I remember when I was once on holiday in France, I was on a beach when, amongst all the pebbles and bits of sea-worn glass, I picked up what appeared to be a regular piece of flint. When I looked closer, I noticed that one side had a hole that was filled with tiny crystals; finding it made my holiday. I see each new anime season as being just like that beach. Wade through the excitement, disappointment and indifference, and if you’re lucky, you may find a lovely little gem of a series. For me, Ristorante Paradiso is my crystal-filled rock of the Spring 2009 anime season.
Set in a small restaurant in Rome, Ristorante Paradiso centres on twenty one year old Nicoletta who has just moved to the capital. At first, she intends to meet with the owner of the Casetta Dell’orso restaurant and inform him that his wife is actually her estranged mother; however she soon yields to the charms of the quaint eatery and its staff of older bespectacled gentleman – and in particular a waiter named Claudio. Nicoletta then strikes up a deal with her long lost parent – she will keep her mother’s secret, if she can work as a trainee chef. With a young girl working in a restaurant filled with desirable wait staff, it may seem like the series should descend into little more than another reverse harem anime, but this is far from the truth.
From its starting focus of the romance between Nicoletta and Claudio, the series soon expands into a rich and charming ensemble piece. The anime picks and chooses plotlines from the original manga as well as its three volume sequel, Gente ~ Ristorante no Hitobito~, to achieve a more slice of life route than its source. Rather than concentrating on the short and rather thin storyline surrounding Claudio and Nicoletta, Ristorante Paradiso fully explores its milieu and delves into the lives of its cast resulting in a more mature and comprehensive narrative, which is truly a treat to watch.
Understated, grown-up and elegant, Ristorante Paradiso’s visual design echoes its gentlemanly cast. Resonating with the tone of its storyline, the series boasts a warm, yet muted, colour palette and a slightly watery quality to its imagery, which instils a sense of relaxation, romance and nostalgia. The characters’ large noses and wide mouths provide Ristorante Paradiso with a distinctive style, and while I personally like it, others may not appreciate it as much.
Ristorante Paradiso’s upbeat, jazzy opening theme, ‘Marigold’ by Orange Pekoe, evokes the image of a bustling and trendy Italian café on a hot sunny day. Lisa Komine’s ending theme, ‘Suteki na Kajitsu’, reflects Nicoletta’s more naïve side, though makes less of an impression than the opener.
In addition, the series’ voice cast performs particularly well. From Claudio’s dulcet tones to Luciano’s gruff vocals, Ristorante Paradiso’s seiyuu seem to effortlessly portray each character’s personality.
As the central protagonist of the series, Nicoletta receives the most character development. Throughout the show she gradually matures from an impetuous, naïve and unforgiving girl into a more focused, understanding and grown-up woman. Ristorante Paradiso demonstrates this transformation through not only the awkward relationship with her mother and her connection with Claudio, but also through her work at the restaurant. Nicoletta also serves in part as a proxy for the audience, her slow seduction into the world of the Casetta Dell’orso mimicking that of the viewer.
While Nicoletta’s progression is notable, it’s the attention that the series accords its supporting cast which allows Ristorante Paradiso’s characterisation to really impress. Each person takes centre stage in at least one episode allowing Nicoletta, and thus the viewer, a chance to understand them that little bit better. Ristorante Paradiso leaves no character undeveloped or unexplored, therefore the cast as a whole feels complete and becomes more engaging.
A nice relaxing anime with an interesting twist. I can honestly say this is the only reverse harem I've seen that features older men. I was worried it would be about lecherous old men drooling over a young woman, but it wasn't. If anything, the men are portrayed as sex objects more than the women! It is romantic in a unique way, and the plot is actually quite interesting. The food isn't quite center stage, and it is more about the main character getting her life together. The ending gives me a good sense of closure and leaves with with a warm and fuzzy feeling.
One of the strengths of this anime is the simplistic plot followed consistently through the series and fit around episodic back story and events. The central conflicts are whether or not Nicoletta will reveal her mother to her second husband, whom she left her for as a child, and potentially destroy their relationship and what will become of her crush. That she doesn’t immediately out her mother is her curiosity for the world of Casetta dell'orso, a restaurant in an idealised corner of Rome. Her interest about her mother’s life, a potential and surprising love interest and a revival of love of cooking, put on hold her wish for vengeance.
Distinguished by the mainly older bespectacled staff the restaurant is visited by women that find them very attractive, this is slightly uncomfortable side of the show, there is an element of fetish about them wearing glasses and the throngs of women there to stare at the staff skirts the line between romantic and disturbingly erotic, but then maybe I’m just a little conservative in this area. It is certainly a reversal of the dynamic I normally expect to see which I suppose gives it elements of reverse harem eve if they aren’t all after the main character. Nicoletta’s crush on Claudio who must be at least 20 years older, I actually tried to calculate this at some point, starts off horribly cringe worthy (picture yourself clutching a pillow wincing) is some how redeemed as the series progresses and made, cleverly, a less ridiculous outcome by the episodic representation of successful romantic links that are also often slightly unconventional.
A minor thing, and this might be my inexperience with this type of anime, but I spent the first few episodes expecting it to turn into a yaoi making Nicoletta’s crush made entirely comical. This was mainly because of the intense effort they made to make all the male characters attractive and graceful, along with the soft colours and style of the animation.
Generally lovely this is a soft lit, sparkly, fuzzy sort of animation that fills you with the warmth of small rooms lit by candles and warmed by other happy people. As a slice-of-life character based piece the animation was fine and the exaggerated facial features helped to express the emotions and differentiate the characters through their expressions pretty well. I liked the way older characters were presented and felt they successfully suggested age while maintaining attraction that was necessary to the setting. What actual animation there is mainly depicts food or the elegant and attractive movements of the restaurant staff and their various mannerisms.
However the cgi isn’t integrated very well, and often sticks out, taking your attention away from the characters to stare at a wine glass or some other object that shouldn’t be the main focus. I wasn’t very fond of the texture of clothes which was static while the characters moved and was very disconcerting. However it was interesting and I can see that these techniques with some improvement and finesse could work well if here I found them a distraction.
The savings they must have made on animation has been wisely spent on the music. That doesn’t mean that there are tons of flashy tunes that stick out in their own right but the music is high quality and married really well to the soft focus atmosphere of the anime. High production values (as in actual instruments that are played well, which I’m a complete sucker for, rather than synth ones) and consistent style make it the perfect accompaniment to a romantic slice-of-life, heightening emotion and illustrating the mood of each scene. The music goes a long way to construct what is an endearing if cliché representation of continental European sophistication. It is a little samey which I forgive it for but others might not. None of the voice actors struck me as being very irritating or particularly note worthy which isn’t a criticism.
Being older characters they each have a lot of important history outside of their childhood which is refreshing in an anime. There are lots of complex relationships here as well, the ex-wife that hangs about despite Claudio’s obvious feelings for her, the restaurant owner’s half brother Gigi related through brotherly and adulterous betrayal, the mother that selfishly chose her own happiness to the complete abandonment of her daughter and who is reluctant to confront the issue. Their motivations are generally believable and easy to empathise with, even the confused Nicoletta who despite herself is coming round to her mother. This seems mostly from the influence of her forgiving grandmother, although why she would forgive her daughter for leaving her a child to raise it isn’t clear.
Many of the character’s have historical ties or family ones and the large number of secondary characters are very likeable. My complaint is that overall they are too likeable and soft on each other, Claudio’s refusal to give up on his ex-wife is met with understanding and patience rather than the exasperation I felt. Even the critique of Nicoletta’s inept attempts at coming up with a new dish isn’t believably harsh.
This softness makes Nicoletta’s more excitable and impetuous character entirely necessary as a counter point, although she has an irritating tendency to blush at everything, not just the things she should really blush about. The anime is too short to really explore all the characters in depth but it does well to mix in mannerisms with back story that in large brushstrokes make all of them live a little, even then infuriatingly meek Claudio.
I am certain it is not everyone’s cup of tea; my partner gave up halfway through and would have much earlier if I hadn’t continued watching. Also nothing apart from the maturity of the characters struck me as being particularly original. It was sufficiently interesting to draw me in and after the curiosity about what direction the anime would take. The unlikely relationship won me over with along with the difficult reunion of mother and daughter. The straightforward and clear story held together what was a fairly ambitious number of characters. It is one of those series that on an intellectual level wasn’t spectacular but I was emotionally involved and touched by it. After considering it for sometime I have come to realise that my fascination with the anime is in having to confess that I enjoy a mushy romance more than I previously would have admitted.
Story - In summary, girl falls in love with man older than her stepfather. But this isn't one of your shoujo-type productions. This one actually feels kind of adult. I mean, normally if an anime cast features one main female character and an entire ensemble of guys you'd expect a reverse harem or something, but that doesn't happen here. They don't even have gags. Instead the humour is a sort of light-heartedness and happiness present in the dialogue. That is to say, rather than doing funny things to make the audience laugh, the characters instead infect the audience with their own joy.
Now, it's my opinion that the introduction you read on the main page is horribly misleading. The anime doesn't really tell the story of a courtship at all, except for maybe in the first and last two episodes or so. Every other episode is essentially an investigation into one or two of the cast members, and an exercise in character development. Each character's history becomes a story in itself. The tale seems to be more of one where you get to know the cast rather than one where things actually happen, hence leading to its slow-paced style.
Episodic productions tend to have more room for character development in their cast, since it doesn't have to share so much airtime with an overarching plot line. And Ristorante Paradiso exploits that advantage the fullest. You'll be amazed at how well the cast has been fleshed out and brought to life. You'll be even more amazed at how normalcy has been made entertaining, and how little personal quirks have been woven in.
Sure there's some use of stock tropes here and there (methinks it impossible to name a single modern series that doesn't feature at least one tsundere somewhere), but it's done tastefully and elegantly. It's precisely the sort of understated grace and class one might expect from a streetside cafe restaurant in Rome (although I've never been there, just employing the popular perception here).
Animation - Well it's not anything that will blow you away, and easily the weakest link in the production. The colours are ordinary, the contours unremarkable and the character designs not pushing any boundaries. On the other hand, there's nothing to fault the artists about either. It's, shall we say, perfectly adequate, with no outstanding qualities and no damning ones. You might find the faces a bit strange to look at in the beginning, with the high nose bridges and all, but I suppose they were just trying to give everyone a Mediterranean look. Can't judge how well they did there, but I think I can say that the studio wasn't very concerned about making the cast look good. If anything, they look decidedly plain, even uninspired. Nevertheless, it's a satisfactory piece of work without any crappy art or effects that might distract the audience. Except the OP. That one's fantastic. Look out for Luciano's steely stare as he stands by the side of a street in Rome decked in a coat.
Sound - Both the OP and ED, while not the best out there, fit well into the production and leave a rather strong impression. The tracks played throughout the series may not be particularly commendable, but I enjoy how well they were managed. They did what background music is supposed to do: stay in the background and cast the mood without interfering with anything else. At times, I didn't even realise music was playing until the scene changed and the track faded away.
The voice acting is superb, especially when you consider that they're a bunch of relative unknowns. Ristorante Paradiso's seiyus seems to effortlessly portray each character’s personality through their voices, and do it so endearingly one cannot help like them. I also enjoyed how bits of Italian were mixed into the Japanese lines. Seamlessly done, if not for the subtitles I would have real difficulty distinguishing the two.
Characters - Ah yes. Easily the strongest element of the series. I can confidently say that out of its ensemble cast, there is definitely at least one whom the watcher will take a liking to. Perhaps it is Nicoletta's maturing, Claudio's gentle demeanour, Luciano's gruffness or Gigi's quiet cool. But definitely at least one will grab your fancy.
I'll take it further and say not a single member of the entire cast is dislikeable. Yes of course I know it's subjective, but it is my frank opinion that unless you are heavily prejudiced towards a specific character trope you will not find anyone to hate in Ristorante Paradiso.
I will, if I may, compare this to Working!!, in that both successfully character tropes into their roles excellently without necessarily breaking new ground. But while Working!! took the funny-bone path, Ristorante Paradiso picked an entirely different, more sophisticated direction. And without the random gags stuffed one after another.
Like I mentioned earlier, Ristorante Paradiso is almost pure character development, and as one might expect the cast is given a healthy level of depth. It was a splendid decision by the studio to devote at least one episode to each member of the ensemble cast's backstory; characterisation truly takes centrestage in Ristorante Paradiso and it is an excellent lesson in such.
No cast member is left unexplored or undeveloped, and no question is raised and left hanging. One is left with the feeling that even though there's no way the series could had covered their entire life stories, one knows for certain that the key points were addressed fully. That makes the series so much more engaging and leaves it with a wholesome sense of completion.
A commendable effort I noticed was an attempt to vary how each character's tale is told. Now with a flashback, now with someone else relating his story, now with Nicoletta making deductions based on what she already knows, now through his actions and choices when faced with a dilemma. I completely understand those who find episodic slice-of-life productions tiresome, because more often than not every story ends up doggedly tracking the same pattern. Not so in this Ristorante Paradiso.
The setup here works alright with a short series like this. Even if the plot is farfetched and the main love story is quickly put on the backburner and hardly moves for most of the show it’s still much better than the too played out “girls in high school” setup. And I like it that most episodes deals with developing a character and his/her past one at a time. I do think that it would’ve been nice to do more development on Furio (the chef) and Claudio though.
Animation/Artwork/Visual Effects: 8/10
While the animation isn’t very good, the show looks great. I love how the surroundings look. They look extraordinary, like a beautiful painting.
I didn’t particularly care for the character designs at first, but i quickly grew to like them.
There are some subpar 3D images here and there that kinda takes away the wonderfulness of the background though. I didn’t care for them, they just didn't fit in.
The sound is enchanting and always interesting. I feel that the voice actors all fit with their characters as well. Nice work here. I guess Olga is the “worst” character imo, but she does a fine job as well.
The OP/ED songs are pretty good.
I haven’t really listened to any OSTs this year, but I got a feeling this will stay on as my favorite.
I’m not all that fond of Olga, but imo she’s definitely not a bad characters. And Furio should definitely have gotten more (read; some real) development. I really like all the other characters though. At first I was very unsure of the cast because I just saw them as the usual “bishounen team” that inhabits most shoujo titles, except that these guys are older and more refined. Now, don’t get me wrong, that’s in fact what they are, but with the development they recieve and their “gentlemen ways” they quickly grew on me. I guess I’m not much different from the women in this show, even if I am a guy.
Gigi is definitely my favorite.
The initial premise is a bit silly & farfetched, but once it got set in it’s way it was peaceful and entertaining, and while we got a pretty sweet conclusion, it would’ve been nice if it was a bit more fleshed out. Preferably by (like I stated earlier) fleshing out Furio’s character a bit more and maybe a bit more about Nicoletta’s past with her grandmother.
But overall I enjoyed it. I like these kinds of relaxing and peaceful series. But it wasn’t as heartwarming as Aria or Kamichu, and it was a bit slow at times.