Most of the volume is devoted to Shizuku selecting French wines for the “Italy vs. France” competition sponsored by his company’s new Wine Division, although it isn’t immediately apparent that the first part of the volume has anything at all to do with the competition.
In the first part of the volume, Shizuku helps a struggling French restaurant. Their business was nearly killed off by a bad review from Issei Tomine, and now he’s scheduled to come reevaluate the restaurant. The restaurant’s owner is confident about his food but has no idea what to do about the wine menu - his wife used to handle that, but she died some time ago. In order to figure out where the restaurant owner went wrong, Shizuku must discover how to properly pair wine and food.
Shizuku’s efforts help him select one of the wines for the “Italy vs. France” competition, but he still needs two others. He finds the second one after visiting a bizarre wine shop staffed by twin brothers with very different opinions about wine and the third one after being approached by Maki Saionji, a wine importer and Issei Tomine’s occasional lover. The volume wraps up with both the competition and Shizuku and Issei finally reading the first part of Shizuku’s father’s will, which gives them the clues necessary to find the first of Shizuku’s father’s “Twelve Apostles.”
Hm. Still an enjoyable series overall. The first part of the volume was nice, but a little too removed from the main storyline and a little too serious to be fun despite that. There were some good educational aspects, though - the volume touched on the difference between how Japanese people view drinking tea with a meal (for example, tea can be used to cancel out the flavor of heavy and rich food) and the way wines are traditionally paired with French cuisine (the wine and food should enhance each other rather than cancel each other out). I also liked the father-daughter relationship aspect. The daughter was more responsible and dedicated than she initially appeared to be.
The next part of the volume, the weird wine shop, brought the story back to the restrained wackiness I enjoyed in the first volume. The brothers were amusing, complete opposites. One preferred to focus on wines from wineries with good reputations and would consider nothing else - he didn’t even bother to try all his wines to figure out if they were good, he just assumed they were because of their reputations. The other brother focused entirely on cheap wines and refused to stock anything else. His part of the shop looked like a cheesy dollar store, or maybe a giant “going out of business” sale.
The one thing I absolutely didn’t like about that part of the volume was the brothers’ father. I think readers were supposed to view him as being at least as amusing as his sons, but I just thought he was a horrible human being. In order to get his sons to cooperate and improve the family business, he
lied to them and told them he had cancer.
I mean, what kind of person does that? Thankfully, there was no sign that Shizuku and Miyabi would be returning there anytime soon.
For me, the weakest part of the volume was the wine competition. It went very quickly, and I felt like I had a much better grasp on the appeals of the French wines than I did on the Italian ones, since so much of the volume had been devoted to those. The final verdict was interesting, though. I was left with the impression that, if you’re unfamiliar with wine and looking to select a decent cheap one, it’s probably best to go with an Italian wine, but if you’re a bit more experienced and looking for more variety, French might be the way to go.
One ongoing bit of mystery: the identity of the woman who declared the competition’s final verdict and who gave Shizuku advice that helped him with his wine selections. She looked like a random cranky old woman when she was first introduced, but it soon became clear that she was quite wealthy and had probably known Shizuku’s father very well.
This volume left me feeling a little less excited overall than the first one, but the educational aspects were still pretty good and I’m still looking forward to seeing what else the series has in store for readers. It looks like Shizuku will be spending at least part of the next volume working with an amnesiac artist in an effort to find out what she knows about the First Apostle.
A couple things that struck me: even with help from all of his wine-possessing friends, Shizuku is going to end up spending a small fortune trying to get up to speed on wines; and, if they weren’t rivals, Shizuku and Issei would probably make for decent wine-tasting friends since they keep selecting/appreciating the same things.
My feelings about the artwork are still largely the same: it’s lovely, although noticeably focused on characters over backgrounds. However, there were a couple parts in this volume where I felt Okimoto slipped up a bit: a three-page section showing Shizuku back at the Wine Division, helping the chief with a wine cellar and receiving a dessert wine from him, and a panel in which Sara cutely encouraged people to taste the “Italy vs. France” wines. The bit with the chief looked unfinished, as though some of the screentone had been forgotten, and some of the linework was unusually thick. The panel with Sara was mostly fine, but her lips were odd, like she’d only put makeup on the right half of them.
(Original review posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions.)