Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
What Did You Eat Yesterday?
Shiro copes with a variety of troubles this volume as his mother shares some bad news, his favorite grocery store closes, and he celebrates a bigger birthday than he'd like to acknowledge. Meanwhile life goes on for those around him, with new significant others, new ambitions, and broken refrigerators in the back and forth dance that is everyday life.
Time has been passing slowly over the course of Fumi Yoshinaga's quiet slice-of-life series What Did You Eat Yesterday, something we've been tangentially aware of as the books have gone by. Weddings, babies, and illnesses have been marked, but apart from the fact that New Year's seems to come and go multiple times over the course of the previous eight volumes, there really hasn't been much that steps up and screams, “Time is moving on!” That changes this volume as Shiro celebrates his fiftieth birthday, and if you look back, it really isn't a surprising number. But it does mark a big turning point for the story time-wise, and when we consider Shiro as a character, we can see how much he's changed in the years since volume one.
Shiro has been gradually coming to terms with being gay in a heteronormative society as the series has gone on, going from being almost afraid that his long-term relationship with Kenji would be revealed to the point in volume eight where he arranges a special (and expensive) trip to Kyoto as a gift. At the time we learned that it was in part because his parents asked him not to bring Kenji home for New Year's again, claiming that it made Mrs. Kakei ill in the aftermath. In this volume Shiro goes one step farther, taking his parents to task for their request, which I think most of us can agree was unreasonable, especially since Kenji did nothing to offend anyone beyond being gay. That Shiro is able to say to his parents, with whom he had been strengthening his relationship, speaks volumes about how much he has changed as a character and come to accept himself for who he is. He's still not wearing the commitment ring, but he is now openly talking about Kenji as someone he loves (even if he's only saying that to Kenji, it still feels like a big step), and is willing to do more couple-like things. He's simply become more at ease being in the world, and that may be the most rewarding part of reading this series.
In terms of the other plot points in this volume – which keeps the basic format of all of the others in that chapters are fairly self-contained in terms of story but are referenced subtly in subsequent chapters – would be the first one, about the impending closure of Shiro's favorite grocery store. Given the importance of good food in this series, the fact that his preferred market is about to disappear is of major importance to him, and tied up with that is his odd relationship with the older cashier who works there. While it's difficult to say that he likes the woman, she is clearly a feature of his everyday life that means “normalcy” to him, so her potential loss from his daily routine just feels wrong. Despite the small changes that occur in every chapter, Shiro seems to value a sense of consistency and is thrown off by surprises (Gilbert still flusters him like no one else can because of this), and this hit almost sends him into panic mode. Cooking is the easiest way for him to show Kenji that he loves him, so in his mind, if he can't get good ingredients for a decent price to prepare delicious meals for his lover, he won't necessarily be able to convey his feelings adequately. We see this borne out when he makes the osechi for Kenji, as well as when he thinks ahead about nights he can't be home for dinner. Food equals caring for Shiro, and in the shake-up of his grocery routine, we see that very clearly.
As always, Yoshinaga accompanies the story with mouth-watering recipes of varying degrees of simplicity. A few rely on having a good Asian market you can go to; others will need a little fiddling with the measurements to really make it work, since the chances of finding a 1/5 cup measure feel very slim. (I've never seen one, at any rate.) Yoshinaga also offers additional tips for some of the recipes in between chapters, which gives the story a more personal feel...and the recipes a more plausible air, if you feel you're an indifferent cook. The story, this implies, may be shelved under fiction, but the recipes are certainly not. The only sticking point here that I noticed is that if you don't eat pork, no substitutes for that meat are mentioned, which really isn't surprising, given the relative scarcity of Jews and Muslims in Yoshinaga's original intended audience.
With its delicate linework, detailed food preparation images and text, and a story that slides along slowly so that you don't even realize how long you've been following it, What Did You Eat Yesterday's ninth volume continues to charm and soothe. This is slice-of-life that truly feels like it follows a real life, and every step forward Shiro takes feels quietly triumphant. Whether you're a foodie or not or enjoy BL or not, this is a quietly grown-up manga devoid of the usual tricks and tropes and it deserves to be read.
Overall : A
Story : A-
Art : A
+ Gradual pace starts to come to fruition, Shiro's emotional comfort level has raised dramatically, albeit slowly. Recipes are largely do-able, chapter with Kayoko is a lot of fun. Subtle signs of aging in the characters.
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