Reviewby Christopher Farris,
How to Grill Our Love
GN 1 Review
A meat-cute date between Kenta and Chihiro leaves them happily wanting to grow closer. But a sudden work-related relocation might scuttle their coupling ambitions before they can even really get started. The solution? Get married now, and then take care of that pesky "getting to know each other" stuff over weekend barbecue dates. It would seem to fit, since Kenta is a certified grilling geek, and Chihiro seems genuinely interested in his enthusiasm for the craft. Is a hot grill enough to keep things simmering between them, or will the flames of their passion die down?
How to Grill Our Love is written and illustrated by Shiori Hanatsuka, translated by Haruko Hashimoto, with lettering by Brendon Hull.
Often, with a series based around providing relaxation and vibes, you have to approach it in the right mood. Coming into a story expecting a denser plot and character communication isn't necessarily fair when something's raison d'etre is the implementation of iyashikei. However, making it easier to be eased in, to inhabit that tone, is the responsibility of the series setting that stage here. If the absence of immersion makes it harder to engage with something on its own terms, it is the work's fault. And given that I pointedly didn't come into the first volume of How to Grill Our Love expecting much more than getting to kick back with a cute couple grilling up some good eats, I don't know that I'm being unreasonable in how I was left distracted by its approach more often than I was invited to hang out with it.
My main issue would be with the way How to Grill Our Love seems to conflate "simple" with "shallow" in its approach to characters and stories. Simple is fine; a good steak hardly needs any seasonings before being grilled to perfection to bring out its flavor. But rather than richly rare, this manga mostly comes off as undercooked. Our leads in Kenta and Chihiro don't have much going for them beyond being smushed into romantic proximity to facilitate grilling as their main bonding method. So even though they're officially coupled off comparatively quickly, there's no tension or chemistry to be felt as a component. It means the mechanic of their fast-tracked long-distance marriage doesn't come off as a mechanic story contrivance so much as it does a shallow fantasy.
The angle of that fantasy was the main distraction, I'd say, that kept leaving me lost in How to Grill Our Love's barbecue sauce. Initially, I could presume that grillmaster Kenta stumbling into having a pretty, successful woman like Chihiro as his wife who accepted his hot-coal hyper fixation was part and parcel to some sort of self-insert setup for similarly styled steak-searing simps. But then you clock that Chihiro herself is more of a cipher than Kenta. The articulated idea is that she's putting up a stoic front for work purposes, with her "real self" being some value of more genuine. But that only manifests in her being seemingly pleased to exist around this nebbish niku-nerd. It takes all kinds, and I'm not here to judge if our leading lady is serving as a projection screen for someone else's kiss-the-cook fantasy.
Except then you get to the end of the book and find out that author Shiori Hanatsuka wasn't even a big grill fan before putting this manga together and that she and her editor had to conduct research from a novice perspective. So was all this assembled at the behest of catering to a potential audience of grill-geared girlfriends? Or was it simply a one-note concept left underdeveloped by the writing of these characters communicating this grill-top trivia? You see what I mean about this series leaving me to wander in its weeds when I should just be able to relax in the backyard with it.
That "who is this for" hanger-on of an issue is mitigated somewhat by the food porn, at least being on point. Hanatsuka's research has allotted her the ability to render some tasty-looking meats. Dishes like the seafood in al ajillo sauce are drawn and described as particularly enticing. They're accompanied by appreciated, easy-to-understand recipes for readers they're surely seeking to encourage to try preparing these for themselves. It does become another distraction when the cooking descriptions bleed over into being delivered as actual dialogue from Kenta. Expounding about grilling is all his character has apart from being a freshly forged wife guy, so when he's describing these recipes in this way, it robs him of even more personality. I get that this is that kind of cooking manga, but this guy does not talk like a real person in these stretches.
It's an approach that means Kenta and Chihiro are mostly robbed of interacting and growing closer over their experience of the food itself, the one thing the manga seems interested in. There's no real sense of them bonding over their reactions to the flavors, except for one early instance regarding Chihiro's mis-mixed curry. The depiction of the food and the descriptions, as mentioned, make it seem suitably tasty. But that only results in feeling shortchanged when the only reactions our leads can muster regarding it are an agreeable "Yep, this sure does taste good!".
A mild amount of storytelling kicks in by the end of this first volume, notching the couple's relationship up a bit and ironically wrapping on their resolve to always be open and sharing about their feelings. Perhaps that will lead to more intimate, interesting interactions in the future, but in the moment, it feels like throwing in one last pinch of salt on a dish you suddenly realized was lacking in flavor. It's probably not great that this story calls attention to the fact that Kenta (and we) have barely learned anything about Chihiro as a person before this point. And it even winds up undercutting some of the more unique appeals of the manga, as the idea of watching a developing couple of adults in their thirties is somewhat nullified when they're still stuttering through the middle-school style struggles of barely being able to hold hands. Maybe exploring how this pair wound up in such an inexperienced status before leaping to matrimony could have been a driving factor alongside all the cooking content, but How to Grill Our Love isn't having it.
How to Grill Our Love isn't necessarily bad in its nominally comforting attempts at a chill approach. It's fine and inoffensive, but it could have worked better simply as an illustrated cookbook with a couple of cute hosts apart from any pretense of characterization or storyline. I can muster an appreciation for something that can communicate the raw appeal of good food alongside a cold beer or a properly paired rum and coke. But when there's so little else propelling the plot of how we get to those meals, you wind up with an exercise more distracting than this translation's odd propensity for switching between writing "barbecue" and "bbq" as spoken by the characters, often through successive pages. More's a pity since I must stress that the style and subject matter made me come into this manga absolutely wanting to like it. But as a start, despite their intentions, they weren't cooking with this one.
Overall : C
Story : C-
Art : A-
+ Food is appealingly illustrated, Recipe tips and trivia are interesting
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