daughter of a friend” and insinuates herself into life at the restaurant, partly to get closer to Claudio, but also just because.

For the most part, that works out for her. She slowly learns the stories of all of the people working there, including that of her mom’s new husband, Lorenzo.

Because this is josei, Claudio mostly stays out of reach. There’s no instant shoujo love confession after two or three meetings. In fact, at first, Claudio tells Nicoletta that he’s just not that into her, but Nicoletta quickly discovers that Claudio still wears a wedding ring, despite being divorced.  Turns out, he’s still pretty hung up on his lawyer ex-wife, Gabriella, the best friend of Olga, Nicoletta’s mom.  Nicoletta steps back and doesn’t push things, but by the end of the volume they’re fairly close, kind of, mostly dating or at least enjoying the heck out of each other’s company.

Which seems like a pretty happy ending for josei, from my experience.

The companion piece, Gente, tells a series of shorts about backstories of the minor characters in the original.  Probably my favorites are the ones that feature Luciano and his grandson Francesco.  Though I did enjoy Vito’s backstory as well.  The others were fine, but not as stand-out in my opinion.

Apparently, there is an anime of this, available on Crunchyroll: http://www.crunchyroll.com/ristorante-paradiso.  A number of the reviews use words like “relaxing” and “gently-paced” which is actually kind of selling it for me.  There are only 11 episodes, which is also in the plus column for me. I may check it out and see what I think of it.  I really, really enjoyed Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju, a historical drama, but which also had a slower pace.

What can I say? I’m an old lady.

Speaking of which, can I just say how amusing I find it that there are so many other reviewers of this manga/anime who have to take a moment to talk about how vaguely horrified/shocked they are that it features OLDER PEOPLE?

*gasp*

Old people exist!???!!

Yeah, we do. And, we have romances, too.  Maybe people are thrown by the fact that there’s a whole crowd of women who come just to see the hot older guys.  Probably this is a foreign concept: hot, older guys.  But think: Richard Gere and Sam Elliot.

I guess maybe the May-December thing can be kind of unexpected, too, but, as Nicoletta’s mom says to her at one point, attraction is like that–it can strike you in unexpected ways.  Olga is the one, in fact, with the fetish for older, bespectacled gentlemen, but the man she fell in love with is a bear-like younger man with a goatee and 20/20 vision!  So, you know, love is blind and can blindside you!

That’s amore!

Would I recommend it to you?  Only if you’re as fond as I am of slice-of-life.  Otherwise… maybe?

As an Italian grandmother might say: try it, you might like it!

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