Saturday, June 6, 2015

Not Love But Delicious Foods Make Me So Happy! (manga) by Fumi Yoshinaga, translated by William Flanagan

Not Love But Delicious Foods Make Me So Happy! is a single-volume slice-of-life, food, and restaurant guide manga. The English translation is published by Yen Press.

Review:

Although I generally enjoy Yoshinaga's works, I dragged my feet over getting this one. I didn't think a restaurant guide/slice-of-life manga featuring restaurants I'd never be able to visit would work very well for me. I ended up buying this during a moment of weakness and a nice Right Stuf sale.

The manga starts with a disclaimer: “This story is a work of fiction. Any similarities to actual persons is purely coincidental. But all of the restaurants in this book are real.” It felt a bit odd, considering that the volume's main character is a foodie named F-mi Y-naga, “who makes her living by drawing men engaging in anal sex" (7). Which sounds awfully similar to Fumi Yoshinaga, if you focus primarily on a certain portion of her work.

Anyway, Y-naga spends most of her time working and likes to unwind by eating delicious foods. Her newest assignment involves introducing restaurants to readers, which gives her an excuse to eat out even more. Along the way, we meet various people she knows. Her current roommate is S-hara, a guy who ended up becoming her assistant because he couldn't get any other work. M-waki is a sweets fanatic who was Y-naga's roommate before S-hara. F-yama is Y-naga's foodie friend, and also her secret (sort of) crush. T-i is a guy who loves eating meat. The list goes on – there are a bunch more people who make brief appearances.

The structure of the volume is pretty simple: two or more people (usually Y-naga and someone else) have a reason to go out to eat, and so they do. Everybody talks about how good the food is and tries to describe what it is that makes it so good. Each chapter focuses on a single restaurant and ends with a page of information about that restaurant: its address, phone number, hours, directions, and parking availability. Yoshinaga also notes how much you should budget for and includes a few other comments about things she didn't have a chance to mention in the manga.

While this was a nice enough volume, I vastly prefer Yoshinaga's What Did You Eat Yesterday? and Antique Bakery. Both of these series include wonderful meals and desserts, as well as characters with complex and interesting relationships. In Not Love But Delicious Foods (etc.), the focus was more on the food than on anything else. Some people showed up for a single chapter and then were never seen or spoken of again. Also, by the end of the volume, everybody was basically in the same place they were when the volume started. Pretty much the only thing that changed was Y-naga and S-hara's living arrangements, which somehow managed to have no effect on anything else. I'm still wondering how S-hara could ever afford to eat out.

It wasn't uncommon for the various meals to make me feel hungry, even when I had no clue what they might possibly taste like. My favorite restaurant out of the bunch was probably Chinese Chakan Restaurant #2 – the illustrations and descriptions made my mouth water. That said, I do think the food and restaurant aspects of this manga could have been better. Chapter 4, which focused on the restaurant Sushi Tanaka, was probably the worst. The illustrations were so small and dark that I sometimes had trouble figuring out what I was looking at. Just in general, I'd have liked more full- or even half-page food illustrations. Also, while I understand that Yoshinaga was trying to highlight good restaurants, it became a little repetitive after a while. Every single restaurant was wonderful and unique. I started to wonder if Y-naga had ever been to a restaurant she didn't like. It sure didn't seem like it.

I would only recommend this to Yoshinaga completists, or those in Japan who are either able to go places on their own (meaning “I don't think this would be a good guide for Westerners with little-to-no knowledge of Japanese”) or who have a guide willing to take them wherever they want to go. Actually, considering that it was originally published in 2005, I'm a little doubtful it could still function as a restaurant guide for anyone.

Additional Comments:

In Chapter 4, Y-naga went out to eat with A-dou, a friend of hers who she only recently learned was gay. It had some odd moments. For example, at one point A-dou said he was bi in high school but decided to be exclusively gay as an adult. I'm assuming he was talking more about dating/sex than sexual preference, but I'm not sure. I did like the end of the chapter, when Y-naga apologized for making her living "by drawing manga with gay themes, but none of them are real gay themes" (44).

Extras:
  • One full-color page.
  • Two and a half pages of translation notes. I didn't consult them much while reading, but I still liked them. Many of them are food explanations. I really want to try Bakery French Toast now.
Read-alikes:
  • What Did You Eat Yesterday? (manga) by Fumi Yoshinaga - A slice-of-life food manga starring a gay couple - one of them is closeted, and the other is very much not. Volumes include recipes, with temperatures and measurements converted so that they'd be easier for Americans to follow. The only drawback is that the ingredients might be hard for those who don't live in bigger cities to find. I've written about the first volume of this series.
  • 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.
  • 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 Not Love But Delicious Foods, 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 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.

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