chomiji: A chibi cartoon of Hotaru from the manga Samurai Deeper Kyo, with a book. Caption: Manga Joy (Manga joy!)
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Partners Shiro Kakei, a mostly closeted and uptight lawyer, and Kenji Yabuki, a genial and talkative hairstylist, live their lives in the pages of this seinen series, interacting with coworkers, neighbors, friends, and relatives as they face a variety of everyday complications and crises. As in Not Love but Delicious Foods Make Me So Happy, Yoshinaga's focus is actually food, but where that good-humored parody of the mangaka's own life emphasized restaurant dining, What Did You Eat focuses on modern Japanese home cooking. After a day at the office, Shiro likes to unwind by preparing dinner for the two of them, narrating his cooking to himself in a way that results in near-complete recipes for the reader. If you are any kind of a cook at all, it's likely you can follow his preparations in your own kitchen (given that you can figure out and obtain some of the convenience ingredients: "noodle sauce," for example, is a common flavor enhancer in his recipes).

Yoshinaga, honored with multiple awards for her beautifully drawn alternate history Ooku: The Inner Chambers, seems to me to be using this series much the way Shiro uses his cooking: a less stressful challenge with which to unwind. The artwork is pretty (although nowhere as elaborate as Ooku's) and the events diverting (although neither as humorous as Not Love nor as poignant as Flower of Life or Antique Bakery), but for me, this series lacks a certain something.

I have to say that I welcomed the first volume of this for pretty earthy reasons. Yoshinaga made her start with enjoyable and explicit yaoi comedies such as The Moon and the Sandals and Ichigenme: The First Class is Civil Law, and the outline of What Did You Eat gave me some hope that she was returning to the genre with her ever-improving drawing skills. After all, yaoi is so strongly associated with her that she alludes to it in the first pages of Not Love so as to remove any doubt that we may have about the identity of the lead character, "Y-naga."

Actually, though, What Did You Eat barely breaks a PG rating, and even then, only once or twice: the only scene I can recall off the top of my head, in fact, is the one in which Kenji blithely explains to one of his clients who takes which stereotypical role when he and Shiro make love (Shiro is not amused when he finds this out). It's not that Kenji and Shiro aren't depicted as gay: the series is full of awkward incidents involving that truth. But they barely seem to have a relationship at all on the emotional level. Kenji is by far the more demonstrative of the two, in private as well as in public, and there is a tenderly amusing episode where Shiro is sick and Kenji takes care of him (including cooking him nourishing meals that Shiro critiques at length in his thoughts), but even so, his actions and words barely pass the level of "affectionate." (Tip of the hat to the review site Okazu for helping me figure out what bothered me about the series.)

For any of you who have read Ichigenme, I will note one scene in particular that I always love for both its emotional and sexual charge: laid-back Tohdou arranges for uptight Tamiya to have a very special birthday celebration, including figuring out what really turns his partner's crank in bed. Even though the role Tohdou ends up having to play is not second nature to him, he acts it with both gusto and tenderness. I really could use some of that emotional force in What Did You Eat, even if Yoshinaga wants to stay out of the bedroom this time around.

The other problem with the series is that the ball sometimes gets dropped in the translation of the cooking scenes. An example: Shiro is musing to himself in one sequence that his next step in a recipe is to cut up red and yellow "paprikas." Yoshinaga's drawing clearly shows red and yellow bell peppers. But that's a minor quibble, although it jars me when it happens. I'm still invested enough in the series to keep following, though.

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