As alluded to in the House of Five Leaves review, Ristorante Paradiso was going spotlighted as part of "Impromptu Natsume Ono Appreciation Month", which came sort of out-of-the-blue due to a series of coincidences. One of the reasons I wanted to choose the series was because it had something to do with food and that Thanksgiving was this month, so it seemed to make sense to follow up the review with it. The show has been available at Crunchyroll since it aired last year, so recommending it was a seeming no-brainer. Only one problem, though…
It's no longer there!
While most of the anime that is present at CR doesn't have any expiration date, a few have, and apparently, Ristorante Paradiso did. I never noticed any indication on its page and assumed it would not have been the case anytime soon. On the forums, however, there seems to have been one, and now that and David Production's other title, Book of Bantorra, are no longer there. If I had know this would have happened, I probably wouldn't have done all of this, but what have you. It was a sudden thing and I did it both for kicks and because I like Natsume Ono's style, both artistically and narratively, so something like this doesn't hurt to do and can be pretty fun, still. So let's make lemons out of lemonade and improvise a bit here!
Since her House of Five Leaves (Sarai-ya Goyou) has already been covered, it will become this month's "Free/Low-Cost Anime Pick" in absentia. In the meantime, let us at least cover a few of Ono's work that is available in the U.S., since this is her month and all…
[Viz Media, Viz Signature IKKI, ANN Entry]
A young man's search for his sister across continents is chronicled through the view of a reporter. Told backwards (which sounds like it could work with the framing of the story), not simple is a single-volume manga and one of Ono's earlier work. Sounds pretty nice, and probably doesn't require a whole lot of commitment at its length. (Click on the IKKI link for a preview of the first chapter and wallpaper.)
La Quinta Camera
Recently picked up by Viz Media, which has also released much of Natsume Ono's other manga, La Quinta Camera was her first, following a group of four single men in an Italian apartment and their new exchange student roomie, who occupies the fifth room in their abode. Also at a single volume, the story seems to hew closely to her latter Ristorante Paradiso, which is similarly set in Italy and follows a group of older men working at restaurant and the young woman that enters their circle. And like many of her other works, it is a slice-of-life tale.
It's a shame that no one can see the anime adaptation of Ristorante Paradiso at this time. Coupled with fine production values and acting, it is a very good, very unorthodox story of a girl who finds love in an older man while searching for her estranged mother in Rome. The latter happened to have gotten married to the owner of a quaint restaurant in one of the nooks of the city, where the older man in question happens be a waiter. The topic of age gaps in relationships can be an icky one to many in society, but in RP, it is handled quite well and carefully. It also has a bit of fun with the subject and, as evident in Five Leaves, in also subverting genre traits and mainstays. The characters, many of them mature (which could be seen as another subversion, given all of the young characters in anime), are interesting and entertaining to watch, but even more so to witness in their interactions and relationships with one another. Though having only experienced two of Ono's stories, this appears to be a common trait of her, in addition to the earlier point on tropes and her use of characters and locations outside of Japan (particularly in Italy, which she clearly loves). While the anime is not around at Crunchyroll or elsewhere at this moment, the original manga is still available from Viz Media, which, like not simple and La Quinta Camera, is contained within a singular volume. However, the story continues on in its sequel, Gente, which joins House of Five Leaves (which concluded in the summer) as Ono's only multi-volume series.
With her trademark design work and character-centric stories that bucks what you would normally expect or see in a manga or anime, Natsume Ono certainly has carved a unique niche for herself. Even in slice-of-life do you seldom see mature characters at the forefront, or such simplistic, yet wonderful, character designs. But above all else, she knows how to make a great story, and knows how to make its unconventionality work. Her style may work better for some more than others, but her works, in my eyes, are at the very least deserving of an impromptu celebration.
Official Sites: settantanove orsi, IKKI Paradise
Additional Links: Viz Signature IKKI, ANN Entry
--On IKKI Paradise's page, click on the series banners in the middle (under "Comico") to get previews of the manga (in Japanese only).
--In the "Galleria" section at the same site are wallpapers from Ono's various works.
--Likewise, at her homepage of "settantanove orsi" ("Seventy-Nine Bears", with a bear sort of being her mascot), drawings and sketches from over the years can be found in the "galleria" section there, as well as the "fumetti" section ("comics", or in this case, 4koma), and in the "fotodiario ed ecc." section ("scrapbook and so on.", aka "blog").
--Viz Signature IKKI has manga chapter previews and wallpaper for not simple and House of Five Leaves. However, the previews outside of the first one are only available for a limited time.
P.S.: I just happened to be listening to Ristorante Paradiso's OP when I started this. Just rub it in, iPod touch… :P