What starts out as a quest to confront her mother turns into a new life and new family for Nicoletta, the heroine of “Ristorante Paradiso,” the first title released by Nozomi under their new “Lucky Penny” brand.
Abandoned 15 years ago by her mother, Nicoletta has felt resentment for the selfish, frivolous woman. After all, the lady ran off and left her daughter to be raised by grandparents just so she could marry a guy who didn’t like divorced women. With only a handful of visits in the ensuing years, Nicoletta grew angry and finally decided to track her mother down in Rome and reveal the truth to her unwitting stepfather.
It so happens that her mother and stepfather run a charming restaurant in Rome called “Casetta Dell-Orso.” It’s a place with a comforting atmosphere, delicious food, and handsome, gentlemanly waiters. Waiters who, as Nicoletta is quick to notice, all wear glasses. How odd.
After all this time, her mother STILL hasn’t revealed to her husband that she was once divorced and actually has a 21 year-old daughter. And even with Nicoletta’s arrival, she isn’t keen to divulge the truth now. She pressures Nicoletta to keep their mother-daughter relationship a secret. Nicoletta agrees, but she isn’t about to back down. She is determined to settle things with her mother. There’s no way she’s leaving Rome just yet. However, she can’t just loiter around the city every day. She needs to find a job, think about her future, figure out what she wants to do with her life beyond just pestering her wayward mother. Oh, and there’s also a particular waiter Nicoletta has her eye on… his presence makes staying in Rome even more tempting.
But what can Nicoletta do? Where could she possibly find employment? It’s a good thing she conveniently knows someone who owns a restaurant and who needs to keep on her good side lest some unpleasant truths be revealed… just like that, Nicoletta is the new trainee chef at Casetta Dell-Orso.
As Nicoletta settles into the routine of the restaurant and gets to know the staff, they all become closer. Everyone at the restaurant has a fascinating background and different circumstances that led them to working there. As Nicoletta learns more about each man, her perspective of the restaurant and her mother changes. The place feels like home. She even manages to nurture that romance with the waiter who has captured her interest — a man much older than herself. It’s an unusual pairing, a relationship that will have to endure many obstacles before reaching a comfortable place. Will Nicoletta be successful in her romance? Can she patch things up with her mother and figure out what she wants to do with her life? Her new family at the Casetta Dell-Orso is there to help her find this out.
The 11 episodes of “Ristorante Paradiso” are spread across 3 discs. Each episode is a piece of Nicoletta’s continuing story that slowly unfolds through the course of the series, but there are also episodes devoted to the back story of each waiter. The characters are all old enough to have interesting stories to tell and enough personal history to delve into for strong story arcs. They have wonderfully worn faces that can reveal a lot just through their expressions, and distinctive, endearing personalities. The pace of this slice-of-life series is leisurely, the ambiance calm and contemplative, with bursts of humor to keep things lively.
“Ristorante Paradiso” was streamed online for a brief time a couple of years ago. I loved it the first time I saw it, but barely dared to hope a company would pick up the show for DVD release because of its unusual target audience and more mature story. This isn’t a show with fast-paced action, teenage leads, or supernatural events. It has a more quiet, realistic (well, a bit idealized) setting and characters older than 20. Heck, it has lead characters in their -gasp- 40s and above! Shocking for anime, I know! The story is based on an original comic by Natsume Ono, an artist with a very distinctive art style. The character designs here reflect that unique style with their simplistic, yet sharp, features and gangly bodies. This show pushed all my buttons. No giant robots? Adult characters with adult problems? A romance without any harem maneuvering? Fantastic! Watching “Ristorante Paradiso” again in this DVD release is just as enjoyable for me as my first run through it years ago.
“Ristorante Paradiso” is presented in lovely 16:9. It looks pretty good. The colors for this show are very warm – lots of oranges, creams, and browns, with soft glowing interiors and dark exteriors. All of this works to create a romantic, intimate mood. I had no complaints with the quality of the video, though much of the interior CG looks too obvious and awkward compared to the watercolor-style exterior scenery.
This being a Nozomi/Lucky Penny title, we only have the original Japanese audio. They rarely do dubs. As I’m personally a sub fan, this doesn’t bother me in the least, but I know that this can frustrate dub fans. At any rate, the Japanese audio here is a decent Dolby Digital 2.0 track. This is a very relaxed, conversational show, so there is not really much need to go all out on complete surround here. There are no complicated action scenes. Everything for the most part, takes place in the kitchen and dining room of a quaint, intimate restaurant. There is some lovely instrumental background music though. This 2.0 audio works just fine.
This set contains a nice handful of Extras. On disc 1 there is a clean opening animation, a gallery of all the nice backgrounds of Rome, some information on the many Italian locations featured throughout the series, some liner notes explaining the Italian vocabulary the characters use, and the structure of typical Italian meals. Disc 2 has the clean ending animation and another background gallery. Disc 3 contains the US trailer, 2 TV commercials, and 2 trailers for the show and the short-lived NOISE time-slot in which it was originally broadcast.
This set is packages in a regular DVD case, with 1 disc on one side, and the other 2 discs on the other. Each disc has a lovely illustration from the anime on it. They look really nice.
I can’t say how happy I am to see this series released on DVD in the US. I hope it does well, and that the new Lucky Penny imprint will continue to release more mature-targeted shows in the future. The goal of Lucky Penny seems to be to release budget versions of high quality titles that might not normally get DVDs due to a lack of mainstream appeal; shows that are good, but may not have enough prestige or fanbase to be launched under the flagship Nozomi brand. I really hope that the great quality of this budget release is a sign of more great things to come. “Ristorante Paradiso” is a fantastic show for those who want a break from teen angst, mecha battles, and harem romances.