I’ve got a weakness for foodie manga. Yes, it’s a genre of Japanese comics about eating, and by all accounts it should be boring stuff. Typically, foodie manga meshes food facts (the cultural history of a dish, how it’s best prepared) with characters over-reacting to the deliciousness of said food, all within a candy-coated semblance of a plot that only exists to get the characters to eat more and talk more about food. It sounds boring, but it’s not. Trust me on this.
Enter Fumi Yoshinaga’s Not Love But Delicious Foods Make Me So Happy, which, despite having a mouthful for a title (GROAN), is one of the better foodie manga I’ve read. Perhaps it’s the form. Not Love is a series of 15 vignettes that take place at 15 real restaurants in Tokyo. It’s heavier on plot than typical foodie manga, and follows a year or so in the lives of manga artist Y-Naga and her friends as they enjoy phenomenal meals and stumble through careers and relationships. It is very loosely based on Yoshinaga’s life (see the similarity in names and careers between Y-Naga and the author), and features a great cast of rotating characters.
I was particularly impressed with a chapter in which Y-Naga takes her friend A-Dou out for sushi. Y-Naga has written comics about gay characters, but never realized that A-Dou was gay. Throughout the dinner, the two bond over an incredibly illustrated meal, and Y-Naga explores her own prejudices and assumptions about gay culture. It’s a little heavy-handed at times, but nice to see such a subject addressed with some nuance.
Not Love is a travelogue of sorts, but also serves as a cultural document. It works well in translation, providing an inside peek into contemporary Japanese food culture. It occurred to me more than once while reading that I needed to take this book with me as a restaurant guide when I go to Tokyo.
Yoshinaga’s other works that have been translated into English include Ooku and All My Darling Daughters. Both are worth a read as well.
Violence: Next to none, unless you’re a vegetarian.
Sexualized Violence: None
Gender: There are several solid women characters. Y-Naga is a single career woman who, though she would like to settle down someday, is in no hurry.
The Bechdel-Wallace Test: Pass! Y-Naga and her male and female friends do discuss their romantic lives, but also discuss food and personal values.
Minorities: This is a Japanese comic about urban Japanese life. There isn’t much room for other cultures here.
Parents May Wish to Be Aware: Characters do discuss sex and homosexuality, but nothing is overly offensive, lewd, or condemning of other lifestyles.
Review by Erin Polgreen