What They Say:
Like many Japanese middle school girls, Ryo Machiko is fascinated with cooking. Unfortunately, both of her parents work full time overseas, so she’s spent most of her time living alone since the death of her grandmother a year ago. Ryo’s still practicing and learning, of course, but without someone there to appreciate the fruit of her labors and offer constructive feedback, it’s just not the same. Things have a way of working out, however, and when it turns out that Ryo’s artistically inclined cousin Kirin intends to attend the same Sunday cram school, it only makes sense for her to room with Ryo over the weekends. And that means that Ryo will be gaining more than just an enthusiastic new audience. Together with Ryo’s friend Shiina, she’ll be learning the most important lesson of all: No matter how fancy or tasty the food may be, it’s even better when it’s shared in GOURMET GIRL GRAFFITI!
The audio has been encoded in Dolby Digital 2.0 at 48 kHz at 224 Kbps. While the series is dialog driven, the consistent use of sound effects makes the clarity more important than in many slice of life shows. The creators did a good job of balancing the dialog with sound effects and background music, allowing the effects to create appropriate tone for the scenes.
As broadcast in widescreen, the video is encoded for 16×9 anamorphic playback. Playback is variable bitrate. Scenes tend to rely on color and light effects so the good transfer and encoding not only add to the watchability of the series, it overlays energy and raises the quality of the animation. Many episodes offer highly saturated backgrounds as well as lots of background and foreground motion. In some cases, the level of detail and motion create strong opportunities for artifacts and aliasing issues, but the encoding offers a clean level of detail that can be easily upscaled for a high definition screen.
Two DVDs come in a standard keepcase size box with hubs on the inside of both the front and back. The hubs have a secure easy release button that will offer good protection without compromising the discs. Disc 1 contains episodes 1 through 6, and it is printed with original art of Ryo and Kirin holding bowls of tall rice on a background of a red and white checked tablecloth pattern. Disc 2 contains episodes 7 through 12 and is printed with an image of Shiina and Ryo eating noodles. The cover image has Shiina and Kirin holding a surprised Ryo whose hands are full with what appears to be her grandmother’s special daikon and yellowtail dish. The spine has the title logo in the center thirds, and Ryo holding out a dish on the bottom third. The detail and images represent the show well while creating a package that will stand out on the shelf. The back cover is very busy with ribbons of four scenes from the show forming a top and bottom border around the summary and an image of an enthused Shiina and Kirin presenting slices of a colorful pizza. The scenes chosen for the back cover tend to focus on characters in exaggerated poses.
The menus continue the pattern of fabrics used in the kitchen and on the table. Episodes are listed on what appear to be potholders and woven table mats. Disc 1’s menu reuses the spine image of Ryo holding the hotpot toward the viewer. Disc 2’s menu uses the same image as printed on the disc to highlight Ryo and Shiina with noodles. Both menus offer original art that represents the enthusiasm the show, and characters, have for food.
Both discs have clean opening and closing animations. Disc 1 also has other Sentai trailers.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
A western viewer might miss one of the engines driving this drama. While Ryo has done an admirable job taking care of herself since the death of her grandmother, her independence leads to a loneliness based on the collectivist culture of Japan. In collectivist cultures, isolation and individuality do not exist as a positive. Instead, a person focused on selfish improvement can be seen as the malcontent or any number of otaku and NEET antiheroes we have watched in the last few decades. Working for the benefit of the group appears in everything from Rozen Maiden to Space Brothers. In fact, becoming a group often fuels the narrative as we pull for our heroes to overcome the difficulties of the action.
Gourmet Girl offers that at another, more specific level. The series introduces us to three middle school girls and one high school girl who have personal issues that keep them from becoming more social. Our hero is Ryo. She seems to be the most together, but in the opening episode we see her cook a favorite dish and wonder why it doesn’t taste as good as when she ate it with her grandmother. She has lived alone since her grandmother died because her parents work overseas. While absent parents often provide a home setting where a character can have an adventure, in this series, it creates another level of loneliness for Ryo.
The great thing about this character is that she overcomes the lonely life and strives to succeed with the hand she has been dealt. There is no overwrought pathos begging the viewers to feel sorry for her or for us to cheer her on. Instead, we watch her go through her day contemplating her life, her art, and her food. Interrupting this quiet life, her cousin Kirin comes to live with her on weekends while they attend the same cram school. Kirin seems more energetic and open to new things, but adults cause her to shrink away and become overly formal. This is her only repeated flaw, so living with Ryo and going to school in Tokyo seems like a big step toward her own adulthood. For that to happen, Kirin will need to learn to think of herself as an equal to others.
Our last frequent character is their cram school mate, Shiina. Unlike Kirin, Shiina feels comfortable with others, and unlike Ryo, she seems too aloof and comfortable in her own head. Her family has wealth, but her mother and servant value Shiina’s attempt to become more friendly with Ryo and Kirin.
We even have another young woman who lives in the same complex as Ryo. We don’t see much of her, but we learn that she has an anxiety issue and has trouble engaging others in conversation. She almost seems one step away from being a NEET, but when she meets Ryo and Kirin, she takes her first step opening up to people other than her family.
As the title may have given away, the connection between the girls is food. Japan has been a nation of foodies since before the economic bubble burst in the 1980s. Since then their televised food shows have demonstrated a return to the importance of home, local delicacies, and even the best fast food available. In other words, the culture has moved from valuing haute cuisine and exotic ingredients to valuing the best ramen restaurants and appreciating local delicacies. Various shows I have seen since the 2011 tsunami have reinforced the local cook as an important thread holding the communities together.
Ryo does not disappoint. She adores food from take-out pizza to the episodic preparation of common home-cooked meals. Some viewers may question the physiological dewey eyes and flushed faces of the girls as they eat, but after the first episode, it becomes clear that that orgasmic expressions are an artistic attempt to show the physical and sensual appreciation of flavors, textures, and aromas. After a few episodes, it becomes clear that the girls understand the importance of food in the moment and also as part of their family histories.
We follow the girls through the seasons as they wait for a new spring and the promise of their high school careers. Colors and animation create bright, clean scenes. In one scene, I said out loud, “I wish I could shop in a grocery store like that.” Settings are drawn with neat, clean lines and balanced colors that make them seem real or slightly better than real. For a show anchored in one space, Ryo’s kitchen, we get a wide variety of both outdoor scenic settings and oddly spacious interiors. Even if the show has a limited narrative, it takes place in an imaginative varieties of settings.
Gourmet Girl Graffiti may be one of those shows you either love or don’t like. It centers on how life can improve when we share it with others, but it never becomes bogged down in the metaphor. We watch three girls become a family as they mature through their last year of middle school. By sharing meals together, they learn things about themselves that transcend the mundane. The person I watched the series with told me she found it “sentimental, in good ways.” My guess is that others who grew up with family meals, or a foodie level attention to their take-out, may also feel sentimental remembering the flavors and the company of the past.
Japanese language with removable English Subtitles, Clean Opening, Clean Closing
Content Grade: B+
Audio Grade: A
Video Grade: A
Packaging Grade: B+
Menu Grade: B+
Extras Grade: C
Released By: Sentai Filmworks
Release Date: August 2nd, 2016
Running Time: 300 minutes
Video Encoding: 480i/p MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic
Samsung KU6300 50” 4K UHD TV, Sony BDP-S3500 Blu-ray player connected via HDMI, Onkyo TX-SR444 Receiver with NHT SuperOne front channels and NHT SuperZero 2.1 rear channel speakers.