In Italy there is a restaurant, run by a man who loves his wife so much that he only hires older men who wear glasses, since that is what she likes. Readers first met this restaurant and its cast of characters in Ono’s Ristorante Paradiso (released by VIZ in 2010). Those who loved Ristorante Paradiso’s quiet, moody look at the relationships between the owner’s wife, the daughter she abandoned years before, and the waiter who catches the daughter’s heart when she shows up at the restaurant looking for her wayward parent are the obvious target audience for Gente, the three volume expansion of Ristorante Paradiso’s story.
Because Gente is a spin-off, there is very little explanation for who the many characters are. We simply dive into the story, which is a look into the past, to the time when the owner, Lorenzo, first decided to open the Ristorante. First readers watch as he hires the familiar waiters – grumpy Luciano, cheerful Vito, and taciturn Claudio – and then the story shifts to show their lives and the lives of the patrons and chefs of the restaurant. Slowly the tales build towards the present and the end of book two is the beginning of the story from Ristorante Paradiso. That leaves volume three to tie together the stories from the other books, which it does nicely, though not neatly, as that would not fit with Ono’s realistic view of the world.
Fans of Ono’s darker works like Not Simple may not love the lighter, take-life-as-it-comes attitude that she has here, but readers who love food stories or gentle slice-of-life tales are sure to enjoy what she has built. Her art work is more realistic here, reminiscent of her work in her historical drama series House of Five Leaves, rather than the looser, cartoonish style she uses for her other Italian-set manga, La Quinta Camera. The one problem that readers new to manga may have is keeping the various waiters straight. They all look very similar to one another – which is why they were hired, after all – but that does mean that readers might have to occasionally resort to using the guide in the front of each volume. But other than that one small quibble, Gente is an enjoyable series that will appeal to readers who want a gentle, quiet read, as soft and lovely as an lazy, Italian afternoon.