At one point, a female friend of Shuhei, the guy on the cover, compares herself to the heroine of a Mitsuru Adachi manga. So it only seems right that Shuko, the titular beauty, is similar to the heroine of a certain Rumiko Takahashi manga: Kyoko of Maison Ikkoku.
Well, minus the temper tantrums since, fortunately, Shuko doesn’t have to deal with annoying tenants or a perverted male lead.
Still, the two women share an unfortunate connection: they are young widows. Beauty and the Feast volume 1 confirms this but doesn’t reveal much about Shuko’s husband. It’s been long enough for friends and family to start asking questions about her moving forward, but Shuko hasn’t quite emotionally recovered enough to enter the next phase of her life.
That is, until she met Shuhei, her new neighbor. She went to give him some of her excess rice one day and noticed he’s living alone and off of grab-and-go dishes. Shuko knows that isn’t healthy and offers to make him dinner each night.
Cooking for one is often considered a sad, lonely affair. It’s also not easy preparing just the right amount of food knowing no one else is going to help finish it. That’s why although Shuko is doing Shuhei, whom she barely knows, a huge favor, the financial and time costs are nothing compared to the joy of someone gobbling down her food with such vigor. Shuhei has an appetite that rivals Jughead’s and Shaggy’s, and Shuko is determined to make enough food to fill him up — and have him say it’s delicious, as he’s not the most talkative lad.
Shuko humorously and dramatically challenging Shuhei’s stomach by picking recipes, food shopping, and analyzing his reactions is the crux of the mostly episodic story. Still, there are other subplots and undertones. Going back to the Maison Ikkoku comparison, Shuko (age 28) is older than Kyoko, and while I don’t know if Beauty and the Feast will become a full-blown romance, Shuko’s likely love interest is more respectable than Godai…but at least Godai was of age. Shuhei is a first year in high school, putting him around 15-16. That’s a significant gap, and we see evidence of that divide (for instance, their cell phones). Still, they do have some similarities, like being unsure of their future. Shuhei is a hardworking baseball star, but he’s not in love with the game enough to dedicate his life to it.
It’s that baseball talent that drives Rui, the female friend I mentioned earlier, to push Shuhei to even greater heights…and to her side. Shuhei has rejected her many times, and Rui eventually heads to Shuko’s to sniff out the competition. Rui quickly notices Shuko’s…um, physical assets, and while the baseball-obsessed girl is a little off in her delusions, Beauty and the Feast does have ecchi vibes with the way, e.g. Shuko wanting to keep up with Shuhei’s appetite. Author Satomi U also displays Shuko in some innocently provocative positions, like licking some cream off her elbow. The art is a bit rough in the early chapters, but it develops into a more detailed style fairly quickly. Yes, even Shuhei with his small pupils and often-neutral expressions.
Also, I noticed a couple of instances where I suspect the dialogue took on a British flave (bad penny from the neighborhood). Just kind of took me out since I’ve never heard of them before. There are also no translation notes, so if you don’t know who Mitsuru Adachi is, you’re going to have to look him up yourself!
Beauty and the Feast is likely going to be the story of two neighbors (re)discovering their passion in life, and some readers may have concern that passion is going to turn toward each other. For now it’s a charming story about turning a daily necessity into daily enjoyment. If you’re a fan of manga like Sweetness and Lightning, this one should be next on your list.