There is a Japanese saying that goes, "Hana yori dango," or "dumplings over flowers." And no one is more of an advocate of this adage than mangaka Y-naga, a woman whose life revolves around her intense work and equally intense sleep schedule. The only thing that can rouse her out of this infernal cycle of deadlines and being dead to the world? Food. As Y-naga and her friends visit restaurants around Tokyo to satisfy their appetites, their individual approaches to food add an extra dimension to their witty and comical interactions. Friendships are explored and lifestyle choices revealed, all over exquisite culinary creations that prove that variety on an empty and open-minded stomach is, indeed, the spice of life.
Acclaimed mangaka and Eisner Award nominee Fumi Yoshinaga (Antique Bakery, Ooku) brings a quirky cast of characters and a delectable assortment of actual Tokyo restaurants to life in this homage to two of the greatest things life has to offer: friendship and food!
This Yoshinaga roll I'm on keeps getting better and better. While All My Darling Daughters was thoughtful and poised with great drama and heart to it, I want a change of pace, dammit! I want a no holds barred all out crazy ride! I want brainless action and gratuitous fan service! And Not Love.. is NOT that kind of title! If you want that, read this!
However, in Not Love...'s favour, if you want a great side story surrounding the act of food restaurant crawls then this is right up your alley. With "fictional" manga-ka F-mi Y-Naga, the author may or may not be presenting her real life to us. How much of Yoshinaga's real life is in here, is anyone's guess. But anyway, the point of the story is that Y-Naga when she's not doing manga of some sort, goes with her friends and roommate, S-Hara to various restaurants and eateries to sample, enjoy and discuss the food on display.
I love the off kelter take the book has. When we are introduced to Y-Naga, it describes her as making a living "by drawing men engaging in anal sex" and then proceeds to make her both attractive and ugly while showing that really other than food she really doesn't have it together. And the people around her are just as bad if not worse. Her roommate, S-Hara, is also one of her assistants and he's just as scatterbrained as she is insofar as he not only tolerates her eccentricities but actually doesn't care anymore. So their life revolves around work then food and Y-Naga eating like a slob. But the book doesn't go out of its way to show you their lives all that much. Oh, no. The book does something far, far better.
It's only goal in life is to sell you food. Mountains and mountains of it. Fumi Yoshinaga went around the eateries and restaurants in Tokyo and wrote down or took pictures of the food, drew the maps to show how to get there and also wrote the side notes of what to expect when you get there, what you should order and how much you'll expect to pay. With this winning idea, Yoshinaga then begins to spin her web about the characters as they make their way through the menu in front of them and in life. The food on display really is delicious looking. From Korean barbecue, Italian starters, ice cream to New York Chocolate bread, it's all mouth watering stuff. I want to eat everything they eat! Every meal is described in loving detail and Yoshinaga shows that she sampled every single thing because the way she draws the food and has the characters give their reactions couldn't have been found in a book.
The characters themselves are as packed together as the food has ingredients. Y-Naga is probably, and I say probably with reserve, the author in real life. But she's (Y-Naga) a little extreme to be the real girl. Also the way Yoshinaga depicts her is as crazy. Y-Naga goes from being frumpy to wanton to chic in 200 odd pages. She can't do anything for herself that doesn't revolve around food. She need help with her work, her life and her friends. She misses that one of her friends is gay. But still she cares for her friends and tries her best understand them. And we love her for trying. Usually in the mornings, she's drawn with a headband on, bedhead hair and Henry Kissinger glasses. S-Hara at times, just the same as Y-Naga, is depicted as being an attractive man and then being nondescript. The rest of the rest doesn't get the same kind of on/off treatment so I can't comment on the authors thoughts about the other characters.
I'm not going to lie to you. Not Love... is never going to be on many top ten lists in most manga fans books. But the fact that it's published in English and that it exists is more than enough for me to like it. The fact that it's quirky characters and amazing concept drew me in as well as it did, speaks to the strengths of the author. It's a great introduction to Yoshinaga and I recommend it to people unfamiliar to her works.
This is part of the August MMF (Moveable Manga Feast), where bloggers and writers discuss a particular title or author. This month's author is Fumi Yoshinaga and you can find the directory for all the reviews and opinion pieces, here.