Set in the city of Rome, more specifically in a small restaurant just off the center of the city, Ristorante Paradiso focuses on the lives of the staff of the restaurant as they have their first major shakeup in a while when a new addition is made to the staff in the form of Nicoletta, a 21 year old woman who stands out as much for her gender as her age as the entirety of the staff is made up of bespectacled older appearing gentlemen (series suggests they are all 50+) who serve their clientele with a dignified grace that has won the shop a loyal- though probably more interested in the men themselves then the food- group of devoted patrons. Nicoletta has traveled to Rome to wreck havoc on the woman she blames for messing up her life, her mother Olga who left a 6 year old Nicoletta in the care of Olga’s parents when she remarried as her husband had expressed a desire not to get involved with a divorcee or a woman with children and now, 15 years later, Nicoletta has decided to return the favor by appearing and announcing her existence to her unknowing stepfather. Nicoletta instead finds herself falling into the pace of the gentlemen of the restaurant and even possibly falling for one of them who appears unreachable but perhaps her time at the restaurant and its tranquil settings will prove a balm for more than just herself and the feelings she came to Rome with in perhaps the most romantic and serine tale set in the famous city since Roman Holiday.
Ristorante Paradiso is a series that explore a niche that has appeared in anime over the last few years of having a series that takes a slower pace and focuses heavily on character interactions to produce a program that has a soothing or even healing effect on its viewers emotionally. Ristorante Paradiso creates this effect as the audience watches how Nicoletta’s time and interactions with the staff of the Casetta dell’Orso as she tries to work through her emotions in regards to one person she meets there in particular and her mother while learning some lessons from the life experiences of her seasoned fellow workers. Through their experiences she discovers some of the lengths, depths and variances with which love can appear as she starts to come to understand more about her various relationships with the new men in her life and her mother as well while also coming to an understanding of her own feelings and wants that she may have hidden before behind her issues with her mother.
In order to help sell the soothing nature of the series the animators chose to work with an art style that uses a palate of colors which creates an almost watercolor like appearance at times to establish a resonance between the art, story and dulcet musical score that helps magnify all the elements most of the time and which helps create a sense of ease and calm in the viewers. The viewer will get the opportunity along with Nicoletta to learn about the various men who work at the restaurant and get a look at their lives and some of the loves that either currently or in the past have motivated them in and which plays out in a way that helps set up a picture of just how it is that love can have so many different faces and outcomes when individuals start to interact and the audience gets to watch the transformation of some of the characters, either in what the series considers the present time or the individual’s pasts that helps to illustrate just how they got to where they are as well as how their interactions work on their present.
The series does have a couple of flaws, a few that probably relate to the somewhat short (relatively) run of the manga on which it is based and the corresponding shorter than many series run of 11 episodes and one that comes from the animation style. On the side of the episodes the issues come from the fact that the series has a rather sizable cast of main and supporting cast that get a fairly sizable amount of screen time which, when combined with the focus of the series that is less on setting up sizable confrontations that creating a soft, relaxing atmosphere has a tendency to minimize Nicoletta’s role in certain spots which is a bit of a thematic issue as she is the tool through which the audience is introduced to this group who have been working together (and often as friends) for years and she allows for the impetuous some of the introspections that happen to take place. Given the nature of the series this is often something easy to look past as the series isn’t attempting to do some incredible arc with her that requires a great deal of centered focus but the other issue- that of the animation- may be harder for some people to get past as a times certain scenes seem to stray from the character models and at times this can leave characters’ faces looking somewhat distended, almost like frogs turned mostly human. While for the most part the characters aren’t the most attractive in all of anime their look gives them a certain style of their own and helps ground them to an extent but it may be an issue some get stuck on.
Still, for those who enjoy a slower paced series that focuses more on characters and their backgrounds than any sort of Earth saving adventures or raunchy humor, Ristorant Paradiso will serve up a refreshing full course of episodes that will give them a different sense of pace and serve as a break from the pressures of life as an oasis to escape to and just “be” as they get lost in the unfolding tales and lose track of time as they watch the unfolding events of these character’s lives and perhaps gain a bit of peace themselves.