A little while ago, I found that I was quite fond of the works of Natsume Ono. Her style has this laissez-faire attitude that invites the reader to read between the lines and relies just as much on the characters’ attitudes to tell the story as their words or actions.
It’s not for everyone. I have disappointed a few people with my enthusiastic recommendation of ACCA-13. However, I think her literary style and precisely deliberate delivery make her stories a fairly unique experience. I also love Natsume Ono’s art. So there’s that.
Why I Picked up Ristorante Paradiso
I picked up Ristorante Paradiso because I wanted to read a bit more of Natsume Ono’s works. His one stood out in particular because not only was it pretty easy to find, it’s complete in one volume. I’m a sucker for low investment.
When Nicoletta was a little girl, her mother, Olga, abandoned her and ran off to Rome to remarry. Now, 15 years later and a young woman, she travels to Rome with the intention of ruining her mother’s life. She tracks Olga down to a restaurant called Casetta dell’Orso, but the second Nicoletta steps through its door, everything changes. It’s a peculiar place staffed entirely by mature gentlemen wearing spectacles, and like their clientele, she is helpless against their wise smiles and warm voices. Before Nicoletta realizes it, her plans for vengeance start to fade, and she’s swept up in the sweet romance of everyday Italian life.
My First Impression
This is what I get for not reading the synopsis before getting a manga. A surprise! But was it a good surprise?
For some reason, I went into this book convinced that the official summary was something along the lines of Come discover the eccentric staff of a charming little Italian restaurant tucked away in a small corner of the city. Something along those lines. I was expecting Big Night (link) but with the dry tone, I got to know in ACCA-13. And that sounded amazing.
It still sounds amazing, doesn’t it?
But that’s not what I got. I got an exploration of mother-daughter relationships, coming of age, and unconventional romance through the flawed and impulsive character of Nicoletta. To be fair, that’s exactly what the official synopsis said I would get. But it seems I have issues reading… (So naturally, I review manga)
The thing is, just because a story is not what you expected it t be, doesn’t mean it’s bad. And Ristorante Paradiso is not a bad story at all. The pacing is nice and brisk, I ended up reading the entire thing in about an hour during a commute. The characters remain a bit mysterious, which is a nice way of saying there isn’t time to really delve in deep into all of them, but they are very well-written and feel like rounded, complex individuals. Well except for a few that we barely get to know at all.
However, those individuals are flawed and even occasionally unlikeable. The characters in this manga can be abrasive and selfish. As is often the case in the manga I review, if you are looking for idealized people, these might come off as borderline unpleasant. But they do feel real and I love the way Ono crafts characters in general.
Even though it is a short manga, Nicoletta’s character arc ends up being very satisfying. She starts off aloof and obviously hurt and lost and really blossoms into a lovely young lady. Olga’s arc is nice as well although I think it might lack some depth for some readers, especially considering the subject matter.
I looked it up and Ristorante Paradiso has both a spin-off manga and an anime adaptation. I’m not in any hurry to read the manga. I feel like the story is complete and although I do think it could have used more depth, going over the same characters in a different context seems superfluous to me. Make of that what you will.
On the other hand, I will watch the anime for sure. Not only because I like anime but I’m also very curious how they managed to adapt this short 7-chapter manga that I read in under an hour without hurrying, to 11 full 22-minute episodes. It sounds both intriguing and ominous.
All in all, if you like Natsume Ono’s style, Ristorante Paradiso is worth picking up. If you’re not sure though, I would opt for a digital version.