Graphic gore and a slightly familiar plot create a surprisingly intriguing narrative
Based on the 2011 novel of the same name, Hirayama Yumeaki’s manga adaptation of Diner shows a promising start.
After a misunderstanding leads her to taking a side job that leaves her moments from being killed for her part in a robbery gone wrong, Ooba Kanako (literally ‘big stupid kid’ – a perfect reflection of her maturity level) finds herself on the wrong side of the yakuza. Just as it looks like she is to be buried alive, a last-minute buyer saves her, as she blurts out that she can cook.
Bonbello, a handsome restaurateur (think Sebastian from Black Butler, but with the personality more similar to Kuroudo Akabane from Getbackers) buys Kanako to work in his American-style diner, Canteen. He quickly reveals she is to be the ninth waitress they have had work there; the first eight? All killed by the diner’s patrons for making small mistakes.
Diner is actually a pretty cool concept. Kanako is beautiful sure, but she isn’t your typical teenage lead. In the original novel this adaptation is based on, she’s a 30 year old divorcee looking for purpose in her life. Sure, she falls into the big-breasted, slightly ditsy category that so many female protagonists sit under when it comes to manga (and anime), but she’s still likable. While we don’t know too much about her back story from the initial half a dozen chapters currently available in english, there’s enough there to be intrigued about not only her fate, but about what has led her to be in this position.
There are a few niggling plot points that stand out. While running for her life after cleaning until she’s ready to drop, Kanako somehow has the time to find a key, steal and hide a priceless bottle of vodka, and barter for her life (though not her freedom) — all while we’ve been told Bonbello has been hovering over her shoulder nonstop, and she has been out of his site for maybe 30 seconds as he takes a single call.
There’s also a tad too much telling, rather than showing for side characters backstories and personalities. Take ‘Biscuits’ the killer (yes, all of the killers seem to have these cute nicknames). We’re told about how he likes to crush people’s skulls with his bare hands, before being shown a single panel of the gore around his hand. I get that holding back can help build a sense of suspense, but why tell us, then show us what you’ve just told us? Either let our imaginations run wild, or show us your worst.
If you’ve seen the 2018 mystery-thriller, Hotel Artemis, you may see quite a few similarities as you get further in. The Canteen has a set of rules that, if broken, have dire consequences; bringing outsiders in, or damaging the restaurant? Both can be a pretty quick way to get on the wrong side of Bonbello’s knife. When taken into account with the mysterious calls and repeated mentions about ‘The Organization’ which backs the restaurant, it sounds more and more like a certain dystopic 2018 film borrowed a few elements from Yumeaki Hirayama’s 2011 novel.
Author Yumeaki Hirayama, born in 1961, credits his grotesque descriptions from witnessing a number of suicide jumpers and traffic accidents as an adolescent. Following his debut novel in 1996, Hirayama went on to win numerous awards for his writing, including the Mystery Writers of Japan Award for Short Stories in 2006; the Japan Adventure Fiction Association Prize in 2009; and the Haruhiko Oyabu Award in 2011 for his novel, Diner. While his novel is available in English, it appears to be out of print or unavailable from many retailers. As of September 2018, Waterstones have the novel listed as available to purchase.
While it’s still a bit early to call it, Diner seems to be a promising series with a somewhat unique premise. The protagonist Kanako is fairly likable, while Bonbello has that classic bad boy vibe slash cold killer air around him that makes him a tad more likable than is really appropriate. There are some wonderfully detailed, gory graphics intermixed with overly sexualized images, but for the most part, the horror elements win out over the needlessly sexual ones.
If you’re after a manga that offers intrigue but regularly gives readers a payout of answers, and you’ve got the patience to wait for regular translator updates, Diner is a solid choice.
* At the time this review went live, the manga adaptation of Diner was not available to purchase in English. Please support the author and artist by buying an official translated copy when/if it becomes available.