Ristorante Paradiso is an adventure in adjustment for Nicoletta, a young woman cast adrift in the flow of her mother's whims. We join the plucky protagonist as she arrives unannounced to confront the estranged and irresponsible parent for her errant ways. She marvels at Olga, the absent mother void of a maternal centre. A woman who lives for love, she is an unyielding romantic with no space to acknowledge the daughter she abandoned along with the obligations of motherhood.
At Olga's place, the enchanting Ristorante Pardiso, Nicoletta soon loses the appetite for revenge as she begins to see things in a whole new light. She fast finds herself distracted from her original purpose as she surrenders to the restaurant's allure, a paradise for the female patrons where beauty comes bespectacled, the service provided by charming, all male staff.
Childish petulance becomes passť and is certainly no match for reality of adult emotions, especially when the waiter Claudio catches her eye.
Ono's work is refreshing, creative and curiously freewheeling. Her narratives are cosmopolitan, cutting free from cultural connections to Japan. It's not uncommon for authors set their tales on an international stage but such departures tend to keep one foot on Japanese soil, holding onto national roots in some capacity. Japanese protagonists are a typical tool; acting as faithful travelling partners to both reader and creator alike, they are the conduits to channel the outsider's perspective in an unfamiliar location. Ono, on the other hand, is uncommonly enterprising and Ristorante Paradiso retains no lingering attachment to Japan. Even her art celebrates a departure from any familiar formulas to be found in the mainstream manga style. To me it has the freedom of line and whimsical charm reminiscent of Tove Jansson (artist and author of the Moomins) with a twist of sophistication like pages from a fashion designer's sketchbook.
What gives the work such great maturity is Ono's concept of beauty and how she represents the exalted figures of her handsome men. They are not blinding beautiful like so many bishōnen/biseinen, there is nothing particularly delicate in their countenances, in fact, they are remarkable just because they are an unrefined mixed bag of mature Mediterranean men. They are captivating because of the raw vivacity and personality that glows in their eyes, which sparks the passion of readers and the restaurant's regulars. Each character has uniquely crafted individuality and the powerful observation of life that Ono breathes into her cast creates a world that is unique and enthralling.
I have scarcely encountered a work so refreshing and remarkable, a fine and beautiful balance of a laconic narrative counterpoised by bold line work that evokes the feeling that there is something wild and free in Ono's pen work. It's charming and seductive and a liberating read. I thoroughly recommend Ono's work to readers who have become disenchanted with the generic but who still have a touch of the old romantic in them.
Viz, to my delight, are to be continuing their affair with Ono and have placed Gente, the prequel to Ristorante Pardiso on their release schedule!