Let's finish this up on a high note with something just as warm and cozy as the last review. After all, what could be more appropriate for Christmas Day than a series that's all about relationships and food?
WHAT DID YOU EAT YESTERDAY? (Kino Nani Tabeta?), by Fumi Yoshinaga. First published in 2007, and first published in North America in 2014.
Kenji and Shiro are a loving gay couple of three years. Kenji is a hairdresser who is comfortable with himself, his relationship, and Shiro's fine home cooking. Shiro is a successful lawyer, but he's also far more neurotic and secretive about himself and his lifestyle. It's hard to blame him when he has a hard enough time getting his parents to accept him as a gay man; trying to do the same for his coworkers or the world at large is too much for him to bear. Shiro would rather focus on the things he can control, like his cases, his budget, and his kitchen. Shiro is not only a great cook, but a frugal one, and he enjoys planning out meals and working through each step of a recipe. While trials and tribulations may come their ways, it seems everything in Kenji and Shiro's life seems to wrap up contently at the dinner table.
I've made no secret in the past about my fondness of the works of Fumi Yoshinaga. Her boys' love works are above-average, and her drama and slice-of-life works are some of the finest manga you'll find on the market. This, her most recent series, is essentially the meeting of those two genres, although its appeal will depend just as much on your love of cooking as it will on the appeal of the main cast.
It's rare to see any manga that focuses on a committed gay couple such as Kenji and Shiro. After all, most BL is focused on the rush of new love and the build up to the ultimate confession thereof. Kenji and Shiro are long past that point, though. They've settled nicely into adulthood, where they work all day and come home to talk over dinner about work, household issues, or whatever may be going on with friends and family. This is very much a slice-of-life story in the most literal sense of that term, and it's a credit to Yoshinaga's skill with character building that even these everyday conversations are interesting, letting them give insight to the characters without hammering the reader over the head about it.
While Kenji does get his fair share of starring chapters, most of the narrative focus stays on Shiro. It's kind of ironic, since Shiro spends so much of his screen time trying to avoid drama and avoid notice. It's just that he likes to be in control at all times. He likes to have control of his cases, maintaining his health and good looks, and his home. He doesn't want a bunch of questions or comments from other people, like the ones he gets from his housewife friend when he first meets her family. He doesn't want a lot of misunderstandings like he gets from his parents, especially his mother. She's the sort who thinks that going to a gender disorder support group counts as supporting her son, even as she grows visibly nervous as the suggestion of Shiro bringing Kenji to his parents' place. You can't blame the man for wanting to retreat from all that and focusing instead on where he can get the best price for tofu or watermelons. Knowing that, it also helps the reader understand why these two would stay together so long. Kenji is good at smoothing out troubles with difficult customers, and he enjoys the simple pleasures of life. Thus, he's very good at helping Shiro relax while always providing an appreciative audience for his cooking. Yoshinaga's always been skillful at bringing out the nuances in her characters and their relationships, and that skill is in full effect here. Kenji and Shiro feel like real people you could meet and know, with quirks and foibles that are appropriate for their age and their personalities. The coziness of their relationship makes for a very inviting read.
I cannot emphasize enough just how important cooking is to this story. Where her previous work Not Love But Delicious Foods Make Me Happy was all about celebrating Yoshinaga's favorite restaurants, here's she celebrating the joy of good home cooking. Shiro has a tendency to mentally narrate his way step by step through his recipes, and the steps are so thorough that one could almost use them like traditional recipes. A fairly wide variety of dishes and cuisines are represented, with everything from mapo doufu to baked chicken thighs to strawberry jam, often with plenty of complementary side dishes. Mostly I'm impressed at how easily he comes up with these recipes, considering that he's never seen consulting a cookbook and comes up with ideas on the fly based on whatever is on sale. Still, sometimes the chapters can get a little too lost in the process, and those who aren't deeply into cooking or baking might start to get bored.
What Did You Eat Yesterday? is a rather apt title for this series. It not only reflect the obvious focus on food and cooking, but it also implies the coziness of the relationship that makes up its core. This is the kind of slice-of-life I want to see, the sort that actually feels like a slice of someone's life and not just overly pleasant wish-fulfillment.
Yoshinaga's artwork remains, as always, as finely drawn and nuanced as ever. The characters here still tend towards the sort of square-jawed, lightly lined characters she tends to draw, with a wide variety of ages, shapes, and looks, and everyone is expressive and subtle in their face and movement. There's a lot more background than what is usually seen in her works, even if those backgrounds are mostly the interiors of office rooms and apartments, and it helps to further ground this story in reality. What truly gets the benefit of Yoshinaga's pen is the food itself. Each step is illustrated in almost photorealistic detail, and it's always easy to visually follow the recipes. I've always been a fan of Yoshinaga's artstyle, but this series might be the best match I've seen yet between it and the story. Her particular brand of handsome minimalism lends beauty to the quiet, mundane elements of Kenji and Shiro's life without ever distracting from it.
What Did You Eat Yesterday? is a wonderful, low-key celebration of a loving couple and the life (and meals) built around it. Charm and subtlety abound in both the writing and the art, and I'm so very happy that Vertical finally brought this series over.
This series is published by Vertical. This series is ongoing in Japan, with 9 volumes currently available. 5 volumes are currently available, and all are currently in print.
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