Author: Jinko Fuyuno
Manga-ka: Yamimaru Enjin
Rating: Mature (18+)
Release Date: June 2009
Synopsis: “Masaki Ashizawa is hired by a restaurant mogul to find a world-class chef for his new French restaurant. He finds the perfect candidate in Shuichiro Tsubaki, the gruff master chef of a small restaurant. But the proud Tsubaki is happy calling the shots in his own restaurant and Ashizawa must go to all new lengths to convince him to accept the offer. What will it take for Ashizawa to clinch the deal? And what secret form his past is Tsubaki keeping form Ashizawa?”
Jinko Fuyuno has created a great cast of characters in this book. So much yaoi relies on pre-fab character constructs but here the author has dared to take those constructs and flip them inside out. She’s still written the book from the uke’s (the “bottom”) point-of-view, but Ashizawa is no wallflower or a timid man unsure of his desires. He has a successful life he’s created for himself with hard work and determination. He doesn’t take no for an answer, or back down from a challenge, even when the challenge requires a lot of self-examination. This attitude of moving forward makes him the perfect candidate to head up the Grand Maison Master Chef’s plan to open a new kind of restaurant. Ashizawa’s first duty—find the best chef for the job.
The minute Ashizawa tastes Tsubaki’s food at Individu, Ashizawa is convinced his efforts have met with the same success he’s used to. The food is brilliant, not just tasty and beautiful to look at, but it fills Ashizawa with a warm sense of perfection and care. These are just the qualities he’s sure his employer wants in the new restaurant. It isn’t until he makes the offer to Tsubaki that he realizes he’s going to have a much tougher time convincing the chef to leave Individu and join the team.
It takes a lot of effort, even joining the staff at Indivdu, to show his sincerity, but Ashizawa is convinced there’s no other candidate for the restaurant, or, as he slowly realizes, for himself. Of course it takes Tsubaki to make the definitive move that finally opens Ashizawa’s eyes and heart to what he really wants. That’s the seme’s job after all.
What I liked most about this book was that Ashizawa is a strong, self-assured uke who isn’t afraid to change his world view, learn something new about himself or to accept that he’s fallen in love, and then apply his characteristic determination to make that realization reality. And Tsubaki isn’t your average smooth, bossy, take-control seme without a doubt in his mind that he can take Ashizawa. He’s so vulnerable and frightened, it takes Ashizawa’s self-confident acceptance to convince him he can be happy. That role reversal, the exchange of emotional power, made this book one of the best yaoi novels I’ve read.
It doesn’t hurt that the secondary characters have great personalities, and all carry the potential to be main characters in their own stories. There are no flat, uninteresting characters in this book.
The writing is also top notch with just the right balance of internal emotion, atmosphere and character interaction to make it flow. I was at the end of the book before I knew it.
If I have on complaint about the plot, it might be the incongruity of the almost-force of the couple’s first encounter. I’m not sure why it had to be such a battle. If there was a reason Tsubaki felt he had to use force, or why Ashizawa thought he needed to resist, I didn’t get it.
There is so much lovely art in this, book, too. Aside from all the bishie-ness, Yamimaru Enjin has captured so much in just a few lines around the characters’ eyes and lips. Her ability to draw the emotions in such beautiful detail with just a facial expression gives her version of Fuyno’s characters so much life. I think my favourite illustration is probably the one with Masatsuka glaring sternly at a grinning Takagi. They may be just minor characters, but she managed to create a whole atmosphere of potential for any true yaoi fan to read into with just that one illustration. Or, that could be me and my predisposition to see all the guys happily paired up….
There seemed to be a bit of a printing issue with my copy. It had a loose spine, and some of the pages were cropped crooked, almost losing some of the print off the outer edge of the page. It’s the first time I’ve run into this issue with this publisher, so I’m sure it was just an unfortunate printing error.
Overall, I enjoyed Eat or Be Eaten a great deal. The well-rounded characters with their realistic emotions and conflicts, the believable plot, and an ending that promises to give the characters their happily-ever-after without making it so easy on them that their lives become boring. All the pretty pictures didn’t hurt either. I hope I get to read more from this author.