What They Say:
When Nicoletta was a little girl, her mother, Olga, abandoned her and ran off to Rome to remarry. Fifteen years later and now a young woman, Nicoletta travels to Rome with the intention of ruining her mother’s life. She tracks Olga down to a restaurant called Casetta dell’Orso, but the second Nicoletta steps through its door, everything changes.
It’s a peculiar place staffed entirely by mature gentlemen wearing spectacles, and she, like their clientele, is helpless against their wise smiles and warm voices. Before Nicoletta realizes it, her plans for vengeance start to fade, and she’s swept up in the sweet romance of everyday Italian life.
Contains all 11 episodes!
The audio presentation for this release is relatively simple as one would expect as we get the original Japanese language in stereo encoded at 192kbps. The series is all dialogue driven with some small, subtle and well done music cues throughout and the work as a whole has a warm and good feeling to it, but it’s the kind of mix that won’t stand out in a flashy way as it’s just not appropriate. But it hits all the marks its supposed to with good dialogue that’s well placed, balanced properly and with the right depth. The music swells a bit more, relatively speaking, when it comes to the opening and closing sequences and that helps to bookend it pretty well. The main show has a good flow to it and the series as a whole worked well. We had no problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.
Originally airing in the spring of 2009, the transfer for this eleven episode series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is enhanced for anamorphic playback. The series is spread over three discs in a four/four/three format, giving it plenty of room for the main show and the few extras. The series is animated by David Production and has a very good look here as it draws on the original work where the characters hare more detail and a particular look. The animation isn’t flashy, but it’s mostly just standing around talking anyway, and it comes across quite well here. The design of the show spends a good bit of focus on the backgrounds and the food as well and as a whole, it all ties together well and looks like one would expect for a DVD release. Colors are generally solid, line noise is a non-issue and there were no cross coloration issues either.
The packaging for this Lucky Penny release of the series comes in a standard sized single keepcsae that has all three discs placed against the interior walls, two of which are overlapping. The front cover artwork is appealing as it uses the regularly seen piece of the main cast together eating a staff meal together in the restaurant where the architecture is as much a character as the rest of them. It shows off the style of the show easily and that it’s quite male heavy, but not traditionally so. The logo uses the same as within the show and it has an appealing look as it has the wrought iron look and uses both languages to list out its title. The back cover is laid out in a traditional manner with the right side showing off a few varied shots from the show, from characters to settings to food, while the left gives us a brief summary of the overall premise of the show. The peisode count is clearly listed and we get a nod towards the original authors other works. The discs features are clearly listed and the technical grid provides all the information in a decent if non-traditional way. No show related inserts are included nor is there a reversible cover.
The menu design for the show works nicely as it changes things up for each volume a bit while sticking to the same design layout. The left side gives us different configurations of characters and settings that showcases the look and feel of the show while the right side has the navigation selections that gives it that almost but not quite “menu” feel that it should it have, a touch of class and elegance without it being so overly polished and perfect. The color palette works off of the show itself with softer earth tones and the layout as a whole is quite inviting as it sets the mood. Submenus load quickly and accessing everything works smoothly, from episode selection to the extras themselves. Being a monolingual release, the show doesn’t have any language options but you can turn the subtitles off on the fly.
The extras for this release are spread across all three discs and we get some decent stuff here overall. The standards are here in the clean versions of the opening and closing sequences but we also get things like TV commercials, the trailers and some good galleries to go through for the settings in backgrounds and overall scenery. There’s also a good, brief selection of liner notes included to cover some of the more very series specific material.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Based on the single volume manga of the same name from Natsume Ono that ran back in 2005, Ristorante Paradiso is an eleven episode series that takes us to Rome. And not just any part of Rome, but a little place off to the side, out of the way, with a decent bit of foot traffic but not the hustle and bustle of a big city. This series is about the small moments, the characters, the interactions and the setting. But the intimate setting. And it’s not about Japan, which is a welcome change of pace, as the cast here is entirely from the area and not someone visiting and swooping in to discover this amazing foreign world. What we get here is something that just dabbles in a particular part of the world with those that inhabit it and aren’t looking at it through some strange foreign lens in order to interpret and make sense of it all.
The series takes place with a small restaurant off of the main center of the city called Casetta dell’Orso. It’s a curious little restaurant overall in that the place has an all male staff at the start and they’re all generally older, including one or two that are grandfathers. They’re well dressed, definitely have individual followings as they serve, cook and otherwise run the place for the owner, a man named Lorenzo, but they almost all also wear glasses to give them a bit of character. That particular fetish comes from the owner’s wife, Olga, a woman he married some fifteen years prior that loves older men and the kind of look that the glasses give them. Lorenzo has long worked to please his wife, within reason, as he deals not just with the restaurant but also a small winery that he owns. The two have a solid relationship and there’s a real sense of comfort, especially among the staff since so many of them have worked there for years and years now.
What throws things off a bit is when a young woman named Nicoletta arrives at the restaurant. At twenty-one, she’s graduating from cooking school and is looking for some work, but she has an ulterior motive. She’s actually Olga’s daughter from a previous marriage, one that Olga hid from her current husband due to his distaste for such things happening based on his own history, which comes in much later. Olga’s panic is real when she realizes what’s going on, but Nicoletta isn’t there to truly spill the beans. She wants to, but she also wants to learn more about her mother, Lorenzo and cooking itself. And she’s also intrigued by the staff at the restaurant, falling rather quickly for the cameriere named Claudio, who himself has been divorced for a few years but had no children. With Lorenzo unaware of who Nicoletta is, she becomes the first female staff member there in a few years and begins her journey to understanding many things.
But it’s not a series that’s designed around big moments in order to provide reveals. The show wants to focus on relationships, love, food and work in engaging ways but they’re done softly, quietly, giving in to that whole relaxed feel of life in Rome that many want to propagate. Nicoletta can get only so far with Claudio because of his own issues with his ex, a woman he sees regularly and is friends with, but through those interactions Nicoletta gets to learn more about him and herself. There’s an interesting sense of personality that comes from Nicoletta as we see how she’s attracted to him, being twice as old as she is, but it’s done without the flash and fanfare. It’s a quite crush that turns to love that’s seemingly unable to be requited because of his own issues.
With that as an undercurrent, it explores Nicoletta’s work in the kitchen of the restaurant, getting to know the various men and their own relationships not only with each other but wives and lovers. It’s a small cast but it’s fairly expansive as it goes on, revealing new layers both in the present and the past. Seeing how the restaurant came together, how Lorenzo brought on particular members of the staff and their own pasts works well. Lorenzo’s story comes later in the series but it’s definitely an important part since it impacts what Olga had done when Nicoletta was younger, leaving her with her grandmother and then basically never saying anything about her to Lorenzo. The relationship of mother and daughter here has a lot going for it, with Nicoletta hugely curious about her and wanting to get closer while Olga is uncertain about just what her daughter will do, which could cause her marriage to fall apart. It’s never made into an epic moment, but rather keeps to that quiet tension that surfaces here and there, realistic in its own way, as the show goes on. This isn’t a series about big moments or big ideas but rather just love and life and some of its nuance.
One of the things that really does sell this whole idea is the animation style, which adapts Ono’s original manga quite well. Obviously minor tweaks are made to bring it to life, but the approach is very solid here. Characters are a bit more angular, have a bit of sadness to them in a way, but also a feeling of life experience. With most of them in their forties or older, the line work is important but not overdone and contrasts to Nicoletta’s smoother (but not too smooth) features. The sharpness of the hair at times is a little off-putting, but it factors into the locale as well, separating it from other works in the manga and anime realm while still adhering to the standard conventions well enough. With the softer earth tone palette used, it’s able to bring it all together very well for a rich and engaging visual design that makes it feel very warm and atmospheric.
Ristorante Paradiso is the kind of show that I wish there were more of overall. I wouldn’t want a lot of them, but just enough to continually remind that even when working with familiar ideas, there are very different ways to present them, from characters to settings to designs. This series is the kind of work that’s quite accessible in a way but also hard to just settle into because it’s really not about anything. There is an overall arc to be had here and it does provide a good beginning, middle and end, but that’s not the point. The point is to immerse yourself into this world and just savor the small moments, much like they want you to understand the residents of Rome do. The work as a whole is one that you can revisit every couple of years and experience over and over without any loss but rather new perceptions will come through. With the older and more experienced characters here, it’s engaging from that alone but they delve into it in a very good way. Definitely a very welcome show to have on our shelf.
Japanese 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Clean Opening, Clean Ending, TV Commercials, Ristorante Paradiso NOISE Trailers, Backgrounds Gallery, Rome Scenery Gallery, A Guide to Rome, Liner Notes
Content Grade: B+
Audio Grade: B
Video Grade: B+
Packaging Grade: B
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: B
Released By: Lucky Penny Entertainment
Release Date: November 6th, 2012
Running Time: 275 Minutes
Video Encoding: 480i/p MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Sony KDS-R70XBR2 70″ LCoS 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.