There are a lot of different ways to define a family, from blood relatives to bonds between friends. A family can be an old emperor and his granddaughter. Or it can be a kindly chef and his demon waitress. It can be a nobleman, a barbarian, a dragon queen, and more. A family can even be all of the above at once. As you might’ve guessed by now, that’s exactly RESTAURANT TO ANOTHER WORLD’s ploy. This summer season’s latest addition to the fantasy-slice-of-life genre has taken the multifaceted idea of family and hit the ground running.

RESTAURANT TO ANOTHER WORLD follows a seemingly-average diner called Western Cuisine Nekoya located beneath an office building in Tokyo. During the week, it serves classic Japanese and Western dishes to normal citizens. Once a week, however, on the “Day of Satur”, its front door opens to — you guessed it — another world. Customers from all sorts of fantasy backgrounds — from lizardmen to princesses, merchants to treasure hunters — regularly stop by the restaurant for a hearty meal and good company. The head chef, known simply as the Master, welcomes anyone and everyone who walks into his restaurant, regardless of status or species.

Through a series of vignettes that feature a different menu item, the show focuses on the timeless relationships formed between the chef and his customers. There are a lot of different ways to define a family, and RESTAURANT TO ANOTHER WORLD covers a good deal of them to define its own.

Families that Bicker Together, Stay Together

People like to say that arguing is just a sign of closeness. No better scene proves this than the anime’s very first.

Nekoya’s glowing lamps and wooden tables provide a sense of comfort and homeliness. As a result, the gruff-looking group scattered about the room seems a little out of place at first. Grimy and scarred, they don’t seem to have much in common besides their rugged appearances. That, and just how much they’re enjoying their food.

A swordsman declares that teriyaki chicken goes best with white rice. The wizard next to him argues that pork cutlets are better. A nearby barbarian cuts in to assert that curry is, in fact, the superior option. Eventually, a lion-headed man and a humanoid lizard from across the room join the commotion. Things get hilariously heated as each warrior prepares to defend his choice to the death.

Food is serious business | Image: Crunchyroll

At first glance, it seems like this is just a typical bar fight between strangers. To some it might even look like a simple gimmick to give a first taste (pun intended) of the food-and-fantasy premise. However, as you continue watching, you realize that there is a sense of closeness in their interactions. These customers actually know each other. They address each other, familiarly, by their favorite foods. They observe and gossip about new patrons with the intimacy of old friends. They’re even close enough to the chef to traverse continents in their original world simply on his request.

Although each character seems to hold his own reputation and offensive prowess in the fantasy world, in the restaurant they’re all just regular customers who bonded over delicious meals.

READ: Love cooking anime? Check out our thoughts on the English dub of FOOD WARS!

There’s No Expiration Date on Friendship

And those bonds are stronger than you may expect. No matter how much time has passed, or even generational gaps, a regular is always remembered and welcomed in Nekoya.

Episode two features the treasure hunter Sarah, who enters the restaurant following instructions from a notebook. A single glance at said notebook is all the Master needs to realize it’s the same as one of his old regulars, William. He quickly deduces that she is William’s granddaughter, and understands that her appearance must mean his friend had passed away. He pauses for a moment to grieve, and then resumes his professional manner and asks for her order. When she ends up unknowingly requesting what her grandfather always did — a minced meat cutlet meal – the Master comments wryly that it must be fate.

Sarah, for her part, had never spoken to her grandfather about Nekoya and only discovered his love for the mysterious once-a-week treasure through his notebook once he passed. Thus, she is duly confused by her surroundings and the Master’s cryptic lines. Later, when the Master offers her some takeout sandwiches as she leaves, she finally asks what the deal is.

“William would always order this along with his meal,” he explains, confirming to her that he had known her grandfather. “You looked like you were enjoying your food so much, I made this out of habit.”

It’s the Master’s own way of passing his condolences and showing respect for his former regular. Once they hear the Master’s words, the diner’s other customers, who had entered later, make the connection as well. They begin recalling fond memories of William, referring to him affectionately as “Minced Meat Cutlet.”

More than a simple customer, William was a part of Nekoya. And now, with the appearance of his granddaughter, the other regulars joke that they have a “Minced Meat Cutlet #2.” It’s a heartwarming scene, demonstrating how even someone who’s passed on is still remembered lovingly by the people he bonded with at this simple, magical restaurant. Even better, his legacy continues in Sarah, whom the Master and the other customers are happy to meet and accept.

LOOK: If you like your slice-of-life with a side of fantasy, try out MISS KOBAYASHI’S DRAGON MAID

Big Bro Master

The Master scolds his customers for causing a ruckus | Image: Crunchyroll

I’ve talked a lot about the bonds between Nekoya’s customers. It’s worth mentioning, though, that the relationship between the Master and his patrons is just as sweet.

We don’t have much about the Master’s backstory yet, like how he found Nekoya or how long he’s worked there. So far, all we know is that he once worked under the restaurant’s original owner, and now he lives and runs it alone. Despite his loner lifestyle, however, he is exceptionally welcoming to anyone who enters his diner. And most notably, he’s great with kids.

When a young, malnourished demon named Aletta stumbles into his restaurant one night, the Master doesn’t hesitate to feed her and offer her a job. “[Your pay can] be ten thousand yen — er, ten silver coins for a full day,” he suggests.

Another time, an old emperor brings his homesick granddaughter to Nekoya. The Master takes one look at the nervous little girl and immediately knows what to do. The chocolate parfait he gives her remains faithfully in her memory — and years later, she returns as a young woman looking for the same dish. The Master recognizes her almost instantly despite how much time had passed and whips up a parfait exactly as she remembered it.

It’s clear that the Master considers all of his customers his family and thus people to care for, new or regular. No matter who or how old they are, he’ll always help anyone who walks through the front door however he can. Nekoya is a warm setting, but the Master is the kind face and big brother figure that makes the place home.

Mama Dragon

Nekoya is also just a safe haven in general — it’s a place where everyone is equal. Within the walls of the restaurant, there’s no such thing as discrimination or class hierarchy. A demon can be a waitress and a monarch can be any old customer. And there’s one person in particular who is more than willing to shed her title and true dragon form so she can dine there every week.

Although the Red Queen has royalty in her name, we don’t see how much power she retains in the fantasy world. She does have a monster servant and a pretty sweet mountain of gold, though. Presumably, she’s fairly high up in terms of strength and esteem. This makes for a nice contrast when she then takes on a human form, strolls into Nekoya, and asks for her usual. Dragon queen or not, she still has her favorite dishes and is evidently a frequent visitor of this low-key diner. She refers to the restaurant as her “treasure,” taking blissful delight in the beef stew the Master serves.

In line with all dragon lore, the moment a dragon deems something as theirs, they’ll guard it fiercely. The Red Queen is always keeping an eye on Nekoya, even from her lair in the fantasy world. Thus, she sees when the Master offers Aletta a job. Her reaction — a vague line about casting a spell before promptly taking flight — is ominous at best.

We worry at first that she might oppose Aletta for invading her beloved restaurant. Instead, she gives Aletta her blessing. At night while the demon is sleeping, the Red Queen casts a magical layer of protection over her, promising, “There is no one in this world who would dare damage a part of my treasure.”

Screenshot, RESTAURANT TO ANOTHER WORLD, Episode 1
The Red Queen casts her spell on Aletta | Image: Crunchyroll

A shared fondness for the restaurant prompted such protective feelings from a powerful being. This scene proves how a simple diner can help customers transcend such societal restrictions as species and class. Nekoya is a place that fosters friendships and brings all fantasy denizens to the same level. Once you walk through the front door, you’re not a queen or a monster — you’re a customer. And to the Nekoya regulars, new customers are just new additions to the family. A family that bickers with each other, that protects one another, that stays together no matter how long. More than the magic of a portal to another world, there’s something to be said about the magic of friendship.

Magical Realism’s New Chapter

Anime focused on magical realism isn’t too hard to find these days. Recent titles include MISS KOBAYASHI’S DRAGON MAID and FLYING WITCH. RESTAURANT TO ANOTHER WORLD holds strong connections to those two. All of these shows use a fantastical element as a premise. However, at their cores, the stories aren’t really about fantasy — they’re about the families made through the fantasy element. Sure, there can be dragons abound or witches flying through the air. There can be lizardmen romping around digging into rice dishes. But all those beings are part of something bigger, regardless of their backgrounds or who they are. There’s a certain kind of mundanity in all these shows, regardless of its otherworldly presences. And within that mundanity is the genuine humanity that lets viewers relate and truly care about the onscreen bonds.

That said, there is one subtle yet definite aspect that sets RESTAURANT TO ANOTHER WORLD apart from the other shows. MISS KOBAYASHI’S DRAGON MAID and FLYING WITCH brought out the best of the ideas of acceptance and love despite their fantastical elements. Miss Kobayashi wished to continue living with Tohru even though the latter is a dragon. Similarly, Makoto’s cousins adore her regardless of her witch status.

On the other hand, RESTAURANT TO ANOTHER WORLD demonstrates a family brought together because of its magic. Without the once-a-week portal, characters of all sorts of background never would have met or forged the bonds they did. Aletta would still be hungry and impoverished; Sarah would never find her last connection to her grandfather. None of the friendships would exist at all. RESTAURANT TO ANOTHER WORLD embraces its fantasy premise rather than uses it as a wall between worlds. And because of that, it proves a refreshing change after the similar themes of the other two shows.

A Weekly Family

Screenshot, RESTAURANT TO ANOTHER WORLD, Episode 2
The regulars of Nekoya | Image: Crunchyroll

I’ll admit, as of right now RESTAURANT TO ANOTHER WORLD is pretty formulaic. Twice an episode, someone new finds Nekoya, tries a dish, loves it, and ends up coming back. It’s repetitive and predictable, no doubt about it.

However, it’s also warm and inviting, just as much as Nekoya itself. Bright colors and smiles light up every episode. There’s a sense of real camaraderie and delight in each of the characters as they converse and try new foods. And there’s nothing like a customer’s beam as they exit the diner with a promise that they’ll return.

I’m a simple person. I like fantasy and I love food. I also adore stories about vastly different people bonding over mutual mundane interests. RESTAURANT TO ANOTHER WORLD delivers on all fronts. Maybe this isn’t the most exciting show this season. But if you’re looking for a compassionate, lighthearted series to spend the time, this is a dish you won’t want to pass up.

SEE: Looking for a more explosive time? Read our analysis on MY HERO ACADEMIA‘s Katsuki Bakugo!

Featured image screenshotted from Crunchyroll.

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