Let's change the pace a little with a semi-autobiographical one volume wonder about life, friendship and good Tokyo restaurant from one of my favorite mangaka.
NOT LOVE BUT DELICIOUS FOODS MAKE ME SO HAPPY! (Ai ga Nakutemo Kutte Yukemasu), by Fumi Yoshinaga. First published in 2005 and first published in North America in 2010.
Y-naga is a hard-working mangaka whose life is nothing but work and sleep punctuated only by meal times. It's only at that time that she and her friends and associates are roused from the stupor of their everyday lives so they can experience some of the tastiest meal Tokyo can offer, and it's around these meals that their relationships change and flow.
Ah, once again it's time to talk about Yoshinaga writing about what she knows best! No, not BL, it's her talking about food! Not Love is simultaneously a slightly fictionalized portrait of herself and a love letter to her favorite meals and restaurants. It's clear that Yoshinaga knows her stuff, as the characters will often launch into monologues about the ingredients and flavors of the dishes they consume. It's also surprisingly thorough, as it's not a celebration of fine cuisine or Japanese cuisine, but of all sorts of restaurants and café. Regardless, she lavishes it all with praise and detail, and it's clear that this book is a literal labor of love on her part.
As I said, it's not entirely about food. It's clearly meant to be something of an autobiography, right down to the fact that the lead is a Y-naga who works as a mangaka. Yoshinaga clearly harbors no illusions about her looks, as when she's on the job Y-naga is downright schlumpy with her bad skin, messy hair, and oversized glasses. It's only when she gets to go out and eat that she transforms into a normal human being and gets to socialize with someone other than her long-suffering assistant S-hara. He and Y-naga have a relationship that is complicated, to say the least. They're not romantically involved, but they did make one of those "if we're still single at 35, let's get married"...albeit one that they don't strictly hold themselves to. They work together, they argue over a lot of things, but when it comes to food they are a perfect match in taste. She certainly doesn't seem to bear a grudge against all those around her who get to have relationships and social lives of their own. After all, who could hold a grudge when there's a good meal before you to be enjoyed?
That does seem to be the running theme to this book. No matter who your company is, no matter how the night turns out, no matter what your own worries might be, there's nothing that can improve your mood than a well-made meal with great ingredients. It's a message that isn't as big and overaching as anything in Ooku or as emotionally complicated as some of the relationships in her BL works, but it's a very homey one and it's one that Yoshinaga clearly holds dear. It's a celebration of her life and her passion and in that sense, and one that any Yoshinaga fan should read.
The artwork is certainly up to Yoshinaga's high (if sparse) standards. The characters are all drawn in her usual style, with fine linework, beautifully rendered hair, and a lot of squared, handsome jawlines. There's a lot more of her signature brand of super-deformed reaction shots than usual, most of it coming from her own expy. Backgrounds are sparse and mundane, as per usual. The only place where she does get details is with the food itself. Each dish is drawn so well that it verges on photorealistic (or at least skillfully rotoscoped), and it helps to sell the reader on why all of these people would be going into raptures over these dishes. Otherwise it tends to be a lot of talking heads talking about food and a lot of mundane adult stuff. It's sparse, but it works with the story as a whole.
There's a color page up front, and after each chapter is a listing of the actual restaurant featured, including a map, directions, recommended dishes, even prices. I'm sure this information was much more useful to Japanese readers than American ones, but it's a nice touch nonetheless.
Not Love isn't the first work I would recommend to a Yoshinaga newbie, but for seasoned fans like myself it's an interesting and unusually personal work from one of the best mangaka working.
This book was published by Yen Press. This book is currently in print.
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