Iron Chef Italy

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Jan 032012
 

My little exploration of David Production’s stuff was short-lived. Turns out they’ve only done two series that I hadn’t seen yet. Dogs was the first, and Ristorante Paradiso’s the second.

This is likely the first and only time I’ll ever make this comment: the one about the middle-aged dudes in a restaurant was better than the one about the amoral badass assassins.

I’m not much for “slice of life” stuff. Y’all know that by now. No need to go off on that rant again. So when I realized Ristorante was playing up that angle, I wasn’t too enthused. Granted, the subjects of the series are a bunch of dudes in their 40′s and 50′s who work at a small, upscale restaurant in Rome, so it wasn’t like it was the usual “obnoxious gaggle of walking schoolgirl stereotypes,” but I was still worried that the dreaded cloud of banality was gonna rain down on me. The series has a few of those moments, where things fixate on a plate of food for just a little too long and little “heartwarming” details like that, but for the most part the series is more concerned with having relationships play out.

Ristorante is more about dealing with divorce, marrying late in life, dealing with being a widower, and dealing with irresponsible family members. Once I realized that, I was no longer afraid of the threat of banality. Instead, I was worried that the series would resort to something that can often be worse: melodrama. The main character is a young twentysomething girl who kinda wants to get back at her mother for ditching her when she was a little kid to marry some guy. Catch is that said guy wasn’t interested in a woman who already had kids, so the mother played it as if she was never married and never had kids. Were this your usual shoujo or josei anime, this would result in pitched screaming fits, dramatic scenes of running away while crying sparkly tears, and other trademark “This is tailor-made to make you sad, you easy to manipulate puppet! Dance and cry for me!” moments. Instead, Ristorante plays things out way more coolly. The daughter’s pissed at the way her mother behaves, but she’s far too stubborn and far too smart to resort to that shit. She plays it to her advantage and basically blackmails her way into a job at her mom’s restaurant– “Get me a job and I don’t tell your husband you’re used good” is her game plan, and she gets away with it. The mother and daughter have some tension between them, but it thankfully never erupts into a pity party or a shouting match. Save for the final episode, but even then it’s toned down far more than what I’m used to seeing in these sorts of dramas.

While all that’s going down, the main girl also starts to develop feelings for one of the waiters at the restaurant. The guy’s recently divorced but still has lingering feelings for his ex. What’s cool about the interaction between the girl and the waiter is that age isn’t really a factor. None of the supporting cast gives them dour looks or speaks behind their back about how uncouth it is for two people who are at least thirty years apart to have a thing for one another. The nature of their attraction is never a source of unneeded drama. Hell, one of the other guys working at the restaurant is married to a girl more than half his age. They address the age issue, but it’s never about that difference. Once the other characters catch on to their obvious feelings for one another, it’s more a matter of them encouraging the two to either fess up or move on– no need to lead anyone on or anything else that can hurt their feelings. And the girl even makes a move early on, clumsily trying to seduce the guy to no avail. They don’t end up as an out-and-out couple at the end of the series, but they actually act on their feelings and deal with their issues. It’s basically the exact opposite of how romances usually play out in anime.

In the end, Ristorante isn’t about trying to be heartwarming or healing, and it isn’t about amping up the drama factor. It’s about what these sorts of slice of life/romance anime should focus upon: people interacting with other people in interesting ways. It’s the exact same shit that makes for a good sitcom. I love Working because the characters play off of each other in an entertaining and amusing way. Their little relationships and conflicts make it worthwhile. The same goes for Ristorante. It’s hardly thrilling, and it isn’t exactly a comedy, but the way the characters deal with one another’s issues and such was genuinely compelling.

So, in its own way, Ristorante helps support my little theory. Every other series David Production has done has been some sort of action-adventure story with its own distinguishing quirks that made them stand out, but Ristorante bucks trends by handling slice of life situations in ways you rarely see in anime.

Also: I went ahead and read the first chapter of the Inu x Boku, the new series that David Production is doing. First appearances make it look like yet another “girl protected by a bishounen” sort of thing, but it has its own quirks to it. The first chapter dealt with dudes robbing tenants of the girl’s apartment complex and a shy girl turning into a giant skeleton. Haven’t read past that first chapter, but it looks like Inu x Boku might have its own tinge of weirdness to it.

Also Also: Yeah, all the dudes in Ristorante Paradiso wear glasses. That little bit is dismissed pretty quickly, since the first episode outright says that it’s due to the mother’s fetish for older men in glasses. And yet her current husband has perfect vision. Goes to show that your fetishes are just that.