Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Antique Bakery (manga, vol. 2) by Fumi Yoshinaga

The guys at the Antique Bakery learn a little more about Kanda's past after he has to find a new place to live. It turns out Kanda used to be in a biker gang. He'd save women who were being beaten or otherwise mistreated by other gang members, and then the women would sleep with him out of gratitude. Yep, Kanda may be cute, but he apparently wasn't always as nice and innocent-looking as he is now. Well, by the end of the chapter, Tachibana has offered to rent the second floor of the bakery out to Kanda, and Kanda has accepted.

Then, Tachibana finds things he thought he'd left behind catching up to him. One of those "things" is Chikage, who is tall, handsome, incredibly loyal, and amazingly inept. He's Tachibana's family's housekeeper, but he's really bad at it. He's been sent to Tachibana for reasons that aren't revealed until the end of the volume, when Yoshinaga hits readers with a plot whammy. I'll admit, when I first got this volume, I was bad and read little bits here and there before I finally read the entire thing from beginning to end. One of the things I read was the ending - at which point I gasped and immediately requested the third volume through ILL. However, I'm getting ahead of myself. I'll talk about the ending later. If you don't like reading spoilers, you probably shouldn't be reading this blog. My posts have spoilers more often than not, and I don't always remember to warn people.

Anyway, Ono notices pretty quickly that there's something going on between Tachibana and Chikage. His first guess was that they were lovers, which Tachibana denies, but it's obvious that the two of them are pretty close. However, all thoughts of the Tachibana-Chikage mystery fly out of Ono's head the first time he sees Chikage without his sunglasses on - once again, Ono is in lust. Despite already having a lover, Ono flirts with and seduces Chikage (we're talking full-power "gay of demonic charm" mode here). Unsuspecting and innocent Chikage instantly falls for Ono's charms. When Tachibana decides to keep Chikage occupied by giving him a job at the Antique Bakery, Ono gets even more chances to seduce Chikage. He even almost manages to sleep with him, but Chikage is too nice a guy - Ono practically throws himself at Chikage, and all Chikage can think is, "For shame! I can't believe I almost took advantage of a drunken Ono."

Remember, though, that Ono already has a lover - this thing with Chikage could not continue, trouble-free, forever. Soon, Ono's boyfriend finds out, there's a big fight, and Chikage's feelings get hurt when he gets caught in the middle and Ono says some careless things. Amazingly enough, Tachibana gets angry with Ono not because he used his charms on Chikage, but rather because he hurt Chikage's feelings. Tachibana may no longer be the cruel homophobe he was (or seemed to be?) back in high school, but still - apparently, his affection for Chikage is such that he doesn't care if he's gay, as long as he's happy. Anyway, Ono patches things up with Chikage well enough, but he also stops playing his usual games with Chikage, at least in this volume. I can't wait to see how things progress in later volumes.

The guys at the Antique Bakery now have to gear up for the Christmas season. Tachibana wants to do some special door-to-door deliveries on Christmas Eve, so Chikage has to be ready to man the tables and take care of customers by himself. Meanwhile, it's time for Kanda to take his next step as Ono's apprentice and make a cake on his own. Nearly everyone has some serious training ahead of him - Chikage with...everything, Kanda with the cakes, and Tachibana with angel hair decoration (Miss Urushihara from the first volume is back, and Tachibana would rather die than make it seem as though the Antique Bakery couldn't handle every single one of her Christmas-time requests). Everything works out ok, though. Tachibana's Santa costume doesn't go over so well at first, and he makes lots of little kids cry, but he handles Miss Urushihara's request just fine. Chikage does well enough, or at least he doesn't fail horribly, and he saves Ono from a woman-inspired panic attack (Ono is afraid of women which, we find out in this volume, may be due to the affairs Ono's mother had with just about everybody, including one of Ono's teachers).

The volume wraps up with a doozy, which, at first, appears to be a setup that will reveal as much about Tachibana as the first chapter revealed about Kanda, no big deal. Tachibana shocks everyone when he shows up to work clean-shaven for the first time since before Kanda was hired. The sudden change was inspired by an impending family visit - Tachibana's aunt and grandmother stop by the bakery. Ono and Kanda are confused and amazed during their entire visit. It seems that both women think Tachibana is a perfect angel, a sheltered young man who should be worried over and looked after. Kanda is really angry with Tachibana for putting on such a "perfect little rich boy" act, which Tachibana says he does because he doesn't want them to worry about him. Only two pages later, Yoshinaga hits readers with the big revelation--

You know how, in my post for the first volume, I wondered if the second volume was going to refer back to earlier events? Well, it definitely does. I only mentioned it a little, but there was a former police officer in the first volume who, years ago, managed to find a kidnapped boy but failed to capture the kidnapper. Tachibana was the kidnapped boy. Mr. Tadahiro, the former police officer, didn't recognize him in the first volume because of the stubble (he really does look a lot different when he's clean-shaven). Anyway, not only was Tachibana the kidnapped boy, the kidnapper apparently loved cake and gave little Tachibana cake every day (I'm not sure if Yoshinaga ever mentions how long Tachibana was gone, but it was long enough for his hair to grow out some).

So, little details are possibly explained now (or they still don't make sense - whatever). The cake thing could be why Tachibana doesn't like sweets (although, emotionally, that dislike is pretty low-key if the kidnapping really is the root of it all). Tachibana's nightmare, earlier in the volume - probably something to do with the kidnapping. His close relationship with Chikage - not sure yet, but, again, probably something to do with the kidnapping or events after he was found. Tachibana's grandmother and aunt seem shocked when Tachibana does his usual "let's describe the sweet stuff in lovely and mouth-watering ways" thing, and his grandmother mentions that she was worried when he suddenly decided to open a bakery - all this probably has something to do with the cake-loving kidnapper thing. Actually, considering that, it's pretty amazing that Tachibana willingly decided to work around cakes and other sweet things all day long. Could it be that he decided to open the bakery just to see if he could stand it? Or - and this could be a little out there - is he hoping the kidnapper might one day walk into his bakery?

When I read the first volume, I remember thinking it was a little odd how easily Tachibana's parents went along with his sudden declaration that he planned to open a bakery. In fact, they not only went along with it, the fully supported him - Tachibana's father was the one who found Ono, the genius pastry chef. With the whole cake thing, it probably worried them a bit, but they've gotten so used to coddling and protecting Tachibana over the years that they couldn't help but support him. I'm impressed they didn't send Chikage after him sooner.

Eh, I must stop, or I'll go on forever trying to relate absolutely everything to the kidnapping.

Oh, I can't wait until I get the next volume. Our ILL staff is amazing - this 2nd volume was especially difficult for them to get, because there was no nice and easy record for just the 2nd volume in WorldCat. The nice thing about working right next to ILL is that they could come by and chat with me about the best way to hunt the volume down. The third volume should hopefully be easier.

(Once again, I have problems thinking up read-alikes and watch-alikes. This list does have some new stuff, but not much.)

Read-alikes and Watch-alikes:

  • Yakitate!! Japan (manga) by Takashi Hashiguchi - Azuma Kazuma's goal is to make Ja-pan - every country except Japan seems to have its own national bread, and Azuma wants to correct this by making bread that would fit in with Japanese cuisine and be loved as much as rice. In pursuit of this goal, Azuma finds work at a branch of Pantasia, a famous bread-making chain. Bread-making isn't a sport, but you wouldn't always know it from reading Yakitate!! Japan - in this wacky manga, people bake the craziest things (which usually have some sort of basis in real-life breads), competing rabidly against one another. The feel of this manga is nothing like Antique Bakery - although this manga is also humorous, its humor is wackier than Antique Bakery's, and it doesn't have that same undercurrent of seriousness. However, readers who'd like another manga featuring mouthwatering foods might want to try this.
  • Honey and Clover (manga) by Chika Umino - (This popular manga has spawned both anime and live action shows, none of which I've listed here - check out Anime News Network if you'd like to know a little more about them.) This "slice of life" manga focuses primarily on a group of art college students - their friendships, dramas, and loves. Those who liked Antique Bakery's mix of humor and seriousness, character-driven story, and focus on relationships may enjoy this manga.
  • Bartender (manga) by Araki Joh (story) and Kenji Nagatomo (art); Bartender (anime TV series) - Ryu Sasakura is a genius bartender who makes the most incredible cocktails anyone has ever tasted. Customers of all kinds come to his bar, and Ryu uses his talents to help each one with their worries and problems. This is another character-driven "slice of life" story. In addition, those who enjoyed Antique Bakery's lovely and well-described pastries and cakes may enjoy Bartender's various drinks. (It is very bad of me to include this in the list, because neither the anime nor the manga are available in the US yet. But, oh, I wish - I've read some very nice blog posts about the anime.)
  • Emma (manga) by Kaoru Mori; Emma: A Victorian Romance (anime TV series), continues with Emma: A Victorian Romance Second Act (anime TV series) - If you found yourself really enjoying the cake and pastry-making details, you may like the lovely historical details in Emma. The story is set in Victorian England. Emma is a maid and William is a member of the gentry. The two fall in love, but how can they have a future when their class differences keep pulling them apart?
  • Fruits Basket (anime TV series); Fruits Basket (manga) by Natsuki Takaya - Tohru had been living with her grandfather after her mother died, but circumstances and Tohru's own desire not to be a burden meant that she ended up living alone in a tent for a while. However, she gets taken in by the Sohma family, who are hiding a secret - certain members of the family turn into animals in the Chinese zodiac when they're weak or hugged by a member of the opposite sex. Both the manga and anime are good - the anime follows the manga pretty closely (except for a few things, and the last episode), but it ends well before the manga does. Like Antique Bakery, this series has a fairly "calm" feel to it overall - also like Antique Bakery, it occasionally hits you with some jaw-dropping revelations that make it clear there's more to the characters than their light, fluffy surfaces let on.

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