Fumi Yoshinaga’s What Did You Eat Yesterday? is notable for filling a niche within a niche. Not only is it a cooking manga, but it’s a cooking manga starring a gay couple. Even beyond that, it’s specifically about a middle-aged gay couple. Needless to say that demographic isn’t at the center of any genre much less cooking manga. With that said, it’s an exciting prospect conceptually. Given the importance of social interaction to the act of eating and appreciating food, the premise provides ample opportunity to flesh out these characters and their lives. Plus, there’s still lots of food porn. The series’ latest volume follows Shiro and Kenji as they adjust to changes at work and life in general. So, is What Did You Eat Yesterday Vol. 16 good?
Paradoxically, the most memorable aspects of this volume are those that are the least dramatic. Oftentimes the most interesting part of a chapter isn’t when characters are discussing what they’re eating but rather when they’re pondering their relationships with the people they’re cooking alongside or for. As far as the romance goes, the sweetest moments aren’t depictions of Shiro and Kenji together but of the way they think about each other throughout the day. They do nice deeds for one another, noting each other’s preferences when determining what to make and when. It’s a very sweet everyday sort of kindness, that of a pair who are familiar with each other’s quirks and stresses and just want to help take the edge off a bit.
This theme of everyday kindness extends beyond just the romantic interactions. It permeates the whole volume with charm even as Shiro and Kenji enter stressful situations at work and while meeting new people. Take the scene where Shiro meets Kenji’s mother for the first time. Yoshinaga effectively captures the tone and cadence of polite small talk, of pleasantries between people who aren’t close but are trying. There are some sad undercurrents throughout the book, but they’re sad in the way much adult life is: marked by a sense of tiredness the characters have no choice but to push through, aided by the joys of moments shared together over food. The excitement the characters display while fawning over their food and waxing poetic about its flavors and ingredients is relatable even in its mundanity.
Visually, Yoshinaga’s work is competent if sparse. Events are always easy to follow, the characters’ expressions convey their emotions successfully, and much of the food looks quite tasty. With that said, there aren’t any standout moments with regards to inventive presentation or mouthwatering renderings of food. The settings are seldom notable and there’s little in way of texture. There are some exceptions to this, but ultimately it’s a cooking manga where the food just looks good, not amazing. Some of the especially adorable faces here and there heighten the sentimental moments, but this is nonetheless a fairly by-the-numbers book visually.
All in all, What Did You Eat Yesterday? Vol. 16 is a sweet book. Shiro and Kenji’s relationship is sweet in its domesticity, and there’s a lot of charm to be found both in them and in the extended cast. The food throughout serves primarily as a tool for getting the characters into situations where they can earnestly lay out their emotions and pluck on heartstrings. This makes for a relatable, feel good read even if it’s not one that stands out in terms of creativity. Come for the sweet old couple, stay for the old couple acting even sweeter as they lovingly prepare each other’s favorite dishes to de-stress after long, hard days at work.
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