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.
When watching this series, I get swept up in its gentle rhythm. Ristorante Paradiso doesn’t rely on a bright colour palette, wacky characters, or any other tricks; its quiet nature needs no superfluous decoration. So sit back and relax, and maybe you’ll find yourself agreeing with the old cliché that, like a good vintage wine, men only improve with age.
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.
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.
I had no previous knowledge about Ristorante Paradiso, and didn't really know what to expect from it besides something connected to food and a restaurant. Though I'm usually pretty open to all kinds of series and styles, and this one was no exeption, I'm positively surprised how good it proved to be. Well, without further a do...
Ristorante Paradiso has an interesting consept about a group of older men with reading glasses charming women at Casetta dell'Orso. I think it's an intriquing, new theme in an anime comparing to all the series with a man-and-ten-women-harem or panty shots in every frame or plenty of macho macho men. It's truly an Italian love story, but also tells the stories of all the men in the restaurant, as well as the heroine Nicoletta's. The ending was a bit foreseen, though, it seemed inevitable, but it was also touching.
The drawing style was nice in my opinion, not the one I usually like the most but still pleases the eye. The combination of clear outer lines and soft shading creates a cool contrast, and a huge plus are the vivid and natural colours; no one has purple or green hair. Some sort of comic-like style can be seen in the animation from time to time, and the usage of 3D-animation in the backgrounds adds to the experimental feel. Nevertheless, the episodes were easy and fun to follow.
The music was fitting to the atmosphere, and it was the kind of music that I could picture hearing in an Italian restaurant; jazz-like, sophisticated and harmonic. The Italian greetings and sayings sound fluent and authentic, and the seiyuus do a good job otherways, sounding real gentlemen and putting effort to tying the voices to the characters. The opening theme was catchy to me, but I wasn't that heavily influenced by the music in general.
All the characters were pretty much introduced one by one, and different personalities distinguished very early on in the series. There's a handsome favourite for everyone in Casetta dell'Orso, I think; a quiet blonde, a sporty baldy, a cool senior... My personal favourite is the manager to my own surprise, but who could resist such a teddy bear-like man, who actually opens a restaurant based on his wifes' fixation on older men wearing reading glasses? Wow, now that's some dedication!
The overall score is 9/10, because this was another great series, and also very suitable for a Christmas-marathon, as I was left with a warm, fluffy feeling after watching it. In my opinion it was a little short, I could've watched ten more episodes easily, and sometimes it felt like there was all this potential but some of it was left unused because of the scarcity of the episodes. A good side in the shortness of the series is that there were no recaps, thank lord. Nevertheless, Ristorante Paradiso proved to be just the perfect series to watch drinking hot chocolate under a warm blanket on a wintery evening. Magnifico!