This is one of the most heartwarming manga I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading. I was smiling and laughing through the entire book. If you’re a fan of Natsume Ono, this book will make you fall in love with her all over again. It’s a gentle story about a group of friends who share an apartment in Italy, and the different people who rent out the fifth room who fly through their lives with a lasting impact. The central cast includes Massimo, a gentle and friendly man who owns the apartment; Celestino (Cele), an eccentric middle-aged comic artist; Luca, a gentle and kind soul who enjoys playing various instruments on street corners; and Al, a truck driver who does little but work and sleep. A fifth bedroom in their apartment is reserved for renters, usually from a local language school. The first tenant in the book is 18-year-old Charlotte. On her first day, she leaves her bag in a truck and bumps into a rather rude man, and can’t remember the address of the place she is supposed to live. She ends up bumping into a street performer who lets her sing with him for money, and is then taken to a local café for some food. When she finally arrives at the school, she is sent to a nearby apartment…where she ends up living with the four men she had met that afternoon. Though Charlotte soon moves into her own place, she remains close friends with the men who so warmly welcomed her to Italy, working at Massimo’s café and eventually dating Al.
Though Charlotte remains a focus point, the book is broken up into chapters that introduce new roommates and tell the back stories of our quartet of gentlemen. An illustrator named Alessandro rents the room after Charlotte, and hits it off with Cele quite well, as the man even offers to introduce him to a publisher. Meanwhile, Luca develops a crush on a photographer who comes around to take pictures of him while he plays music. Next up is Akio, a young Japanese student experiencing his first western Christmas. It’s also Cele’s birthday, so the gang plans a joint Christmas and birthday party while they reminisce about their often troublesome friend. The next house guest, Eric, doesn’t get much personal time, and mostly serves as a catalyst to bring out Al’s past. Charlotte, who decides to interfere hoping to help Al move on from his past, ends up comforting him and romance starts to bloom between them. An American moves in next, and his eating habits start to make the others a little uncomfortable. However, it’s Massimo’s news and not an unfortunate house guest that rocks the boat. Massimo’s girlfriend, Anna, is pregnant, and they’re going to get married, which means Al, Luca, and Cele will have to move out of the apartment. The group prepares for their final exchange student as they each decide where they will go when the move out. Massimo, who enjoys having his friends around, suddenly starts feeling depressed as they decide to move on to other parts of Italy. An older woman named Brooke is the final renter of the fifth room, and it is she who reminds the men that even if they move apart from each other, they’re still bound together through friendship. Three bonus chapters follow, one showing Al’s first meeting with Massimo, another going back to Akio as he spends Christmas alone, and the final chapter also featuring Akio as he treats his roommates to a traditional Japanese meal for New Year’s.
The entire book is so charming and easily warms the heart. The art style is similar to Ono’s not simple, rather than the more traditional and detailed House of Five Leaves. It’s perfect for a story of this sort. La Quinta Camera flows like a slice-of-life story, but is cohesive with a beginning and an end (when Charlotte moves in, until just before everyone starts moving out). It’s a real delight to read, with the story’s emphasis on the bonds of friendship between four men with seemingly nothing at all in common. Any Natsume Ono fan will find what they love about her work within these pages, and it’s a good choice for anyone interested in her work with no previous exposure.
Review copy provided by Viz Media.