When it comes to Fumi Yoshinaga, I’m fairly used to excellent manga. You could make a convincing argument that Ooku: the Hidden Chambers is one of the best titles, if not the best title in Viz Media’s Sig IKKI line (I might argue that Children of the Sea is better, but I digress). Likewise All My Darling Daughters and Antique Bakery offer a lot of great stories from one of the best mangaka currently in print in English.
Yoshinaga is also one of the few writers that is licensed by multiple publishers here in the US. Digital Manga Publishing was the first to pick up her work, while Viz followed shortly behind. Now, Yen Press has joined the crowd to bring us a one-shot volume of foodie manga titled Not Love But Delicious Foods Make Me So Happy.
Not Love But Delicious Foods Make Me So Happy is part autobiography, part restaurant review.The main character, Y-naga (yes, really) is a mangaka who draws BL comics, and spends almost all the time she isn’t sleeping or working out eating food with friends. Her fellow mangaka, foodie friends, assistants, and previous roommates all meet at nice restaurants and eat while Y-naga expounds on the virtues of young gizzard shad or shira-yaki.
One of the things I found most interesting about Not Love But Delicious Foods Make Me So Happy was that it functions as a restaurant guide. It gives you practical advice about places to eat in Tokyo, and tells you what to expect when you eat there. The afterwards to each chapter give you a little map to help you find the restaurant, along with directions, parking availability, and operating hours. Yoshinaga also gives advice about portions, select foods to eat, and whether or not the restaurant takes reservations.
While this book might be a helpful English guide to cuisine in Tokyo, that portion of the book is almost useless to the non-traveling manga reader. Still, that portion of this book is definitely a nice showcase for Yoshinaga’s ability to illustrate food, although at some places, that ability seems varied. Her depictions of foods in chapters #9 and #12 are very well illustrated, but the sushi in chapter #4 is a bit lacking. This is fairly nit-picky, but important in a food-based manga.
On Twitter, a few manga reviewers said that they didn’t care at all about the food portion of the manga, and focused solely on the character interactions. For readers not interested in foods, this is where any enjoyment, and perhaps the sole enjoyment, of Not Love But Delicious Foods Make Me So Happy comes from. Yoshinaga, as always, is adept at portraying characters that interact in a way that seems natural and polished without meaning to. It was very easy to move through this manga, even when people were spouting off about the true wonder of the food they were enjoying.
I do have issues with Not Love But Delicious Foods Make Me So Happy. First, I am not at all pleased by the way Y-naga and other characters talk about food. Almost every character in Not Love But Delicious Foods Make Me So Happy has moments when they fill an entire panel full of food text. This happens a bit in Oishinbo, another foodie manga, but in this case, Not Love But Delicious Foods Make Me So Happy has taken the act of the monologue to a new extreme.
Another thing I noticed is that it feels as if Yoshinaga wants to talk about her favorite foods, has written a manga to detail them, but she doesn’t want to feel like she’s teaching students or talking down to people. She spends the rest of her time drawing herself as an ugly, frumpy cartoonist or writes insults into her friends dialogue. This is… bizarrely psychological, and not necessarily pleasant.
Stepping away from the content for bit, Yen Press has shown that it has what it takes to deliver high-quality comics. Not Love But Delicious Foods Make Me So Happy is excellently produced, and has high ink and paper quality. The color insert at the front of the book was a nice touch which I enjoyed.
Overall, I think that Not Love But Delicious Foods Make Me So Happy is a fine showcase of Yoshinaga’s ability to write and create good manga, but because of the narrow way that its subject matter is presented, I can’t give this book two thumbs up. If you are looking for a comic that can show you a few good places to eat in Tokyo, then Not Love But Delicious Foods Make Me So Happy is a must-have. For everyone else, this book delivers a brief look into the world of Fumi Yoshinaga, and her food escapades, but doesn’t deliver excellence.