Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Gente Volume 1

By Natsume Ono. Released in Japan by Ohta Shuppan, serialized in the magazine Manga Erotics F. Released in North America by Viz.

I enjoyed reading Ristorante Paradiso, the slice-of-Italian-life manga Viz released back in March, but at times it felt more like a series of snapshots. You got the feeling that there was a lot being left out in order to make Nicoletta and Claudio's story be the primary focus. Likewise, after reading the flashback with Lorenzo and Gigi, I wanted to see more about the restaurant pre-Nicoletta, how the crew assembled and where they were before.

So did Natsume Ono, as we now get Gente, a 3-volume prequel to the series. Of course, that doesn't mean that this is any more linear than its companion volume. Reading Gente is a bit like drifting from room to room at a party, picking up scraps of conversation as you go. Luckily, it's a high-class party, and the people there are intriguing. We sense there will be change right from the 'cast' page at the start, which features several people we never met in Ristorante Paradiso.

And so we get an anthology of Gente short stories, which works fine. The volume starts slow, and it's odd seeing Olga, the mother from RP, being treated so sympathetically here, but it works with the mood. Things pick up with a fascinating story of infidelity, filled with tension as you wait for things to break apart, which is oddly unrelieved as they don't. Given Olga's redemption in RP, I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised that not only one, but TWO questionable couples in this volume decide to stay together and give it another try. It makes for a lack of 'big moments', but feels good.

Gente reads well even if you haven't read RP, but there are stories that reward people who know the previous story. We already know Vito, the bald guy with goatee from the restaurant, was married to a college student in the prior volume; now we see how it happened, with his running into his future wife at the gym. This was my favorite chapter of the volume, even if Vito seems a little too good to be true (but then, I am not this manga's primary audience). I particularly liked how we were led to believe that he would be following an abusive husband downstairs to 'give him a good talking to', but in fact what happens is a real discussion, leading to a better result.

The volume wraps up with an outdoor picnic, as the 4 previous stories all tie together with the 5th, which writes out Lorenzo's friend Marzio, who is leaving the restaurant due to a bad back. The sense that we're getting snatches of a conversation is most intense here, when we're at an actual party, but again the closest we get to a crisis is Claudio and his ex-wife meeting, and even that is merely a conversation.

If you like, well, things actually happening, this is not the manga for you. This is a manga about people talking to each other, and the action is minimal. Still, they're likeable people, and there are many scenes here that show rather than tell, a nice level up from Ristorante Paradiso. If there's a fault, it's that things are a little *too* perfect here. It's an idealized Italian world of attractive perfect men, and makes no bones about it being anything else. But I found it peaceful, relaxing and enjoyable, and want to read Volume 2.

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