Reviewby Rebecca Silverman, Feb 14th 2013
Sub.DVD - Complete Series
Abandoned by her mother Olga as a child, Nicoletta has come to Rome to find her and punish her by revealing that she had a daughter before her current marriage. Nicoletta finds her mother at Casetta dell'Orso, a small, high end restaurant run by her new husband and staffed entirely by older gentlemen who wear glasses. Drawn into the polite world of these men, Nicoletta finds a new peace in the restaurant even as she falls for the gentle Claudio and attempts to come to terms with her mother's decisions.
If there is such a thing as “old man moe,” Ristorante Paradiso, based on the manga of the same name and its companion volume Gente by Natsume Ono, would be it. The story's action, if it may be called that, takes place primarily at a small restaurant called “Casetta dell'Orso” (“The Bear's Little House”) in Rome which is staffed exclusively by bespectacled men of grandfather age. This combined with the excellent food makes the restaurant one of Rome's most popular, and if the idea of a grandfather fetish or May/December romances makes you uncomfortable, or if you have a short attention span, then this is not going to be the show for you.
The story follows young twenty-one year old Nicoletta, who comes to Rome to find and humiliate her mother Olga. As a little girl, Nicoletta was dumped at her grandparents' by Olga, who wanted to marry a man who would not wed a divorcee with a child. In a nonendearing decision, Olga decides to rid herself of her daughter and lie to her future husband, something which works out for her until Nicoletta shows up. Panicked, Olga insists on telling everyone that Nicoletta is her friend's child, and Nicoletta reluctantly agrees. Olga then decides to try and make up for this by buying her daughter things, something she persists in doing until the very last episode. For her part, Nicoletta seems to continue resenting her mother, but in a back-burner sort of way, quickly transferring her affections to Claudio, a cameriere (waiter) at the restaurant.
Each of the show's eleven episodes focuses on a different gentleman and his life, all somehow coming back to inspire Nicoletta while teaching her about the restaurant's history, her mother, and life in general. There is a meandering feeling to Ristorante Paradiso, the sense that we are just strolling along with no very firm destination in mind, soaking up the Italian atmosphere. In part this works, but the lack of evolution for the characters of Olga and Nicoletta is a deterrent to the overall success of this approach. One gets the feeling, in fact, that the nominal main character and her familial issues are not at all interesting to the writers, who would much rather explore Luciano's relationship with his grandson or Vito and his college age wife. In fact, much more time is spent lovingly slotting each of the men into his proper moe role than on Olga's realization that she may not have made the right choice or Nicoletta's single-minded crush on a man at one point mistaken for her grandfather. The fact that the only thing we ever really see anyone eating that isn't an antipasto is pasta (so Hetalia was right?) and an odd decision to translate the Japanese honorific term for “patroness” as “Madam” rather than the more Italian “Signora” gives Ristorante Paradiso a sort of Occidentalist view of Italy. Yes, the backgrounds look like Rome and the proper bits of random Italian are dropped into the dialog, but this is a romantic vision passing itself off as the real thing. (That it is meant to have some claim to authenticity is borne out by the background art and the fact that three of the extra features are devoted to scenery of Rome from the show.) Perhaps it is foolish to complain about such things; however as a reader of Ono's manga, one might have hoped for better.
On the subject of the transition from anime to manga, Ono's art does benefit from the anime's streamlining of her character designs, even if Nicoletta does look a little like Nami from One Piece. The rest of the animation is a mixed bag, with watercolor styled backgrounds looking better than the CG ones and moments of computer animation occasionally breaking the moment, such as when sauce takes on a hardness as if it is being laid on a plate rather than poured. Color choices are interesting, with most of the palate being in muted tones with the occasional burnt orange or red showing through. The characters are outlined in black, which does stand out, although not to the degree of Uta Koi; just enough to give them an edge over the backgrounds. Voice work is competent but not remarkable; to be fair, the actors were not given a lot in the way of emotions or plot points to work with.
Perhaps Ristorante Paradiso is best summed up by the remark a young guest of Luciano's grandson makes when he visits and finds most of the staff there: “You sure have a lot of butler!” Doubtless it would rather be remembered for the later line “Love takes all shapes and sizes,” but ultimately this show feels like it is catering to the butler fanatics. Between Olga and Nicoletta's stagnant relationship, the fabricated and clearly typed charms of the men, and the way the show makes being a waiter sound like a vocation to which one aspires (to be fair, any disdain for this idea may be cultural), Ristorante Paradiso is a show for a very clear set of viewers. So if you enjoy watching older gentlemen wear glasses, smile gently, and romance ladies young and old while serving them pasta and wine against the backdrop of Rome, you will probably enjoy the series. If none of these things sound appealing, however, then stroll on by and find yourself a seat at another table.
Overall (sub) : B-
Story : C+
Animation : C+
Art : B
Music : B
+ Ono's characters make a good transition from manga to anime, Roman backgrounds are nicely done. Lucky Penny's extras are quite good, particularly the glossary on disc one.
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