Located on a small street near the center of Rome, the Casetta dell'orso is a small yet popular restaurant staffed by a group of older, bespectacled gentlemen. Nicoletta is a twenty-one-year-old woman who has just arrived in Rome to meet with her estranged mother's husband, who owns the restaurant. She intends to inform him that not only was his wife married once before, but also that she is her daughter - a secret her mother desperately wants kept. When she arrives at the restaurant Nicoletta becomes enamoured with Claudio, one of the waiters, and begins to spend more time there. Despite the age gap, Nicoletta finds her feelings towards Claudio growing; and after making a promise to keep her mother's secret, Nicoletta begins working at the restaurant as an apprentice chef. Now she is trying her hardest to become a good cook, but can Nicoletta overcome the difference in age and win the quiet Claudio's heart?
StoryI 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.AnimationUnderstated, 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.SoundRistorante 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.CharactersAs 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.OverallWhen 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.
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