Themes of food and family link these collected early works of Natsume Ono.
The first thing anyone notices when reading Ono (Ristorante Paradiso, Gente, not simple, House of Five Leaves) is her unique, big-headed, hollow-eyed, scrawny-legged figure art and her fragile, scratchy linework. Her style can be an acquired taste, but the emotions and vulnerability she manages to convey with it mean that for those open to it, she may become a favorite after just a few panels. Possibly because these selections are from earlier in her manga career (including some dojinshi and previously unpublished pieces), visually distinguishing among characters here can be difficult at times, but the reader’s efforts do not go unrewarded.
Heartwarming, bittersweet, amusing, and ultimately hopeful, Ono’s thoughtful, imaginative glimpses into everyday existence are relatable regardless of whether or not the reader has ever been to Italy (a favorite cultural mine for the author), been adopted, or served time, as have some of her characters. It’s the emotions — anxiety, loss, comfort, joy — that matter. Human bonds — of the blood and of the heart — are a universal language, as is the bond-nurturing nature of food. We laugh at an embarrassed father’s attempts to make his young son eat carrots when he has yet to overcome his own lifelong aversion to broccoli. We smile along with an indulgent wife who doesn’t mind that neighbors think she and her grumpy husband don’t get along, because she knows she’s loved. And we cry when another father’s little one asks him to make the sticky rice in his field-trip bento look like his absent mother — and then can’t bring himself to eat “her.”
These stories may be short, but Ono gives their protagonists full, active lives by letting us see more of them than just a single narrative plot. We catch them in the middle of tangential conversations or silent activities that organically tell us as much about their lives as would paragraphs of backstory. The downside, of course, is that, sensing there’s more to these empathy-inspiring characters than appears on the page, we want to read more about them and are sad to see the Italian “fine” at the end of each tale.
Since these stories, strips, and random sketches were not originally intended to be a whole, the collection can read a little awkwardly and would have felt more cohesive had the author included brief commentaries for the different story-groupings and gallery images (although she does provide a contextual sentence or two for some of her doodles from her office-worker days). But taken as a picture of where expressive, talented Ono has been, and taken as individual, believable moments in her characters’ lives, it succeeds all the same and encourages the reader to seek out more of her work.
While Tesoro‘s content is suitable even for younger teens, the format, mostly grown-up perspectives, and overall quiet tone may be better appreciated by older teens and adults.
by Natsume Ono
Publisher Age Rating: T (13 )