Ristorante Paradiso

When I heard about the premise of this restaurant-set manga, I expected that I’d enjoy it, but unfortunately, it’s one of the rare missteps of the Viz Signature line for me.

Nicoletta was abandoned at a young age by her mother, who went off to marry a man who didn’t want children. Now, Nicoletta has come to Rome to confront her and tell him the truth. Her unknowing stepfather owns a restaurant staffed entirely by older men in glasses. When one, Claudio, is kind to her, she wonders whether she’s in love with him. Things are complicated by Nicoletta’s mother working and being friends with Claudio’s ex-wife.

Ristorante Paradiso cover
Ristorante Paradiso
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NIcoletta is almost a non-entity as a protagonist. She doesn’t tell off her mother or reveal the secret to her husband, although I was rooting for her to. She just sits and watches and wonders about what love is. I found her drippy. When her mother continues treating her atrociously, she doesn’t even say anything, not even a token protest, instead just thinking to herself, “Everything always revolves around her needs.” Well, then do something about it!

Or at least, get on with your own life. Nicoletta gets internal monologue about wanting to find work she can be passionate about, and that’s part of her jealousy over her mother’s independent life, but then she winds up working in the kitchen because she’s got nothing better to do (and it keeps the manga going). What we’re told and what we’re shown doesn’t always match up.

Exhibit A in that area: Natsume Ono’s art style is definitely an acquired taste. I don’t object to it, but I did find it hard to process when we kept hearing about how handsome all these waiters were supposed to be. Mostly, they look to me like skulls. At times, they appear to be holding their heads back so they can look over their own chins. They’re always unpleasant-looking, which works when they’re fighting or tortured, but not so much when they’re supposed to be happy. Instead, at those times, they look insipid.

This is also one of those manga where we’re told everything we should think, instead of the author having faith in the reader to figure some things out based on what she’s shown. When Nicoletta is told she needs a restaurant reservation because the place is always crowded, she thinks to herself, “Must be popular.” We’re shown customers with strings of hearts coming off of them, and she thinks, “they’re all drooling over the staff.” We’re reminded several times how she’s never before felt this way about an older man. Claudio is named after a saint, so there’s a full-page panel where Nicoletta tells him, “You really are like a saint.”

I also wondered why we saw no followup to Nicoletta throwing herself (literally) on Claudio one night. He awkwardly holds her off until they’re interrupted, but afterwards, they ignore it and don’t speak of it. Instead, they bond over how they were both abandoned by working women, in a conversation where they spell out their feelings in excruciating detail. I would think the clumsy physical interaction would be more worthy of mention, if only to apologize or figure out if she was still interested. (I won’t get into the psychological implications of a woman who lost her parents seeking a relationship with such an older man.)

This had such potential — young woman finding love with an older, considerate man in a restaurant — but the pieces never came together the way they should, and the character development was jumpy and artificial. Also, not enough mention of food to take advantage of the setting. If this was a series, I’d assume that character growth would come in future volumes, but it’s a stand-alone, although the characters reappear in the three volumes of Gente: The People of Ristorante Paradiso, starting from Viz in July, which explores the prior lives of the waiters. (The publisher provided a review copy.)

11 Comments

  1. [...] Anime and Manga Blog) Shaenon Garrity on vol. 1 of Rin-ne (About.com) Johanna Draper Carlson on Ristorante Paradiso (Comics Worth Reading) Rob on vol. 1 of Rosario + Vampire (Panel Patter) Michelle Smith on vols. [...]

  2. What other Viz Signature volumes did you believe were missteps? Saikano didn’t do much for me. Overall it’s a great line.

  3. Oops! Saikano was an Editor’s Choice, the precursor to Signature.

  4. It’s listed as Signature now, though. It appears that they’ve retrofitted a number of titles into the label, such as Uzumaki and Sexy Voice and Robo.

    I agree, overall, it’s a wonderful imprint, but some of the more violent titles, like Jormungand, don’t work for me.

  5. I became fond of Saikano somehow. I wasn’t sure about how I felt about that series until I reached the end and reflected on what I had just read.

  6. After Saikano’s first volume, I decided that the rest of the series wasn’t much for me. The callous way the male character treated the female character turned me off. Also, she was supposed to be some kind of killing machine, but the creators only showed that on a couple of pages, focusing most of the volume on the male character treating her like shit.

    But I’m glad you liked it!

  7. [...] that should be readily apparent from the artwork. Like, if someone is pretty. (I’m with Johanna Draper-Carlson on this aspect of Ono’s [...]

  8. [...] from the artwork. (Like, if someone is pretty. See Johanna Draper-Carlson’s review of Ristorante Paradiso for additional thoughts on the [...]

  9. [...] Johana Draper-Carlson (Manga Worth Reading): Ristorante Paradiso Review [...]

  10. [...] care for the work of Natsume Ono. I found her samurai series, House of Five Leaves, confusing and Ristorante Paradiso badly inconsistent, with too much telling, not showing. I also think her art style is too wispy and [...]

  11. [...] isn’t the first collection of short stories by Natsume Ono (Ristorante Paradiso, House of Five Leaves) to make it to the US. Viz put out Tesoro last year. Since I liked that [...]

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