Setsu Rimi was one of many royals of the land of Wakoku, one who never really had a place and was shepherded off into an unusual, and isolated, position cooking food at the shrine of their god. But when the new emperor of the neighboring and powerful nation of Konkoku demands a tribute, Rimi is the best option they have to send. Adrift in a foreign land with no retainers from home and with Wakoku generally viewed as a strange and suspicious country, Rimi seems to be constantly finding herself in trouble with the new emperor, although food might be both the cause and solution to her problems.
It definitely feels like many of Miri Mikawa’s ideas are half-baked, either in concept or execution, and many different parts of this first volume felt sloppy. For example, the basic idea that Rimi only learned Konkoku recently and doesn’t speak it perfectly is a perfectly fine idea, but the fact that she only seems to have trouble with words when it’s a situation that could get her killed (where she often ends up using the rather crude language she learned from a sailor on the trip from Wakoku, something that comes up markedly less in her less life-threatening situations) feels like a plot contrivance the first few times it comes up and simply eye-rolling when it keeps happening. Some of Rimi’s first interactions in the story, with Konkoku guards who almost comically misinterpret every single word she says, felt more like something I’d read from a student who isn’t sure how to move a scene along, not something I’d expect in a professionally published work.
The story is rather less about food than you’d expect from the title but the way that food is treated, or at least described, in this volume is odd to say the least. Again, the basic idea that the cuisine Rimi makes is very different from that found in Konkoku makes sense on the surface, but when details like “Konkoku, a nation that borders the sea, has never heard about preserving fish before” enter the picture it just becomes baffling. There’s also no magic in the series so far — you could make an argument that even dragons are just a peculiar but naturally occurring animal — yet the preserved kaorizuke (pickled foods, as far as I could gleam from the text, lots of terms are left untranslated and read a bit clunky) that Rimi brings from Wakoku is described as having near magical powers. It gives some of the characters noticeably better complexions and eating it seems to restore Rimi’s ability to taste food as well (which I don’t believe is meant to be a psychological condition or understood as a kind of comfort food, it appears to literally give her and other people the ability to better appreciate food). I’ll admit that over the years I’ve gotten used to “isekai culinary colonization,” where a plucky Earth (i.e, Japanese)-born protagonist introduces Earth (aka, miso etc) cooking to another world and in some ways Rimi’s actions feel similar here but even more ridiculous than usual.
The only way this story could be salvaged, or at least held together, would be if Rimi was a compelling protagonist but she’s truly not. Again, continuing the trend, the basic idea of Rimi being so sheltered that her personality is essentially stunted and she’s having to learn who she is and how to be herself in a foreign land, is an interesting concept and what I think Mikawa was ultimately going for but the execution falls flat repeatedly. Rimi is so situationally unaware that I couldn’t even feel sorry for her, just annoyed that once again someone is threatening to cut her head off. There are plenty of more interesting shōjo stories, and protagonists, to read these days and I think I’ll go spend more time with them than continuing with Culinary Chronicles.