The restaurant Dollhouse: Wouldnít you like to eat at a place people call "the restaurant of bliss"? Youíll surely look at the world differently on your way home!
I have long been told about the breadth and scope of manga. Both in the stories they tell and the kinds of stories there are to sample. For a few years now, we've gotten glimpses of this with things like The Legend of Koizumi (an unintentionally hilarious "biography" manga of Japan's former prime minister) and Cooking Papa (a manga I would love to read on JManga) being the most visible. There are other types but I think I'll let you find your own favourites. So really when I read the synopsis for Shiawase Restaurant, I shouldn't have been that surprised. A mother and her step-son at odds with each other over their methods of French cuisine? It sounds boring but it's so insane a setup, I love reading this
Getting around the plot, the main drive of this first volume seems to be in showing how much of an idiot and pig Yamazu is. I am being serious here. The first time we see him (there's a prologue with him as a young boy) he is showing off to a friend, Egoshi, French cuisine. All the while boring a hole, with his hate, in the back of his step-mother's head. And Yuko comes across as having the patience of a saint, with Yamazu openly mouthing off in front of her. Technically speaking she's in charge and if one of my employees, let alone a family member, treated me how Yamazu treats Yuko, he'd be out on his ear faster than you could blink. But Yuko loves her stepson and has a duty of care to him since her husband (and his father) died. So she calmly tries to make Yamazu see the benefits of ordinary Japanese cuisine. I would imagine that Yamazu's father saw something in Yuko that made him comfortable in entrusting his restaurant to her. She is a skilled chef in her own right but Yamazu's attitude is that she's diluting his father's legacy by taking recipes and ingredients for French cuisine and adapting them for Japanese uses.
I had thought that Shiawase would be the same tone as Iron Wok Jan but I was mistaken. Whereas Iron Wok Jan revels in going over the top with its "Food cooking contests are like Dragonball fighting contests" take on proceedings, Shiawase does it quieter but retains the background elements of Jan. There are no out and out fights in Shiawase but they go into the minutiae of how the food's prepared and how it tastes. A second point is more paramount than anything else. How does the intended eater or consumer of the food react to a meal? What memories does it bring up for them? From recalcitrant sons who will only eat their mother's version of food to construction supervisors who need reminding who's important to them, the range of reactions are interesting. As Yamazu sees the reaction of the shop's patrons, he sees how his recipes affect them. More importantly, he sees how they are affected by Yuko who knows how their mood is what food will change that mood. Still, I despair when Yamazu's anger gets the better of him and can't see what Yuko is trying to show him.
Author and artist Yasuhiro Nakanishi works so hard at reaction looks on all his characters and I applaud him for putting together a cast of characters that sound and act like they have something to say. What they say might not always be pleasant and some characters I don't like, but otherwise I can't complain. There are some laugh out loud moments like when Egoshi realises that Yamazu kissed her passionately just to figure out the texture of oysters and not because he loved her. Hey, if that happens to you and you have a tray in your hand? Oh, well.
Shiawase Restaurant is a delightful jaunt into cooking cuisine as seen through the eyes of Japanese people. Yes, it can get overly dramatic (I don't think a person's depression over their departed loved ones can be cured with oysters) and yes, the main lead is a bit of an edjit. However, behind it all is a nice tale and a great hook. Isn't that the reason you got into manga? Because it was different or that you liked the way the stories got told? Then what are you waiting for?
Shiawase Restaurant can be bought legally from Jmanga.com, worldwide, at this address. Details about how to join JManga.com and buy their titles can be found here