Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Our Dining Table
Yutaka's upbringing left him unable to eat comfortably around others, so he's used to taking his meals alone. It's lonely, but he thinks he's used to it, until the day he meets Minoru and his much younger brother Tane in the park. Tane immediately latches on to Yutaka and his delicious onigiri to the point where Minoru seeks the other man out the following week and asks him to come over and teach him how to cook. Surprised, flattered, and a little hopeful, Yutaka agrees, and before he quite knows what's happening, he finds himself learning that eating with people you care about warms more than just the stomach.
If your heart is in need of warming this winter (or at any time, really), Mita Ori's Our Dining Table is an excellent bet. Another entry into the subgenre of manga best termed “family dining,” and into the even more sub genre of that involving two men and a child forming a family unit (see Only Serious About You for another good example), the story follows the parallel stories of salaryman Yutaka discovering the joys of having someone to care about who also cares for him and eating together as a family. Although it's relatively light on the romance – at least in terms of explicitness and tropes – it's a charming volume about feeding the heart along with the stomach.
The primary point-of-view character is Yutaka, a young man at his first job out of college. Yutaka had a difficult family life growing up because his older siblings resented him being adopted into the family, and one of the ways they bullied him (when parents weren't home, of course) was by telling him that eating with him was gross. As a result, Yutaka voluntarily sequestered himself, and now as an adult he can't bring himself to eat with other people at all. He mostly buys lunch at convenience stores, supplementing it with onigiri he makes himself, and then eats alone in the park. This turns out in his favor when a little boy introduces himself and asks for some of his food. The child is Tane, and he got bored waiting for his adult brother Minoru to finish shopping and wandered off. Tane immediately falls for Yutaka's homemade onigiri, making his brother's life difficult until Minoru agrees to wait at the park in following days in hopes of spotting Yutaka again. Although it's clear that both men find the situation a bit awkward, Minoru asks Yutaka to come to his house to teach him the secret of his rice balls, and Yutaka, somewhat against his inclination, agrees.
This, as it turns out, is all the excuse the two need to begin forming a lasting bond. Yutaka is leery of getting close to the brothers and their potter dad at first, and Minoru is cautious because he finds Yutaka very attractive and isn't sure how he'll react to that. That makes Tane their cupid/ice breaker – at about four years old, Tane has zero inhibitions and isn't shy about professing his adoration for Yutaka and jollying him into making more food, and because the kid's so darn cute (and because he so desperately wants to belong to a family, even if he isn't fully aware of it), Yutaka can't bring himself to say no.
While the story itself is fairly basic, the details of the way Mita Ori tells it make it special. There's no effort to make Tane anything other than the outgoing toddler that he is, for one thing, which makes him actually cute instead of a cute child character. Part of this credit goes to the translator and adapter as well; the decision to make Tane's only speech affectation a tendency to switch syllable order is believable for his age and done with consistency – “Yukata” instead of “Yutaka” and “oginiri” instead of “onigiri,” for example. But the casual comments that Minoru drops about things like Yutaka's brother being attractive but not his type (and Yutaka's face in response) or the implication that Minoru's dad knows his son is gay and doesn't care help to guide the story's trajectory in a beautiful example of showing rather than telling, which is a particular strength of this volume in many aspects.
Ori also does interesting things with the artwork, at one point telling Yutaka's entire backstory as if Tane had drawn it. We see many examples of Tane's artwork throughout the book – he's one of those kids who just draws all the time – and when Yutaka finds a portrait of him that Tane's done, he uses it as a mask to tell Minoru about his troubled history. This translates into the artwork morphing into a child's picture book, giving us the confessional sense that some children's artwork can have while also capturing the idea that little Yutaka is still present within adult Yutaka, holding on to his hurt because he doesn't know how to deal with it. It's markedly different when we get Minoru's past because the transformative moments for him – Tane's birth and their mother's death – happened when he was already nearing adulthood, and the artistic choices made by Ori also help to make that clear.
If there are any real complaints to be made, they might be that for a supposed food manga there are actually very few cooking scenes or details about the food. That's really only going to be an issue for those specifically looking for such genre staples; the story doesn't strictly need them, and actually feels far more natural than many cooking manga for their lack. Because what Our Dining Table really is is a story about two people who need each other coming together. Food is the means for that, but by no means the ends, and if you just want to see a sweet relationship grow, this may be the food-adjacent manga for you.
Overall : A-
Story : A-
Art : A
+ Sweet and charming, Tane is a believable child. Great showing not telling.
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