Review by: Ai Kano
Publisher: VIZ Media
Author: Natsume Ono
Genre: Graphic Novel (VIZ Signature)
MSRP: $12.99 US
Rating: T+ (Older Teen)
Release Date: Available Now
Consider this a tasty morsel for shoujo fans with a more distinguished palate.
As a connoisseur of fine shoujo manga and a devourer of many a decent title that doesn’t take itself too seriously, I know that being a different kind of shoujo manga might not appeal to those who rather stick with the usual. Smelling something different and rather enticing, I took a nibble from Ristorante Paradiso and found myself enjoying its unique and mature flavor to the point of wanting seconds.
You see, Ristorante Paradiso strays from the usual attractive young heroine who falls for the handsome young guy shtick and tells a story about maturity, ageless love and a friendship that is formed late in the life of one woman. This is the story of a young girl named Nicoletta who has come to Rome in search of her mother named Olga who had abandoned her so long ago to marry a man who said he didn’t want children in his life. Nicoletta’s plan was to confront her mother’s husband and tell her what type of woman Olga is and how she sent a baby to live with her grandparents.
Oh, but life is filled with surprises and Nicoletta finally catches up to Olga who is married to the owner of a very popular restaurant called Casetta dell‘Orso. Stepping foot into the quaint and comfortable little restaurant, she notices that the staff is composed of handsome and utterly charming older men wearing glasses. One man in particular catches her eye seeing as he’s sophisticated, genteel and surprisingly attractive in a way that confuses the young girl. He is Claudio and his charismatic and appealing nature impress the young girl and, as Nicoletta sees, also appeals to the mostly female clientele that visit’s the restaurant daily.
When Nicoletta finally meets up with Olga, the older woman pleads with her daughter not to say anything to her husband, Lorenzo. Nicoletta agrees, for now, and she is introduced as the daughter of a friend. Lorenzo actually turns out to be a nice enough man who encourages Olga to find a place in Rome for Nicoletta to stay and Olga does so despite worrying about her daughter finally telling him the truth.
In the meantime, Nicoletta finds herself intrigued by Claudio, who is the restaurant’s capo cameriere, and asks about him only to find out that he wears a wedding ring. According to the rest of the charming staff like Furio, Vito, Luciano and Theo, Claudio wears the ring to ward off the female clients who want to do more than just flirt with him. Nicoletta sees this as a sign that he’s single and free to rope in as she does one evening … until Olga drops by and catches them together. It’s “hands off” Claudio for Nicoletta but the younger girl doesn’t see a reason not to pursue a relationship with him.
The truth is that Claudio’s ring wasn’t just for show because he wore it when he was actually married to a woman who is not only a regular at the restaurant but also a very close friend to Olga. Nicoletta is tortured by the fact that Claudio might still have feeling for his ex-wife despite the fact that she has moved on with her life. Seeing as Nicoletta blackmails her mother to give her a job in the restaurant as a cooking apprentice, she gets a chance to watch over Claudio.
The other staff begins to notice that Nicoletta is very interested in Claudio and watches amused as she even confronts Claudio’s ex at one point. As the young girl grows closer to the older man, she also discovers that there’s more to Lorenzo and the strange-and-silent staff member named Gigi. In her dealings with the restaurant, Nicoletta begins to understand her mother’s reasons for choosing love instead of her and in this understanding a friendship is formed. Claudio also comes to realize something about himself in the process as he finally talking to his ex-wife.
This is certainly a more slow-paced and slightly more serious shoujo manga but that doesn’t mean it isn’t amusing in its own way or even cute. The art isn’t very inviting, though, but at least it doesn’t look like every other shoujo manga you picked up.
Ristorante Paradiso is a shoujo manga of a different flavor and, if you give it a chance, will appease the appetites of those who are looking for something a little on the mature side. It’s slow pace might seem like a turn off but that is greatly overshadowed by a wonderfully crafted story with a cast of characters that are delightfully engaging. You can bet that we will certainly look forward to Natsume Ono’s follow-up to this story with the upcoming Gente.
MANGA REVIEW BREAKDOWN
Nicoletta has come to Rome to expose her mother for what she is and instead finds herself getting to know the woman that give birth to her as well as the popular restaurant that belongs to Nicoletta’s stepfather. Fascinated by the older and attractive staff of men that work there, Nicoletta not only finds work in the restaurant but also love.
The artwork is greatly original and, oddly enough, works well for a story with a European feel but it might not be everyone’s cup of expresso. I mean, at times Nicoletta looks like a guy.
A sophisticated European art house-like appeal makes Ristorante Paradiso a tantalizing treat that makes this a different and mature kind of shoujo manga. A one-shot story with a charming cast and an even more charming story might be just what you need if you’re looking for something different from the usual menu.
Review copy provided by VIZ Media.