by Nozomi Yanahara
published by Digital Manga; $12.95 US
Quiet but reassuring, Takasugi-San’s Obento combines food manga and the development of a family relationship.
Harumi is an under-employed Ph.D. who finds himself suddenly the guardian of a 12-year-old girl, his cousin. Kururi’s mother is gone, and although she’s pretty, Kururi always looks grumpy. Perhaps she’s picking up on how uncertain Harumi feels, certain that he’s under-qualified for his new responsibilities and unfamiliar with taking care of a young woman. He’s also viewed suspiciously by those who wonder what a guy his age is doing with a girl hers.
When he forgets to plan meals, Kururi fills the gap, making breakfast and packing their bento lunches. The food takes the place of the emotions they can’t talk about. Later, they both cook for each other, working out dishes and planning leftovers. Food becomes a way to fight bullying and share special moments together.
The art is a little less polished than the other shojo I’ve read, with a more handmade, independent feel. Readers who aren’t up on detailed Japanese ingredients and methods of cooking will want to read this volume with an internet link nearby, so they can look up the unexplained terms used here. Translation notes would have been much appreciated, since without them, there’s a whole layer of meaning that’s lost to the English reader.
I liked the idea of making explicit how food means love, as well as exploring how certain dishes carry memories. (Harumi’s aunt, Kururi’s mother, used to make his lunches when they were kids together as well.) Instead of Harumi taking care of the child, she winds up taking care of him, cleaning the house as well as making his meals and devotedly bargain-hunting. That’s a bit stereotypical, the clueless man-child cared for by a female, who no matter her age, still does all the housework, but it’s balanced by most of Harumi’s co-workers being female … and more accomplished than he is.
Of course, by the end of the volume the two have formed their own little family, as we expect, but it’s reassuring to see how people learn more about each other through cooking and eating together. (The publisher provided a digital review copy.)