My rating: 2 out of 5 stars
I didn’t get on all that well with this one. It wasn’t terrible, but I’m not quite sure how it’s got so much critical acclaim.
The story setup intrigued me: a girl is abandoned by her mother as a child because her mother falls in love with a man that doesn’t want to date women with children. Once she’s grown into a young woman, the girl decides to go and confront her mother (and the man that she is still with), with the truth. Throw in the backdrop of an Italian restaurant staffed incongruously with only older bespectacled men, and you’ve at least got a good hook for people like me who are after something a bit off-the-wall in their comics entertainment.
The main problem I had with the comic though was the writing. Things just seemed to happen because that’s what the author wanted to write, rather than the characters seemingly causing things to happen because of who they were. One example: at the start, the daughter thinks to herself that she doesn’t understand the appeal of the all-older-bespectacled-male waiting staff at the restaurant, but the very next time she sees one of the staff she immediately starts to think how sexy he is. The author could have written it as if the daughter’s mind changed over time, or even that there was something specific about the man that suddenly caught her attention, but in fact she just seemed to contradict herself entirely in the space of just a couple of pages at the start of the book.
There also really isn’t much of an emotional impact anywhere in the book around the daughter and the mother’s relationship, which is a missed trick in my opinion, given the plot.
The artwork is probably going to be marmite to a lot of people: you’d love it or hate it. Its drawn with nib pens in quite a scratchy, quick style. Personally there are moments where I think the artwork is quite beautifully balanced, but most of the time its quite ugly to me. It’s reminiscent of the kind of pen illustrations you might get in a magazine about wine (which is actually pretty fitting, considering the Italian restaurant backdrop), but I’m not really a fan of that style of illustration unfortunately.
All of the supposedly sexy male staff at the restaurant were drawn looking rather similar, so at points they were very hard to tell apart from each other. The choice to give everyone elongated, spindly bodies and hands was probably 100% conscious on the part of the creator, but again, I’m just not a fan of that style of art (it screams ‘I’m out of proportion!’ to me).
So I would say flip through a few pages of this book if you can before buying and take a look at the art – if you love the art then you’ll probably forgive the story a bit. But if you’re a fan of enigmatic tall older men with glasses, you should probably just go straight out and buy this anyway ;)
Bonus side note: although I was initially put off Ono’s work by reading this book, recently I’ve had the chance to watch the anime and read a couple of volumes of another of her series, ‘House of Five Leaves’, which is newer. I wouldn’t say Five Leaves is my favourite comic ever, but I very much enjoyed the volumes I borrowed and am considering collecting the series for myself too, so if you felt the same as me about Ristorante Paradiso perhaps don’t close yourself off to everything Ono just yet. If I do end up collecting it, then I’m sure I’ll write more about Five Leaves in the future :)