By Natsume Ono. Released in Japan by Ohta Shuppan, serialized in the magazine Manga Erotics F. Released in North America by Viz.
Gente is still pretty much a classic example of a Signature title: something with a very narrow audience that Viz nevertheless hopes will do well based on the name recognition of the author. As such, if you're in that narrow span, you'll likely enjoy it. If you didn't like Ristorante Paradiso, you may want to steer clear, as it's more of the same.
Luckily, I am one of that narrow audience, so I was very pleased with the 2nd volume of Gente. We get some insight into our cast of middle-aged waiters, especially Claudio, the head waiter, and Teo, who rises here to become the main chef. The Claudio chapter was especially appreciated as I had a bit of difficulty connecting with him in Ristorante Paradiso. We get a flashback here to him as an awkward young man, one who is "easy to tease" according to one patron, and still very clumsy. His youth and good looks also get him female attention that he really doesn't want. It dovetailed nicely with Furio, who, like Vito in the volume before, is one of those men who seems to have it all together early in life.
The meat of the volume goes to the chef, Teo, and his tempestuous relationship with the one woman in the group, Vanna, the head chef. Since Gente is a prequel, we knew that Vanna, like Marzio from the first volume, would be leaving somehow, as she wasn't around by the time that Nicoletta arrived in Ristorante Paradiso. Teo is particularly uncommunicative, and seems to lack a certain amount of motivation, so these are also the slowest chapters of the book, and can be a little frustrating. That said, Vanna seems to know how to handle him, and I quite liked the mirroring of Teo's father's response in flashback and Vanna's in the main story.
The remainder of the volume seems to be building up to the point where the restaurant was when Nicoletta arrived - as indeed she does right at the end, giving the volume a cliffhanger that leads immediately into Ristorante Paradiso. We get some discussion of Olga, who, as with prior volumes, is shown to be a woman who seems to have it all. It is hinted that the author is not unaware of her failings as a mother - her friend notes that resolving things with her daughter is the one thing Olga still needs to do - but it's lampshaded that sometimes people's lives don't slot into handy moral lessons. And sometimes the best story to tell is one that's in shadows - after seeing Vito and his future wife meet in the first volume of Gente, his proposal here takes all of three pages.
Someting about this series' relaxed, romanza feeling just works for me. Even if it's a bunch of people sitting around talking, and the plotlines can occasionally be frustratingly obtuse, I still feel that it's very rewarding. The third volume is out in Spring, and it would appear, judging from the ending we get here, that the third will be a sequel to Ristorante Paradiso, coming after the prequel of the first two volumes. Can't wait.