Description: When an old antique shop re-opens as the hottest new bakery in an unsuspecting neighborhood, there’s no doubt that a few surprises are cooking. Love, rejection, old high school flames and the most delicious boy-to-boy affections all blend together to make a treat unlike any other. The Antique Bakery is now open…care for a dessert? Antique Bakery teases the palate with humor, fun flirtation and a host of sweet and sour moments. No matter what you crave, this is one shop you can’t pass up.
As I said last week, for the month of November I’m going to review cooking manga. When I reviewed the first volume of Kitchen Princess, I said this about cooking manga: In my mind, cooking manga demonstrates everything that comics can be—all about great stories about something everyone does. I mean, let’s face it; everybody eats. Cooking manga is shonen, shojo, seinen, yaoi—it cuts across genres in ways that other types of stories don’t. I just think it’s cool how creators play with food and cooking to come up with so many different situations, characters, plots. Plus, there’s some inherent difficulties in representing food in comics—the visual pleasures of food are not easily re-created in black and white line drawings, and the obvious draws—smell and taste—are not available to the mangaka. Yet the best cooking manga makes you hungry! I’ve heard about Antique Bakery quite a bit—Fuji Yoshinaga is a major talent and it shows here. She’s primarily a yaoi artist, and her work is spoken of in the same way that I’ve heard people speak about DeathNote, Monster, and Nana—as in, “if you want to know what seinen/shonen/shoujo/yaoi manga is like,” someone will say, (or even, “before you judge that genre”) “check out this.” Antique Bakery is the yaoi that sealed Yoshinaga’s reputation here in the US, and so when I decided to write a month of cooking manga reviews, I knew I had to include this title.
I’m glad I did—Antique Bakery is as sweet, delectable, and playful as the pastries sold in the titular shop. This is a love triangle, kind of, but at heart it’s a situation comedy. In fact, it feels only nominally yaoi. The setup is this: Tachibana owns the bakery and runs service, Ono is the master pastry chef, and Eiji is the equivalent of a busboy. And the setup is this: Tachibana is an oddball business-type, kind of a schemer, beautiful but loutish, a straight guy who’s hoping that his bakery will give him access to cute young women he can endlessly hit on. And while Ono is the finest pastry chef there is, he is, in his own words, “a gay of demonic charm”—every bakery and restaurant he’s ever worked in has fired him for causing fights between men, husbands leaving their wives, and worse. Eiji is a boxer with a vicious sweet tooth and detached retinas. Thus, Tachibana’s too much of a businessman to hire any chef but the best, but Ono’s total, inescapable fear of women means that Tachibana cannot hire a “sweet little counter girl.” And Ono’s omnivorous sexual attraction has found in Tachibana the one man who escapes his devilish charms. Eiji, on the other hand, works just to be near the master chef—a desire of another sort. But he’s not Ono’s type, and he has no respect for Tachibana. And that is what I mean by love triangle, albeit, a love triangle of a different sort.
This first volume begins in the present, with the bakery and its trio acting as set pieces for “problem of the week” storylines. Complex set-ups, involving interweaving both the main and secondary guest characters’ backstories leads to a not very satisfying ending for the chapters, but good enough. At this point, midway through the volume, you have a fun handle on the characters and the humor. Then the story drops back to the beginning and the series of events that led to the creation of the Antique Bakery. And it’s here that the story, humor, characters, art—everything really clicks and starts humming along.
I loved Antique Bakery. Just picking up the book to look over sections for this review had me cracking up seeing again some of the great moments. Yoshinaga has such great control over her characters, their gestures, and facial expressions. Her stylings are solidly in the yaoi mode, with lithe, limber guys, finely rendered and lovingly detailed. One of the things that tends to bother me about yaoi—how backgrounds tend to completely vanish for pages—here is done judiciously. And if you’re squeamish about guy/guy action, there’s only really one brief scene in the book, definitely more heat that fire. That said, the guys are sexy, particularly Ono when he gets dressed up to go out on the town. What I don’t know is where the series goes from here. The whole set-up seems like a delicate balance that threatens to fall apart if Yoshinaga keeps things going as they are, or collapse in on itself because the stories stall out in a stale, guest with romantic problem per chapter.
A couple of other comments before I leave Antique Bakery: Yoshinaga does a fantastic job of the cooking side of the manga. There aren’t lots of drawings of the pastries, but what make’s it really sing are the ways she has the customers savor their food. When somebody tastes great food in cooking manga they can immediately break down the ingredients that make it so. In a good cooking manga, nearly every character is, at heart, a foodie, sort of like how everyone in a shoujo manga is pretty. In Antique Bakery, this food ecstasy becomes a more general expression of sensual, sexual energy. So that everyone’s sweet tooth becomes suggestive of different cravings entirely. It’s very clever.
Finally, I just want to note something about the packaging of this by Digital Manga Press. Their volumes are larger than the typical manga released in the US, and they include the dust jackets that most other publishers forego. I really enjoyed these elements of the book. Yoshinaga’s art felt expansive and dramatic with the extra space, and the slipcover gave Antique Bakery that extra bit of class that made it stand out. DMP really stands out with this volume.