Although there's nothing particularly remarkable about Ryoku Tsunoda's yaoi offerings, I always find her titles a pleasurable, even comforting, read.
The simple set up of the title's "meet cute" -- new and boisterous assistant chef joins an uptight manager's restaurant staff -- is given a much needed twist thanks to some business intrigue which is actually embedded in a larger family drama. The main character, Miyagi, is a constellation of inferiority complexes, the most debilitating being that thanks to family circumstances he wasn't able to attend high school and went straight to work after earning his middle school degree. Due to the apparent generosity of a man named Kazuki, Miyagi was taken into the Tachibana family business and learned the restaurant trade.
All grown up, the weight of Miyagi's responsibilities has turned him into a very serious and rather repressed bundle of nerves. He's funneled all his emotions and energy into being worthy of Kazuki's kindness, not realizing that he may have turned his only available father figure into something else entirely. Enter Kasuga a "transfer" from one of Tachibana's sister restaurants and he's exactly the kind of pushy, sexually harassing character I can't stand. Luckily, Miyagi is so messed up inside, he clearly needs a catalyst (i.e. love interest who isn't easily discouraged) to get him out of his emotional ditch.
Miyagi struggles with his growing attraction to Kasuga, while trying to figure out what to do with all of his displaced desires for older Kazuki. This title is really about Miyagi personal struggles, although his emotional dilemmas aren't quite enough to compensate for Kasuga's complete lack of depth. His journey as a character was compelling, even if his romance with the pushy assistant chef was not. I'm quite weak for characters like Miyagi -- he's a good man who just needs a little help to put down some of his burdens. In that Kasuga seems to the be the one to help him do so, he earns a little of my begrudging acceptance by way of my interest in Miyagi. As a romance, this title follows the traditional formula where one partner believes they've been betrayed by the other and as such there's never any tension about the happy resolution (achieved by way of a some telegraphed revelations about Miyagi's family history and connection to the Tachibana owner).
Ryoku Tsunoda's art is not spectacular but her character work is decidedly pleasing. Her men are attractive and always masculine and she has a clear talent for clothing her characters.
Review copy provided by DMP.