Manga-ka: Fumi Yoshinaga
Publisher: Yen Press
Rating: Older Teen (16+)
Release Date: December 2010
Synopsis: “There is a Japanese saying that goes, “Hana yori dango,” or “dumplings over flowers.” And no one is more of an advocate of this adage than mangaka Y-naga, a woman whose life revolves around her intense work and equally intense sleep schedule. The only thing that can rouse her out of this infernal cycle of deadlines and being dead to the world? Food. As Y-naga and her friends visit restaurants around Tokyo to satisfy their appetites, their individual approaches to food add an extra dimension to their witty and comical interactions.”
Manga about food is similar to manga about music – they have to convey things through a visual medium that are pretty much impossible to capture visually. For music manga, it’s the sound of an instrument or a beautiful voice singing out, while for food manga it’s that taste of a delicious meal. But while you can’t substitute one sense for another, many manga-ka have risen to the challenge and found fun ways to convey different sensations through images. Fumi Yoshinaga only manages to make it halfway. While Not Love But Delicious Foods Make Me So Happy! is a fun read, it didn’t leave me hungry, a bad sign in a manga about food.
The manga follows a manga-ka called Y-naga. Y-naga is unlucky in love but totally in love with food. She knows all the best restaurants in Tokyo and is continually dragging her friends out to dinner. Y-naga is also a cellophane thin-avatar for Fumi Yoshinaga, the actual manga-ka behind the story. Whether all the characters in the story are based on real people is up in the air, but all of them are lifelike enough that they could be.
Each chapter has a similar format: Y-naga and friends go out to a swanky restaurant and talk about their lives in between bites of food. In a way each chapter functions as a restaurant review as all of the places that the characters go to are in fact actual restaurants (at the end of each chapter there’s even a page of notes on how to get to the featured restaurant). However, as reviews they kind of fail since everything is always fantastic. When the conversation turns to food, it usually amounts to character A saying something like “Wow, this is so good!” and Y-naga responding with “I know, right!?” and then explaining the intricacies of the dish. After a few chapters it gets a little old.
There are a lot of characters who only show up for a chapter or two, and yet through their interactions with Y-naga we get a fully formed picture of them. Yoshinaga’s always been great at getting at the basis of what makes a character tick, and she’s able to use that skill here to capture the many different characters’ personalities.
Y-naga herself is a great character, which is a weird thing to write since she’s based on the manga-ka herself. Yoshinaga doesn’t hold back or try to make herself look good by proxy through her avatar. In fact, Y-naga is the most buffoonish character in the story, spilling food and drinks down her shirt, coming home and passing out in the front hall, shamelessly flirting with guys who are totally creeped out by her advances, and on top of it all not really caring about any of it. Y-naga is one of the best female characters I’ve seen in a manga recently, which once again is a weird thing to write.
I mentioned before that though this is a food-centric manga, it didn’t leave me hungry. I think in part that’s because I don’t eat meat, so all the lavish descriptions of the meat entrees really didn’t do anything for me. However, I also think that Yoshinaga doesn’t do a great job of making the food look all that good to begin with. Not that her illustrations are bad, but if you’re going to do a food about manga, well, you need to draw that stir-fry with the same care and detail that you would use to draw a drool-worthy bishounen.
Even if it the manga didn’t leave me hungry, I was still satisfied thanks to the delightful characters. While it’s not as engrossing as some of her other series such as ‘Flower of Life’ or Antique Bakery,’ it’s still fun, a nice light snack instead of a full meal.