Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Beauty and the Feast
GN 2 & 3
Shuko has found a new domestic purpose in life in feeding her high school boy neighbor Yamato, and that continues to bear fruit for both of them. Shuko's gentle, big sisterly nature helps Yamato cope with the bullying of his baseball coach and just the issues of being a hungry teenager, while Yamato provides Shuko with a comfortable way to lessen her grief and isolation, even if his hormones get in the way a few times. The kitchen is the heart of the home – and for both Shuko and Yamato, food has become the backbone of their increasingly comfortable familial relationship.
Beauty and the Feast is translated by Sheldon Drzka and lettered by Ken Kamura.
If home is where the heart is, the kitchen and dining table are where the heart beats. Even with a few missteps, these two volumes of Satomi U's gentle foodie manga continue to exemplify that, especially since volume three lets us know that Yamato's mother is fully aware of Shuko's role in her son's life and has taken steps to ensure that he's not being a problem for his neighbor.
That's one of the nicest revelations in these two books—it would have been very easy for the creator to play it like many another work of fiction has, by having Yamato's mother be completely absent from the narrative or having her concerned that some smut novel Jezebel (as Rui refers to Shuko at one point) is preying on her poor helpless baby boy. Instead, we learn that she's made sure that Yamato is paying Shuko for groceries, isn't being a brat, and she herself sends Shuko some very fancy steak as a thank you gift. While we don't meet the woman, what we learn about her assures us that Yamato does in fact have a caring family who is paying attention, and that she's perfectly aware that all that Shuko's doing is keeping an eye on her son to make sure that he's eating well.
If Yamato's precocious younger sister Sakura is less convinced, that's because she knows her brother in a different way. She's aware that their mother is sending him grocery money; she just doesn't trust that Yamato is actually giving it to Shuko. She's seen how much he eats, and there's a sense that she's concerned that her brother is taking advantage of the nice woman next door to eat her out of house and home. That he's not great at calling the family (when Sakura appears on his doorstep, it's because he hasn't called for a week) only exacerbates her worries; a piece of her may realize that his baseball team keeps a punishing practice schedule, but she's not going to be comfortable until she's seen him (and Shuko) for herself.
Unlike her brother, Sakura is trying very hard to be the most mature person she can be, and that touches Shuko's heart in a different way—given what we learn about how she met her husband at the end of volume three, she may see herself in the serious little girl. That means that having the chance to feed Sakura as well as Yamato is like connecting with her younger self as well as feeling like she has a family for a day. Shuko may be saving Yamato's stomach, but her involvement with him is saving her heart as well.
In light of how strong the familial aspects of volume three are, the lows of these two books feel even lower. Volume two has more of them, with the whole “I'll dress like a teacher and tutor him” bit seeming the most dissonant. That's more because it's far outside of Shuko's character wheelhouse; she's more invested in a familial relationship with Yamato while the teacher chapter plays into a different type of dynamic that feels out of place here. The reveal that Shuko's terrified of roaches is another very stale beat we get in volume two (and briefly in volume three); it smacks of an attempt to make her “cuter” in a way that's at odds with the rest of her characterization.
Her self-image issues, on the other hand, could be read either in the same basic way as the fear of cockroaches or as a statement on how she tied all of her value to her husband; referring to herself as “middle-aged” at twenty-eight is either very sad or very silly, even by manga standards, which tends to reserve the moniker for the age of thirty-five (which is still ludicrous). The weight loss chapter is a touch less excusable, again feeling like an attempt to cutesify a character who really doesn't need it, although it is nice to see Yamato be the more confident character for a change.
That's doubly true because of the treatment he faces at the hands of his coach in the third volume. The man suddenly begins being much harder on Yamato, extending his practices with punishments that in no way feel healthy, either physically or mentally. That Yamato brushes it off to Shuko is a realistic detail; that the coach has been doing this for years, choosing a different scholarship student each time, makes me hope that Shuko will notice and say something to Yamato's mother. It's clear that this is taking a major toll on Yamato's health and stamina—he collapses the second he walks in the door at one point—so hopefully it will be revisited and addressed in a future volume, especially since it could be another good familial moment for our leads.
The side characters in these two books likewise are stronger in volume three than volume two, with Rui being the standout. Her obsession with both baseball and Yamato can cross some lines, so the chapter in the third book where she decides (after a totally unfounded dream) that if Yamato likes MILFs, she'll just become one, is a very funny send-up of her obsessive personality and her own immaturity while also offering her a chance to see that Shuko isn't the man-eating vixen she assumes. Shuko's friend Yuri is only present in volume three and that chapter is among the weakest in the book. It's nice to be reminded that Shuko has a friend her age, but the woman still comes across as being fairly obnoxious without a lot of respect for Shuko's personal space, though this is very much a “your mileage may vary” situation.
Beauty and the Feast, for the most part, continues in these two books to be a warm-hearted series about found family and the comforts of having someone to eat with. It tackles family recipes versus what's normal for everyone else, how much Yamato's family actually knows, and the simple joys of having something to look forward to at the end of the day. The art can be awkward and there are some truly annoying side characters, but mostly this is just good old-fashioned comfort reading, and that's a very nice thing indeed.
Overall : B
Story : B
Art : B-
+ Warm-hearted, very funny Rui chapter in volume three. Nice to see that Yamato's family knows what's going on.
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