Welcome to another edition of Off the Shelf with MJ & Michelle! I’m joined, once again, by Soliloquy in Blue‘s Michelle Smith.
MICHELLE: So, MJ. Read anything interesting on the internet today? :)
MJ: HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA. Okay. *whew* Gotta recover here.
MICHELLE: Maybe we can recover by discussing some manga. By the way, you’re looking radiant tonight.
MJ: Why, thank you! You’re exceptionally brilliant, and possibly a little sparkly.
MICHELLE: Why, thank you for noticing. (I’m part vampire, you know.)
MJ: I suspected as much! Well, now that we both feel properly affirmed, I suppose we could talk about some manga.
MICHELLE: It is what we’re here for, after all!
MJ: Yes, yes, it is. So, usually I would save my favorite selection for last, but I admit that tonight I’m so anxious to talk about one of the manga I just read, that I’m going to just give in and go for it. I don’t know if you’ve read it yet, but I suspect you’re looking forward to it. Promise not to shriek when I tell you what it is?
MICHELLE: I will try to contain myself.
MJ: Good luck! As you may have guessed by this point, it’s Fumi Yoshinaga’s Not Love But Delicious Foods (Make Me So Happy), due out in December from Yen Press. As a fan of Yoshinaga’s previously-translated works, I’ve been eagerly anticipating this release for some time, though I knew very little about it, specifically, before I pulled open the cover. What I discovered inside was even more charming than I’d imagined.
The book is essentially a tour of several of the author’s favorite Tokyo restaurants, highlighting each establishment’s specialties, and including details ranging all the way from atmosphere to parking recommendations. What makes it especially rewarding for Yoshinaga fans, however, is that Yoshinaga herself stars as the main character, surrounded by her circle of friends. How much of this is fictionalized, of course we can’t know, but it feels so authentic, the overwhelming sense for readers is that we’re getting a peek into Yoshinaga’s private world, with a delightful view of her real-life quirks, hopes, desires, and of course, her obsessive love of food.
Yoshinaga portrays herself as an aging, neurotic slacker who eats like a horse, routinely spills food on her clothing, and has a thing for cute, chubby men, all of which makes her even more appealing to an older female reader like me. She strikes exactly the right balance between self-deprecation and self-love, warding off any danger of approaching either desperation or narcissism. She’s neurotic, sure, but also keenly self-aware, and her affection for her friends (be they real or fictional) is palpable.
There isn’t a real story to this manga, just a series of episodes moving from restaurant to restaurant, but what makes each chapter come together is a strong feeling of intimacy with the characters and the author’s characteristic banter. Humorous dialogue is Yoshinaga’s specialty, and she uses it to great advantage in this book, stringing together descriptions of complicated dishes in the most natural way possible. …