Hello again and welcome to another installment of This Is Why I Can’t Be Trusted To Write a Weekly Column…I mean License This! Because, yeah, wow, a month passed! That snuck up on me quickly.
So although I really want to be writing about some older series (and will eventually, I promise!), this time I will once again go with something current that doesn’t require me to do a lot of rereading to remember why I liked it so much. ^_^;;
Kinou Nani Tabeta? (What Did You Eat Yesterday?) by Yoshinaga Fumi is the story of Kakei Shiro, a forty-something gay lawyer who loves to cook, especially for Kenji, his live-in boyfriend. It’s a slice-of-life manga, with about half of each chapter given to preparing and eating a meal. And as you might expect from a known foodie like Yoshinaga, the cooking segments are really detailed. I mean really, really detailed. She is essentially writing a recipe book here in manga form, as Kakei thinks about each step of the meal during preparation (and actual recipes are generally included at the end of each chapter as well). But it’s not just about cooking. The meals are always well-integrated into the story, and with each chapter we learn more about Shiro and Kenji, as well as their friends, relatives, neighbors, and co-workers.
This is one I’m actually surprised is not licensed yet. Not only is Yoshinaga very popular with English-speaking audiences, but even her random book about eating food in Tokyo was published in English, so publishers are clearly willing to publish anything she writes. And yet this series is already at seven volumes in Japan (at a rate of about one per year, like most seinen manga) and no one’s picked it up? That kind of makes it seem hopeless, and yet I do hope that eventually it will be picked up, because it’s awesome.
With such a long gap between volumes, I often forget just how much I like it, but then a new one comes out and I’m utterly charmed once again. Maybe it’s the lack of clear genres that is stopping this from getting published. It’s a foodie manga (complete with the above-mentioned lovingly-rendered step-by-step instructions for everything Shiro cooks), but the protagonist is a gay man living with his boyfriend. And it runs in a seinen magazine, so while the protagonist and many supporting characters are gay, it’s not a romance and doesn’t feature the sort of BL tropes that so many love.
That’s a feature for me, though, not a bug! When I was younger and desperate for any stories about queer people, I read a whole lot of BL. Much of it I even enjoyed, simply because there was nothing else out there. But those tropes do bother me, and I am always thrilled to find manga with queer characters that isn’t BL (or the rare BL story that isn’t quite so tropey). And omg this really delivers. I enjoyed Antique Bakery quite a lot for similar reasons, but this is far and away the better manga, IMO, at least in that regard.
One of my favorite plotlines so far, which I think is a good example of just how dedicated Yoshinaga is to giving us a realistic view of what it’s like to be gay in Japan, is when a gay couple who are friends with Shiro and Kenji come to Shiro for legal advice.
I’ve taken the liberty of translating the page where Tetsu brings up why they’ve come to dinner:
Not only do I love the way Yoshinaga tackles the topic (something I doubt would ever come up in a typical BL manga), but I love the expression on the guy’s face in the second-to-last panel. He doesn’t say why he wouldn’t want any money going to his parents, but he doesn’t have to. It’s clear to everyone present (as well as the readers) that they must have rejected him.
There’s just so much stuff like that. It’s not heavy-handed and it’s not like all the plots are About Being Gay. It’s just that these things are part of their lives and are incorporated as such. And I love it so much, but at the same time it makes me sad and angry that one reason I love it so much is because there is literally nothing else like it, and that sucks. I really hope that some publisher gives it a chance in English.