Friday, May 22, 2020

Green Phoenix - Restaurant to Another World Review

Isekai ShokudĂ´ (TV Series 2017– ) - IMDbIn these introductory segments, I have long made it a pattern to reveal specific details or experiences of my life which draw me into the media I am reviewing or editorial I am writing for that respective week. Whether it is a personal anecdote, a memory attached to a theme close to the media in question, or some unique quirk of mine, I have always held that the audience will connect to my reviews more if I apply a personal connection to anything I am reviewing.

With that in mind, this week's interesting foible is that I have always enjoyed watching people enjoy things by proxy. This is fundamentally why I enjoy watching people in reaction videos online or reviewers and critics. Just viewing someone earnestly enjoying themselves is so immensely cathartic to me, even if it might occasionally creep some people out due to my incessant need to people watch.

Growing up, this led to the Food Network being one of my all-time favorite TV channels, which for a child or pre-teen is kind of strange for a kid with no actual interest in learning to cook. I loved watch Emeril Live, Unwrapped, and Good Eats whenever I got the chance, just because watching everyone enjoy themselves with good-looking food was exciting to me. As you can imagine, this led to me loving to watch others eat and enjoy themselves when eating.

So when I found out that there was an anime out there whose entire runtime was dedicated towards fantasy characters talking about good food and enjoying themselves eating good food, naturally I had to check it out.

Released between July 3 and September 18, 2017 and simulcasted on CrunchyRoll, Restaurant to Another World is based on a light novel by Junpei Inuzuka, which is still being written as of this review. This 12 episode slice-of-life cooking isekai covers only a portion of the light novel's content, leaving much excitement on my part for the possibility of a sequel series or second season someday.

The show has a tone that is unlike any isekai I have ever watched and, as I hope to show you in the article below, it makes Restaurant to Another World a singularly unique viewing experience.


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  • Directed by Masato Jinbo
  • Produced by SILVER LINK Inc.
  • Based on the light novel by Junpei Inuzuka
  • 12 episodes available on CrunchyRoll

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SUMMARY

Western Restaurant Nekoya is a popular restaurant located on a street corner in Tokyo. Serving both traditional Japanese and Western dishes, this establishment is popular among Tokyo's residents on six of the seven days that it is open, being closed only on Saturdays.

But the truth is that every Saturday, the doors to Western Restaurant Nekoya open to the inhabitants of a fantasy world. Once a week, clientele straight out of a D&D campaign from all over this world visit the restaurant. It is a good thing then that the enigmatic "Master" of the restaurant and his two waitresses, who are also from this fantasy world, are more than happy to serve them their favorite dishes, most of which can only be found at Western Restaurant Nekoya.

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REVIEW

Restaurant to Another World was my introduction to the world of anime food porn shows, which has become incredibly popular with shows like Food Wars!: Shokugeki no Soma. But where Food Wars! is structured very much in the style of your typical Shonen anime, Restaurant to Another World is something altogether different and, in my mind, thoroughly unlike any other anime I have ever watched. Though set in a fantasy world with a myriad of magic creatures and characters that wouldn't be out of place in a D&D campaign, Restaurant to Another World's atmosphere is very much dominated by the presence of Western Restaurant Nekoya. The fantasy world is treated and presented to us in terms of the day-to-day dealings of its characters, rather than in the grand adventures that typically characterize isekai shows.

While this might at first sound boring, this unique take on fantasy actually fleshes out a uniquely detailed world that intermingles the plotlines of all of the restaurant patrons and the staff into a tightly woven web of background drama that I don't think I have ever seen done as well as it is here.

On the surface, Restaurant to Another World keeps its focus on the incredible foods in each episode, using stellar animation, sound work, and admittedly heavy-handed dialog which is so fundamental to good food porn anime to make the audience practically taste every dish themselves. But Restaurant to Another World understands that good food isn't just about taste alone, but the memories that food brings up and it uses those memories to masterfully weave each and every character into the next.

While definitely designed as a show to be watched in shorter bursts, I think Restaurant to Another World should be ranked among my favorite anime of all time, and I will gladly preach this show's strengths to anyone when I get the chance.

VISUALS - 9/10

As stated several times previously, Restaurant to Another World belongs to a category of anime commonly called "food porn". The term for food porn comes from the way that food is sometimes filmed or photographed in a manner that is not dissimilar to the way a human model might be. The animator, director, or photographer portrays the food in a manner that is meant to elicit a strong sensual response in the viewer.


With this mind, Restaurant to Another World's animation would have to be top tier in order to successfully and properly portray food in a way that is visually appealing and salivating to a real audience, as food is one of the easiest things to animate but the hardest to animate well. But that is not all that Restaurant to Another World has to successfully accomplish with its animation, as the series' additional isekai nature requires a massively complex fantasy world with dozens of unique locations and character designs to fit the genre.

And in my opinion, Restaurant to Another World accomplishes both spectacularly. I actually think that Restaurant my compare to Violet Evergarden in terms of its animation, at least when it comes to the design of the food. That isn't to say that the character animation or fantasy aspects are subpar, far from it in fact. It's just a simple acknowledgement that this cooking anime knows where its proverbial money shots lie and animates accordingly.
Sweet – Fruit Crepe from “Restaurant to Another World” – SEVAC ...
I feel like I can this crepe through the screen!

The food in this show looks absolutely stunning, with maybe the exception of the natto spaghetti in Episode 10 because I think natto looks disgusting no matter where it is seen. My mouth was watering throughout the shows run, as the animators were on point with how they drew the food. The pastas look soft, the sauces look rich, and the steam coming off the food really helps you to feel the temperature of each food. Restaurant to Another World somehow manages to be a full and complete sensory experience for an audience through the implication of the visuals alone.

This is a quality lacking in most non-cooking shows, but Restaurant goes further by producing above average character and setting animation as well. While I am sure that their are anime out there that whose visuals may be technically better than Restauurant, this cooking series avoids many of the pitfalls and cheap shortcuts that often befall anime (espeically isekai). The is no cheap CGI or a large quantity of skipped or repeated frames that often lead to stilted animation. It certainly has  a few moments of animation shortcuts, but they are far rarer here than in shows even of the same genre as Restaurant to Another World.

And it is because of that, coupled with the quality of the food animation that I am rating Restaurant to Another World's animation as high as it is.

SOUNDTRACK - 8/10

When discussing the audio of the series, I will essentially have to divide it up into three segments. I don't have all that much to talk about in terms of Restaurant to Another World's audio, but I do feel like there are parts that are worth pointing out.

First things first, the OP and credit songs for this anime are absolutely wonderful. Simultaneously joyous and soothing, these pieces gently comfort the audience as they slowly introduce and bid you goodbye respectively to the world of Restaurant and the Western Restaurant Nekoya. The OP "One in a Billion" is performed by May'n and is a treat for the ears, just as much as the food is. And after you finish every episode, like a great meal, "Chiisana Hitotsubu" ("A Small Grain"), performed by Kiyono Yasuno, is there like an after dinner mint to send you away or prepare you for the next episode. I often found myself caught off guard by the arrival of the ending song, but never truly disappointed whenever it did appear, as I usually felt satisfied with my experience and ready to go back into the world.

Beyond the OP and ending song, the actual individual background tracks for the series are subtle and nuanced, fitting very much with the laid back tone of the show. While you occasionally have the standard adventuring or fantasy track whenever we see into the fantasy world, the show predominantly takes place within the Western Restaurant Nekoya and so tends to have the same general soothing music playing. Like a good restaurant, the music enhances the viewing experience without drowning out what is really important.

And what I think is really important is how this show uses its sound effects. Just as visuals are important in food porn, so is sound. The sizzling of cooked meat, the crunch of food when its being bitten into, and the *chunk* of a knife hitting a cutting board can provide so much to an experience all on their own. When coupled with stellar animation, which we have stated earlier Restaurant to Another World has in abundance, you will practically smell the food when you see it and feel the food as it crosses your own teeth and tongue. Silver Link had a hell of a job on their hand making an audience feel like they were a guest of Western Restaurant Nekoya alongside the characters and I think they succeeded marvelously.

While the music and sound effects might on the surface seem simple or understated, I feel that is precisely why they work so well for Restaurant. The audio elements all coalesce and intermingle with the visuals to draw you into the world of the anime, and the plight of its characters. Like any good meal, the sound doesn't overpower, only enhance what is already there and make it stronger.

NARRATIVE PRESENTATION - 10/10

Much like my review of documentaries, I have decided to rate Restaurant to Another World a little differently, due in no small part to the deep correlation between this shows story and its characters. In fact, I don't think that you can truly separate the two from each other. So I won't even try and I will simply judge the characters and the story collectively as the series' narrative presentation.

And that presentation is fucking phenomenal. I am not understating it when I say that these 12 episodes are some of the most tightly written and beautifully paced set of interconnected shorts that I have ever had the pleasure to view. The overall structure of the series is built around 24 half episode vignettes, spanning the 12 episode run. Each vignette is ostensibly structured with the same general format.

Watch Restaurant to Another World Episode 5 Online - Pork Cutlet ...
It is little interactions like this that make this show so great.
You have a character in the fantasy world who is going about there day. Perhaps they have some greater issue or underlying struggle they are facing, but not always. Suddenly they will come across a magical door in a place it really shouldn't be and, being curious, they will walk into Western Restaurant Nekoya. The character will be introduced to the rules of the restaurant, usually by the characters of Aletta or "Master" who form the principal cast of the series, and given a menu, where they will pick their "go-to" option (always the food in the title of the vignette). This option will essentially become that characters "name" within the restaurant and when the food arrives, they will surprised by it. But upon tasting it, they will fall in love with the food, leading a sometimes repetitive monologue describing everything amazing about the food. The character will then return to their world, now with the knowledge of Western Restaurant Nekoya and plans to come back the next week.


While you would think that 24 episodes of this same general formula, coupled with the long diatribes describing the food would come off as either repetitive or boring, Restaurant to Another World always manages to spice up and tweak the formula just a little bit to slowly shift the viewing experience from episode to episode. In fact, it might happen so subtly that you don't even really notice it at first.

And all of this is largely due to the best element of this series, how it masterfully weaves every characters story together over the course of the series. When you are first introduced to the world and the shows basic concept through the eyes of Aletta, it leads you to believe that every episode will be an isolated self-contained story simply set in the same location, which would get boring after a while. But in every episode, you are introduced to minor characters who makes an appearance either in another characters backstory or becomes the main character of their own vignette several episodes down the line. This happens so gradually that as you are introduced to the characters and grow to love them, their stories all begin to intermingle with one another; creating a truly living, breathing fantasy world with its own set of mysteries and drama. Much of which Western Restaurant Nekoya and its mysterious "Master" are intrinsically tied to.

It is fascinating to watch this slice-of-life cooking anime slowly shift itself over the course of 12 episode into a deeply seeded mystery regarding the history of the restaurant and its founding and it all plays into the political and historical machinations of the fantasy world. And while the show ends before any mysteries are revealed completely, it absolutely leaves you with enough to be satisfied should they never reveal it all.

But this process wouldn't be nearly as successful if we didn't grow attached to the characters that draw us into that experience, and the show is very clever about making the restaurant guests come from nearly every walk of life while still enabling a reasonable sense of connection between everyone outside of Western Restaurant Nekoya. While the Restaurant acts as a central hub of contact for everyone, it is how they know or relate to everyone outside of the Restaurant that really breathes life and reality into the fantasy world presented to us.
 
I honestly have difficulty naming a favorite episode, since they weave so nicely into each other, but if I had to pick a favorite character it would defintely be any of the three restaurant staff members (Master, Aletta, and Kuro) as they are the characters we spend the most time with and narratively mature the most over the course of the series. They don't really grow like you would expect in an action anime, rather they become more complex as their connections to the Fantasy world become more detailed.
 
It really is a singularly unique viewing experience and one I can't really think has ever been done quite as well as it is here. I absolutely adore both the characters and story and the way Restaruant to Another World weaves the two subjects and grows them so naturally is just stunning to witness. Like two perfectly placed courses in a wonderful meal.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Throughout this review, I have used terminology to describe my viewing experience of Restaurant to Another World not too dissimilar to those you might use when describing a particularly nice meal at a restaurant. This was very intentional, as I earnestly feel like this is perhaps the best way to descibe what it is like to watch Restaurant to Another World. The stellar animation and sound, coupled with a compelling collection of characters and their masterfully interwoven narratives is like being given the menu at a 5-star restaurant with no real bill. You are drawn into the world through the food, but find yourself falling in love with the characters and always satisfied when you leave the restaurant.

I desperately wish that there were more episodes to this show, but until such time as a second season perhaps comes out, if ever, I will always be able to watch Restaurant to Another World on CrunchyRoll whenever I want to return to Western Restaurant Nekoya.

Next week will be the last review before I take my 4-week vacation. I plan to send you guys out with a Top 8 video that I hope you will definitely find your head bopping to.


VISUALS
  • 9/10
SOUNDTRACK
  • 8/10
NARRATIVE PRESENTATION
  • 10/10

     FINAL SCORE - 9/10

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