I’m a big fan of quiet slice-of-life animes. I like cooking shows, and there’s a fair amount of cooking manga and anime that hasn’t made it to this country. And this anime is set in Rome! Who doesn’t like helping anime companies write off trips to Europe!
So I thought the new anime Ristorante Paradiso, currently being simulcast on Crunchyroll, sounded like a definite winner. Unfortunately, no. It’s not all bad, but it’s not all that good. So far, anyway.
Ristorante Paradiso starts with the story of Nicoletta. She was born in Rome, but first her parents divorced and then her mother dumped Nicoletta (then 5) on her grandmother to raise. So that the mother (Olga) could remarry without having any uncomfortable talks with her intended, Lorenzo, who had mentioned at some point that he didn’t think he could ever marry a divorcee. (Whether this is chauvinistic personal preference or him trying to be a good Catholic boy is never mentioned. Since the guy is nice, we’ll assume religious conviction.)
Nicoletta is now 21, and tired of letting Olga live a lie. She comes to Rome to confront her and get her to talk. But Olga is wily as well as exceedingly needy, and manages to slither out, setting her daughter up in a Roman apartment and paying her summer’s expenses in order to buy Nicoletta off.
(I would love to say that this is entirely unrealistic, but given how many beautiful, capable women I know who turn into needy, grasping, unstraightforward puddles when it comes to Their Man, it’s not as unrealistic a soap opera as I wish it were. But yeah, accepting blackmail from even an unloving mother? Creepy.)
Olga tells Lorenzo that Nicoletta is the daughter of an old friend, and Lorenzo welcomes her. He owns a very successful gourmet restaurant, the Casetta dell’Orso. It’s portrayed as a happy place, and Nicoletta is drawn into its homey working life, eventually hiring on as an apprentice chef. (Her nonna taught her to cook.) The cuisine is great, but the true fame of the place comes from its exceptional customer service. Most of its patrons are women, who come to bask in the attentions of its attractive and gentlemanly waitstaff of middle-aged men wearing their trademark glasses.
Yes, you read that right.
Why? I regret to inform the uninitiated that there are a lot of Japanese men who like maid stories, and that this has transferred to butler and waiter stories in anime aimed toward Japanese women. I don’t really care to tease out what part is attraction to formal behavior and dress, what’s loving a guy in uniform, and what is some kind of sick tie-in to submissiveness and service. Likewise, a lot of Japanese men and women have a thing for cute people wearing cute glasses. Likewise, for older middle-aged men. Some shows treat this sort of thing as just an interesting background, but Ristorante Paradiso insists that the women in this show do indeed have middle-aged, waiter, and glasses fetishes. Nicoletta regards this rather harshly at first, especially since it was Olga’s idea to make the staff dress that way; but soon Nicoletta has also drunk the Kool-Aid.
She falls for Claudio, who’s old enough to be her father. (And I have dark suspicions that maybe he is, as Olga seems a tad possessive of him, and we haven’t heard much about Nicoletta’s father.) In the second episode, Nicoletta finds out that he’s really not married anymore and only wears a ring on his finger to keep away predatory customers. Nicoletta takes no hints from this, but basically attacks the poor guy without warning and with obvious intention to have sex with him before she even gives him a first kiss. (In order, she says, to figure out if she really has feelings for him.) (Yup, that’s what she said.)
It’s portrayed as pretty shocking, but what’s more shocking is that Nicoletta doesn’t Learn Better even after her mother breaks up the assault by walking in on it. She tells Claudio that she intends to continue to pursue him, which if I were Claudio would make my blood run cold. (Though to her credit, she does promise not to bug him at work. But that’s not really enough. Me, I’d be asking my boss to fire the crazy sexual assault stalker chick.)
(Again, I wish I could say that this is totally unrealistic, but one does run into young women with some serious boundary problems. This is maybe an exaggeration, but only an exaggeration.)
I have no idea where this series is going. It’s certainly not a cute relaxing feel-good show about Italian cooking, despite the way it’s being sold. It’s more like a wrenching soap opera with a few fun bits included. In retrospect, I suspect the raw-looking style of the art was intended as a warning of this. There seems to be a lot of people treating other people as objects to be manipulated without consulting them; but this does seem to be condemned. Still, it’s definitely for mature audiences. This show is messed up.