I am not much of a food manga person, despite the fact that I have been translating one for years. I mean, I like the food manga that I translate, but I could do with…less? of the food parts. I love What Did You Eat Yesterday? to the point where I have shelled out my own hard-earned cash to go to an exhibit of the TV show and the manga where I got my picture taken at Shiro and Kenji’s kitchen table (and almost swooned from the excitement of that) and purchased an absurd amount of merchandise (I miss the WDYEY apron I bought, which lives with my Japan apartment, and since the Japanese government refuses to let me anywhere near their country ever again, it has been a sad and lonely two years without that excellent apron). But what keeps me engaged with the series is the relationship between the two leads and all the people in their lives. It’s a rare thing to see two people grow old and change in the pages of a manga, and because of the food aspect of the book, the focus is very much on the minutiae of daily life, which allows readers to really see those subtle nuances and shifts as the characters age.
But I’m a vegetarian, and most of the recipes in that and other food manga are meaty in some way. I’ve been a vegetarian for all except thirteen years of my life, meaning that I’ve never cooked meat or eaten any seafood other than a fish stick. So I have to do a lot of research for the recipes in WDYEY (I had to watch a video on how to prepare squid to translate a chapter, and I still have nightmares), and I never get to enjoy the fruits of that labour because, well, meat. After this many years of not eating the stuff, my brain doesn’t even process it as food anymore. While I understand the appeal of food manga in a cerebral sense, watching people cook meat and fish is about equivalent to them boiling up a pot of rocks and cardboard boxes.
So I was reluctant to pick up Tsukuritai Onna because I knew it was a food manga, and no matter how adorable the ladies on the cover were, or how yuri this series promised to be, it’s still going to be largely devoted to food that I do not consider food. But I kept hearing about how great it is, and not in that annoying “you have to read this” way. More like people just genuinely delighted with the series and expressing their joy at having read it. So eventually, I broke down and picked it up.
And I’m so glad I didn’t sleep on this one! What a true treasure this book is! It’s been a long time since I read something that was so joyously and enthusiastically itself. As the title says, there is a woman who wants to cook, Nomoto, and a woman who wants to eat, Kasuga. Fortunately, they live on the same floor of the same apartment building, and fate brings them together.
Nomoto loves to cook, but can’t really eat that much. She’s also fed up with the sexist bullshit she encounters at work, like when a male coworker jumps from admiring her homemade lunch to “you’ll make a great mom.” Meanwhile, Kasuga has a healthy appetite, which only makes sense given that she is a big lady. But when she eats out, the cook gives her a smaller helping of rice because she is a woman. But Kasuga confidently asks for a proper helping, and then proceeds to demolish the food on her tray, causing the cook to take a look at his own sexism.
After seeing Kasuga go home with bags of pseudo-KFC, Nomoto invites her over for dinner after she makes way too much food. Because, of course, her dream is to make super huge portions of everything. And can we just take a moment to reflect on what a relatable goal that is if you are a single person? Sometimes, you just can’t make the food you want to make because there is no way to make it for one. Sometimes, you want a whole table of people to prepare food for. Kasuga devours the food Nomoto sets before her, healthily and happily. Nomoto is mesmerized by how Kasuga shovels the food into her mouth like it was the most delicious thing ever. And she finds that she wants to keep feeding Kasuga.
Tsukuritai is not so much a food manga as it is an eating manga. There is just a plate of food set out and a plate of food eaten. Maybe this is why it resonated with me so much despite being full of food I don’t eat. The whole book is about the connection the two women make through sharing food. Eating brings them together, eating teaches them new things, eating shows them new ways of being. With each other. It’s two women enjoying each other outside of the pressures of a sexist system and finding that the quickest way to someone’s heart is indeed her stomach.
The art is surprisingly expressive. Nomoto wears her emotions on her face, and the shifting linework of her expression keeps readers informed of what’s going on in her brain. Kasuga is more stoic, more subtle, but Yuzaki makes a slightly raised eyebrow or the tiniest upturn of a lip speak volumes about her inner state. And so many panels of both Kasuga and Nomoto just really enjoying food! Every page is a delight.
There are no recipes in this book, so if that’s the kind of food manga you’re looking for, you’ll have to look elsewhere. But there is a beautiful simplicity to the story that is honestly life-giving and absolutely soothing to a battered soul. These women work hard and they eat delicious food. And they discover that they just plain like being together. So they keep being together. The pure joyous togetherness of it all feels a bit like Itoshi no Nekokke, except with food instead of making out. Although I hope we see some making out in future volumes.