Manga-ka: Natsume Ono
Publisher: Viz Media
Rating: Older Teen (16+)
Release Date: March 2010
Synopsis: “At the age of 21, Nicoletta travels to Rome to find her mother, Olga, who abandoned her long ago. Nicoletta finds her at Casetta dell’Orso, a charming little restaurant owned by Olga’s husband. The staff of bespectacled gentlemen welcomes Nicoletta warmly, but Olga’s reception is not so pleasant. Olga has never told her husband that she ever had children–and he must never know.”
Seeking to reveal her existence to her Mother’s new husband, Nicoletta has travelled to Rome for an impromptu visit with her wayward parent. Soon finding her spiteful plans on hiatus, Nicoletta finds herself welcomed into the fold of the Casetta dell’Orso, a popular restaurant where older men serve as the eye-candy for their patrons.
With the popular themes of harem, councils and host clubs scattered across manga, it’s admittedly entertainment-in-itself reading a story where the object of the patron’s visual affections are older men. They don’t do anything especially intentional to get the attention, with the single exception perhaps of their uniform requirement to wear glasses, but with a kind smile and a delicious meal they sway the hearts of the background guests.
Despite the collection of characters, all of whom are at least given a single panel introduction, there’s very little focus on the men or the restaurant itself. Instead the story stays focused on Nicoletta, her relationship with her Mother and her budding attraction to the elderly but apparently very charming Claudio. This isn’t exactly a flaw to the story though it does leave wonder about the other characters. At the book’s end there’s a short story that follows the grumpier of the group and his day out with his grandson, which actually proved one of the most entertaining portions of the release.
The whole book has a very low-key feel with the most dramatic moment in this one-shot proving to be a calm conversation over a cup of a tea and a birthday party reveal that proves more satisfying than stirring (but no less appreciated). None of the characters stand out especially, proving neither likeable nor otherwise, but there’s a understated charm to their interactions – whether it’s Nicoletta debating her intentions for being here or discussions about Claudio’s lingering affections for his divorcee-wife. Still, there’s something to be said for a little pizzazz and Ristorante Paradiso could’ve used at least a little. When the characters themselves seem bored with life, there’s little hope that the readers will react much differently.
Unfortunately its the art that proves the weakest part of the book however. Though the simplicity of the style compliments the light nature of the story to a point, it still fails to provide much aesthetically. The characters are all droopy-faced and the older men often difficult to differentiate from one another. It’s also a pull back from the story when you’re articulated a character’s beauty but presented with a rendered physique much less appealing. Granted artwork is subjective, so for some this may not be an issue for their overall appreciation of the work. That or readers could find it forgivable in just how different it is from your usual manga-fare.
On the flipside, Viz Media’s work on this one-shot is fantastic. From classy logo design work reminiscent of restaurant store signs and a glossy faux-cover slip cover, this book looks as good to your eyes as it feels in your hands. Released under the Viz Signature line, it also comes in a slightly larger cut-size than the usual.
There’s a nice overlaying sense of sophistication throughout the book. Then again with a plot that follows a restaurant of gentlemen in Rome and the subtle nuances of a woman’s affections, you couldn’t help but consider it a failing if it didn’t. The story is bound to appeal to manga fans looking for something more tailored to adult-taste, but outside this audience, it’ll likely prove very hit or miss. Decent but dry, Ristorante Paradiso is an okay one-time read but one easily forgotten when complete.