December 20, 2010
Fumi Yoshinaga – Yen Press – 2010 – 1 volume
I do love Fumi Yoshinaga, and I love every new volume of her work in English. Even the series I liked the least, The Moon and Sandals, was still pretty decent, and that was her debut work. She could write manga stock quotes and I would probably still like it.
Not being a “foodie,” that’s exactly what this is for me. I actually started skipping the middle parts of the chapters towards the end of the book because they stopped making dinner conversation and I just did not care about the food. There are still three Yoshinaga series unlicensed in English, and it’s quite strange that one of the ones that made it over here first is essentially a manga version of a Japanese restaurant guide.
Don’t get me wrong. I love that it’s semi-autobiographical. It stars mangaka “F-mi Y-naga” and her assistants and friends. Y-naga’s choice of manga genre is yaoi manga, as stated on the first page. Admittedly, it’s been awhile since Yoshinaga’s drawn a yaoi manga, unless Ooku sort of counts (I don’t think it does). There’s a disclaimer at the front that says all the people and events are fictitious, but it’s hard not to imagine the stories as little snapshots into Yoshinaga’s life. There are some really funny and awkward conversations among Y-naga’s dinner guests, and they cover topics from employment to marriage prospects to childhood memories and embarrassing outings. All the chapters are about eight pages long, and all consist of a page or two of introduction, then a meal shared among friends described in great detail, usually with a somewhat personal dinner conversation framing the story.
The stories are frequently funny, sometimes touching, and it is interesting to see all the character relationships and who knows who. But it’s mostly a food porn, and if you’re not into that part of it… well, it’s not really worth it. It’s almost entirely composed of talking heads with no backgrounds, and frequently the characters are drawn vaguely “cartoony.” And the talking heads just talk about food all the time. The only artistic quirk I got a kick out of was the complete transformation Y-naga went through when she went from frumpy manga artist to made-up dinner date.
If you’re interested in the restaurants the characters eat at, there’s information at the end of each chapter, along with price ranges and recommendations for groups. And the meals and food are described in exhaustive detail that almost puts Oishinbo to shame. Since I’m not going to be in Tokyo anytime soon, or ever, I suppose I just didn’t appreciate it.
The fact I finished this is a testament to just how much I like Fumi Yoshinaga, and how she can add a little charm to even uninteresting topics. And there’s plenty to like if you’re really into food. There’s a wide range of restaurants covered, including Western/pub-style, Japanese, Vietnamese, Chinese, and Korean.
But I’m not. Sadly, this is at the bottom of all the work I’ve read by Yoshinaga. I do like the ridiculously long title, though, and I do appreciate the fact Yen Press licensed it and published it in English. And that William Flanagan translated it, no less. It has a lot of end notes and just about everything you could want on food. It’s just… light on story. I’m going to pick Ooku back up now.
I am a little worried about how this volume bodes for Kinou Nabi Tabeta?, a current and as-of-yet unlicensed series of hers. I hope it’s more Antique Bakery than it is this.