Eat or Be Eaten by Jinko Fuyuno and Yamimaru Enjin: B-

Masaki Ashizawa is employed by a management consulting firm and is renowned for rehabilitating struggling restaurants and persuading his clients to his way of thinking. His current project involves finding the perfect chef for a new French restaurant being secretly opened by Chef Yanaginuma, a big name in the business, and when Ashizawa tastes the cooking of Chef Tsubaki, he knows he’s found his man. Unfortunately, when he first mentions the proposal to Chef Tsubaki, he manages to insult the man and must resort to rather drastic measures—volunteering to work as a waiter in Tsubaki’s restaurant for a month—to learn what makes the restaurant a success and simultaneously show that he can be trusted. Gradually, Ashizawa’s attempt to secure Tsubaki as a business partner becomes a quest to better know and understand the man, culminating in Ashizawa’s realization that he wants more than a purely professional relationship.

There are several major things to like about Eat or Be Eaten. For one thing, it has an actual plot and takes the time to educate the reader on various facts about French cuisine. For another, the scenes where Ashizawa is learning the tasks that need doing around the restaurant—like tablecloth wrangling, for example—are a lot of fun. The biggest factor in its favor for me, however, is the age of the protagonists. Both Ashizawa and Tsubaki are grown men in their thirties with professional goals and Tsubaki, at least, is openly gay. Though Ashizawa sometimes acts like a self-proclaimed high school girl as his feelings for Tsubaki manifest—there’s a lot of clutching at his palpitating heart—the fact that the protagonists in a yaoi novel are preoccupied with something besides their romance is a refreshing change.

Of course, it has its flaws, too. Like most light novels, the language is simplistic and features some cheesy lines. Here’s my favorite:

Bright red blood dripped from Tsubaki’s hand. It looked like his heart was crying.

Ashizawa’s characterization is inconsistent; he’s initially described as being “flinty,” but that would be the last word I’d choose for someone who gets flustered as often as he does. The explicit scenes are also a bit odd, as Fuyuno uses the adjective “disgusting” a number of times to describe those excessively slobbery kisses that seem prevalent in this genre. Not that I disagree, but it’s an unexpected word choice. Lastly, the first sexual encounter between Ashizawa and Tsubaki is possibly nonconsensual; it’s one of those times when “no” seems to mean “yes”; given our access to Ashizawa’s thoughts at the time, it seems he’s merely ashamed of his own desires.

There are also some issues with the production of the physical book itself. On many pages, the margins seem to be off, resulting in excess blank space near the spine of the book and text that comes perilously close to being cut off by the edge of the page. Also, while I was doing nothing more than simply holding the book open a pair of pages popped free from the binding.

Ultimately, Eat or Be Eaten is fun fluff. To indulge in a bit of culinary metaphor, think of it as the literary equivalent of meringue.

Review copy provided by the publisher. Review originally published at Manga Recon.

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