Here’s rather peculiar manga. It’s about a single man eating in different restaurants. There is practically no conflict. The only problem posed in each episode is “what should he eat?” He eats by himself, and he just…eats and leaves. That’s how every episode is wrapped up. This is the whole premise of manga series Kodoku no Gurume (roughly translated as “Solitary Gourmet” or “Lonely Gourmet”)
Sounds boring? Yet this manga was turned into TV show, which began the season 3 this year. It was supposed to end with season 1 but it was too popular to stop there. How can a show devoted to seeing the same guy eating be this successful?
Although Kodoku no Gurume is in fiction format, it is more like reality show; the restaurants featured in the show are real locations with the actual food they serve. So you can say that this series is a food based reality show without trying to look “realistic”. This format enables the artist to convey his idea without forcing dramatic. The theme of this series is stated in the beginning of the tv show; to the busy individuals of this era, eating what he/she wants is the greatest reward one can give to oneself. For this theme, the protagonist, the lonely gourmet, eats alone without being hampered by promises or manners, whenever and wherever he wants. This comic is all about the ultimate pleasure you can get in the modern life, which is to feed yourself as you like. The manga and tv show attempt to deliver this sense of small yet great satisfaction which ordinary person can attain. Compare the pleasure of food to other pleasures such as relationship or social recognition; pleasure of food is instinctive and simple joy that does not accompany heartbreak, anxiety, or competition. The joy of food can be felt by anyone, so seeing a person enjoying his meal is easily the most sympathizing pleasure. When you watch romantic movies, you may not be able to emulate the pleasure from the film, but the good food can be found as soon as you leave the theatre.
This series is unusual even in Japanese manga standard because it deviates from many “food manga” genre. The majority of such food mangas focus on the cooks. The cooks either compete against each other or they simply create drama with their food. But in Kodoku no Gurume, the focus is solely on the customer who eats the food. There is no dramatic tension leading to revelation or competition… it’s just one tired and hungry guy eating whatever hell he likes. When he eats, he makes it clear that the food he eats is not always the masterpiece; he will make a comment about some aspects of food he does not like or something he does not understand. One thing to notice here is that all these comments are his internal dialogue. He does not make exaggerated exclamation about the beauty of food, he simply appreciates the food as he eats.
This series is about appreciation, not judgement.
I think this praise for the simple yet abundant pleasure is the reason behind the series’ popularity. This is one show you can watch without feeling tense or wincing at unpleasant or or description. In a way it is a bit like pornography; it shows the act of pleasure and you are only getting the illusion of it. But Kodoku no Gurume series portrays the joy of food with sincerity and respect, without shock value or controversy. It is about appreciating the little joys in your life. Instead of finding happiness in far away land or outlandish romance, the series exhibits the small pleasures in daily life.
This is the show which can make you feel hungry after a dinner. So read at your own risk.