Gente, Vol. 1: The People of Ristorante Paradiso by Natsume Ono
I liked this spin-off of Ristorante Paradiso more than than the first, standalone volume. The problems with the way Ono set up the mother/daughter relationship in Ristorante Paradisio are left behind as Gente just focuses on the way the bespectacled gentlemen of Casetta Dell’Orso started working together as Lorenzo decides to open a restaurant to cater to his wife’s peculiar taste in waiters. I like it when manga tends to display the author’s interests. For example, it is obvious to anyone reading Fumi Yoshinaga that she’s an incurable foodie. After reading two volumes of this series by Natsume Ono, I’m guessing that she only makes passes at men who wear glasses.
A few of the waiters get a stories that focus on their lives and a stories about customers make it into the collection as well. The widowed Luciano juggles his schedule at the restaurant with watching over his daughter and grandchild. An older woman at the restaurant starts to take an interest in him, inviting him to a concert where his daughter happens to be performing. Father and daughter walk home together at night through the cobblestone streets. Vito chats up a neighbor who he sees at the gym. She’s struggling with seeing her sister trapped in an abusive relationship. They get trapped in the rickety elevator in their building and enjoy a companionable game of sudoku. The staff get together to celebrate the one year anniversary of the restaurant, with plenty of companionship, good food, and wine.
Gente focuses more on brief character portraits and the atmosphere of the restaurant as opposed to any overriding plot. For a manga that focuses so much on place, I think one of the most important considerations is if the reader would actually feel like hanging out at the restaurant that is so important to the characters. I did feel like I’d enjoy running off to Italy and having a glass of wine at Casetta Dell’Orso after finishing this volume. Gente featured so much less of the unsympathetic soap opera that marred Ristorante Paradisio, I ended up enjoying the character sketches and camaraderie in this manga without feeling irritated.