Cooking Papa had been running in Weekly Morning for seven years at this point, and this first episode does feel a little like you are meant to have an idea about what the deal is with the show already. It doesn’t go into any great detail explaining who the characters are, it just tells a sweet story about the son of the family befriending a shy girl and the titular papa having to solve a problem by cooking. You get a pretty good idea of what Kazumi Araiwa, his wife Nijiko and son Makoto are like from seeing them interact with other characters, without it ever spelling out what the series’ hook is.
That hook is as follows, with Nijiko so busy as a journalist, Kazumi working only a 5 minute moped ride from home, and most of all, because he loves to cook, Kazumi cooks for the family. But he keeps it hidden from his colleagues, because apparently in 1992 it would be career suicide if they learnt how good a cook he was. Or that his wife doesn’t cook for him. One of the two, maybe both. Thankfully this doesn’t result in any sort of hackneyed farce nor is it particularly drawn attention to in the is episode. While Kazumi isn’t so sell assured as to tell his collegues, you don’t get him panicking that they are going to find out either.
The other, presumably recurring, characters are a little harder to get a feel for in ths first episode, mainly because there’s so many of them. Despite that I can recall a lot of them, there’s the classmate with the hots for Makoto, Makoto’s weird looking friend, Kazumi’s bumbling junior, a chorus of office ladies, and his boss who wants to eat the lunches that Kazumi’s “wife” made had made for her husband.
It’s not especially funny, and for a cooking show, there’s really not a lot of technical food talk in the episode’s story. The characters though, are so nice and above all, normal, that it’s a pleasant watch.
I think the more exagerrated look of Kazumi and Nijiko, him with the enormous frame and giant chin, her with the thick coke bottle lenses, actually make them seem more normal than if they had a more standard look. People are kinda funny looking more often than they are drop dead handsome or beautiful after all.
Given that it is/was aimed at a young audience, it also makes them look more like parents than just manga characters. Makoto on the other hand is quite blandly designed, making it easier for a young reader to identify with him. Of course, those kids who read it back in 1985 now probably look more like Kazumi or Nijiko. That being said, I see from wikipedia that the characters have aged over the series, with Makoto about to pick a university in 2009. Presumably they have slowly aged, rather than Makoto being held back multiple years.
There’s a live action educational cooking sequence post credits, but it wasn’t fansubbed and Astro Fighter Sunred’s cooking instruction parodies had ruined these sort of things for me already.
Tochi Ueyama’s manga is still running today, and there was a live action TV show in 2008. And Cooking Papa buns in 2012.