I've had this on my “To Buy” list ever since I saw it was by Fumi Yoshinaga. The price was a bit steep considering the thinness of the volume, but I've learned that Yoshinaga's stuff is usually worth it for me.
Shiro Kakei is a lawyer who loves to cook. Every day, he leaves work as soon as he can, so he can hunt down the best grocery bargains and make good meals for himself and his boyfriend, Kenji Yabuki. He and Kenji seem like complete opposites. Whereas Shiro is a saver, Kenji's a spender. Everyone at the salon Kenji works at knows he's gay and has a boyfriend. Shiro's still in the closet at his workplace.
This volume has eight chapters showing aspects of and events in Shiro and Kenji's daily lives. In every chapter, Shiro makes something delicious, thinking about the process and the ingredients as he does so. The chapters each end with a bit of cooking-related advice or a recipe. The translator converted all the temperatures and measurements so that they'd be even easier for Americans to follow. Part of me wished that I had easy access to all the ingredients Shiro mentioned, but I suspect I'd be too chicken to try making any of the meals included in this book. I'm primarily a baker for a reason – I don't do “add a dash of this and a pinch of that, and then let it simmer until X has happened.” I need exact instructions, at least the first few times around, or I'm a nervous wreck.
For the most part, it was nice getting a peek into these characters' lives. If I had to state an overarching theme for this volume, it'd be “The process of cooking a good meal lets you emotionally reset yourself.” Or at least that's the case for Shiro and, to a certain extent, Kenji, as the recipient of those meals. Some of the chapters showed stressful moments in their lives, but Shiro's daily cooking ritual managed to calm things down.
I was on board with this for the most part, but it bothered me in one particular chapter. Shiro learned that Kenji had talked about him at work. What if this sort of openness led to Shiro's coworkers or clients finding out that he's gay? He yelled at Kenji until Kenji, in tears, complained that his boss could talk about his wife at work, so why couldn't he talk about his boyfriend? That stopped Shiro cold, but he didn't say anything. He just got up and started making dinner like usual. On the one hand, he made things peaceful between the two of them again. Kenji gradually calmed down and stopped crying during the cooking process, and the two of them happily ate dinner together. On the other hand, nothing was resolved. I have a feeling this issue will come up again, unless Shiro somehow manages to stop caring if his coworkers find out.
I felt like this volume took a slightly closer look at Shiro's life than at Kenji's, although Yoshinaga covered the same sort of stuff for both of them. There were chapters showing both of them at work (Kenji dealing with a difficult client, and Shiro working on a divorce case for a male domestic violence victim), there was a little about both their past relationships, and both of them talked about their parents. Kenji's parents didn't seem to be a part of his life anymore, but Shiro's were. At first, I thought Shiro's parents were more supportive (overly and incorrectly so, in his mom's case), and he just resisted being around them because they were exhausting about it. That was...not really the case. I suppose I should have gotten the hint from Shiro's earlier phone conversation with his mother.
All in all, I felt this volume had a good mix of serious stuff, humor, and calming cooking moments. The way some things were handled didn't always feel quite right to me or felt like a bit too much (please stop worrying about whether you look gay or manly, Shiro), but I enjoyed the volume overall and look forward to reading more about the characters and their lives.
My favorite quote: “And thus began Kayoko Tominaga and Shiro Kakei's relationship. As partners who go halfsies on cheap edible goods.” (42)
It's tempting, but somehow I'll resist including any of Yoshinaga's other works in my read-alikes list. Seriously, though, go check out her backlist. She has several works that would be perfect for those looking for more foodie stuff.
- The Drops of God (manga) by Tadashi Agi, art by Shu Okimoto - I haven't read this yet, but, from what I've heard, this series is a drama focused on wine. Those interested in more foodie manga might want to give it a shot.
- Ristorante Paradiso (manga) by Natsume Ono - Not a foodie manga, but sort of related. The main character travels to a restaurant in Rome in order to confront her mother, who abandoned her when she was little in order to be with the man who now owns the restaurant. Lots of character-oriented drama. I've written about this one-shot manga.
- A Bride's Story (manga) by Kaoru Mori - Want another gorgeous slice-of-life series? Then you might want to give this a try. I've written about the first volume.
- Oishinbo (manga) by Tetsu Kariya, art by Akira Hanasaki - I haven't read this, but it's come up again and again in my searches for foodie manga, so I'm listing it. From what I understand, it's about a journalist (who's also a trained gourmet chef) and his coworker, who travel Japan searching for the best foods.
- Yakitate!! Japan (manga) by Takashi Hashiguchi - This series is much, much more off-the-wall than Yoshinaga's, but it might still work for those looking for more foodie manga. The main character is obsessed with the art of bread making. The general feel of the series is similar to that of an over-the-top sports competition series, but some (many? most?) of the breads are based on real-life breads. I remember at least one of the volumes including a recipe. I've written about volumes 11 and 12.