Sunday, May 31, 2009

Antique Bakery (manga, vol. 3) by Fumi Yoshinaga

The Antique Bakery takes part in a promotional fair at a department store. The event is being covered by two female TV reporters, Haruka and Tammy, whose claim to fame is their sexiness and large breasts - Tammy isn't really fazed by this, but Haruka can't wait for the day when she'll get to be a real reporter, covering serious news (she would also settle for marriage). Haruka immediately sets her sights on Ono and is very disappointed when she finds out he's gay.

The plan for the fair was to have Tachibana tending to the customers while Ono made desserts in the back. Unfortunately, due to a sty in his eye, Tachibana has to go help Kanda at the bakery while Chikage handles the customers at the fair - and it doesn't help matters that Ono's work area will be in full view of the many women attending the fair (remember, Ono's afraid of women). Ono gets through it by assuming his ultra-sexy gay guy persona and pretending that all the customers are just pretty guys in drag. He coaches Chikage through handling the customers, and between the two of them they charm everyone. Meanwhile, Kanda has to figure out how to bake one of the bakery's popular items, something he accomplishes with the help of Tachibana's pastry memory. During a lull, Kanda finally asks Tachibana if he opened the bakery in the hope of trying to catch his kidnapper. It's a question Tachibana can't answer. In the end, everyone manages to survive the two days of the fair.

In the next part of the volume, Ono's former pastry-making teacher, Jean-Baptiste Hevens, shows up and tries to convince him to leave the Antique Bakery and work for him instead. Ono is tempted, because the pay would be really good, but he ends up deciding to stay in order to continue teaching Kanda. He doesn't know how to break the news to Jean-Baptiste - he's already started sleeping with the guy again (they were lovers back in his apprenticeship days in Paris), and, in addition, Jean-Baptiste has a temper (he used to alternate between being abusive and loving during their time as a couple).

The others at the Antique Bakery are thrilled when they hear that Ono plans to stay (Tachibana was so desperate to keep him that he basically offered to sleep with him if he'd stay), but, when Ono is late one morning, Tachibana and Chikage discover that Jean-Baptiste beat Ono and planned to break his hand after Ono told him he wasn't coming to Paris. Chikage is furious, but Ono and Tachibana convince him not to hurt Jean-Baptiste. They go to the bakery, and then Kanda is furious and wants to hunt Jean-Baptiste down. Ono offers to take him to the hotel in Japan where he's currently working, but not so that he can beat Jean-Baptiste up - rather, he believes that trying the man's incredible pastries will convince him not to beat him up and also be a good learning experience. In the end, Tachibana gives both Kanda and Ono a bonus, and Ono takes Kanda to the hotel to try Jean-Baptiste's pastries, which Kanda enjoys immensely.

Tammy, the reporter from the first part of the volume, is getting married, and the Antique Bakery is handling the catering. Interspersed throughout this portion are flashbacks featuring Tachibana during his birthday, only a month after he was found, and Tachibana and his girlfriends from high school to just before he decided to open the Antique Bakery. The catering job goes smoothly - Kanda's first pastry idea is well-received, and Ono manages to interact with the many female guests so well that Tachibana starts to worry he might become a "bi of demonic charm." The flashbacks of Tachibana's past aren't quite so nice.

At his first birthday since coming back home after the kidnapping, Tachibana seems like a happy kid, but his mother can sense that he's trying a little too hard to appear cheerful and in private he throws up the birthday cake she made for him. Tachibana acts ecstatic about every single one of his girlfriends (it surprised me, but it looks like each one was a monogamous relationship, at least on his part), but each one of those girlfriends ends up dumping him and telling him it's because they can tell he's trying too hard and they don't really feel loved. In fact, the reason why Tachibana treated Ono so badly in high school was because Ono had incredibly bad timing and confessed his love right after Tachibana's girlfriend dumped him. Near the end of this portion of the volume, Tachibana has recently been dumped again and is drunkenly asking a friend if it's possible that whatever the kidnapper did to him, maybe molesting him (Tachibana can't remember anything), warped him somehow. He wonders if he'll be like this forever. Although he does well at anything he tries, he can't settle on a job because he'd have to work with his old girlfriends. He decides to open the Antique Bakery, perhaps as a way to overcome whatever happened to him while he was kidnapped.

The next portion of the volume begins with a flashback to Chikage's childhood. Chikage's mother is taking Tachibana's mother's cooking classes, and Tachibana's mother notices that Chikage's mother is covered in bruises. She invites her and her son to come live with her and her family and work as their new housekeeper. Chikage's mother only agrees to do so after she realizes that, by continuing to live with her husband, she's upsetting Chikage and making him worry about her.

Next, a writer is trying to work and gets into an argument with her young daughter, who wants her affection but doesn't know how to say it. During a particularly heated point in their argument, the mother hits her slaps her daughter, and she runs off. Meanwhile, at the Antique Bakery, Tachibana and Chikage are critiquing Kanda's boring-looking but delicious creations. The writer's daughter, Kaedeko (Deko), enters the shop and, to Ono and Kanda's horror, asks to stay at Chikage's for the night. Ono and Kanda are even more horrified when it appears to them as though Tachibana is flirting with Deko and when Deko climbs onto Chikage's lap and hugs him. Deko tells Chikage what happened with her mother, and Chikage, remembering a younger Tachibana waking up from a nightmare and needing comfort, tells her that she's got to start acting more like an adult for her mother at times, because even adults occasionally have tough times.

Later, Deko tries one of Kanda's cakes and loves it, which instantly makes Kanda like her. Then Deko's mother shows up, at which point it is revealed that Deko is Chikage's daughter (Ono: "So, he was sexually active after all." Kanda: "He actually knew how to make children..."). Deko's mother, Sakurako, had been desperate for a child and convinced Chikage to sleep with her. Sakurako, a novelist, had gotten upset with Deko because she was stressed out by her latest deadline and suffering from a hernia, which she hadn't told her daughter about. Deko, it turns out, is only in the fourth grade, although she looks several years older (as her mother says, she's like Chikage, inside and out - pretty, tall, and not too bright). Anyway, Chikage slept with Sakurako because she was desperate and it was something even he could do for her. Whenever Sakurako needed a break from taking care of Deko, Chikage took Deko in (and Tachibana did most of the "taking care of," which is why he treats her like she were his daughter or niece). By the end, Deko and Sakurako have left and they seem to be doing quite well together - Sakurako's smile when Deko tells her she's like to learn how make a cake for her is very nice.

Overall, I really enjoyed this volume - I don't think there's been a volume I haven't liked yet, because each new volume reveals more pieces of these very interesting characters' pasts. Apparently, I wasn't far off the mark when I speculated that Tachibana might have opened up the Antique Bakery because he hoped to capture his kidnapper. That didn't really surprise me, but Chikage's daughter and the abusive nature of Ono's relationship with Jean-Baptiste did. I suppose Jean-Baptiste shouldn't have come as too much of a surprise. With the way Ono lives, it would be more surprising if there weren't a jerk somewhere in his past, and his habit of sleeping with multiple men without any of his lovers knowing would probably upset the most even-tempered of guys. I guess I just figured that Ono had had all his lovers wrapped around his fingers. It was sad to see how little he seems to care for his own well-being - even knowing what Jean-Baptiste was like, back when he was his apprentice, Ono slept with him again and put himself back in the same position he had been in. It's Tachibana who tries to talk some sense into him, and I'm not really sure he succeeded. I had hoped that Kanda would beat Jean-Baptiste up despite his pastries, or maybe that he would at least say that Jean-Baptiste's pastries didn't compare to Ono's (part of Jean-Baptiste's abusiveness stemmed from his jealousy of Ono's pastry-making talent, but Ono always says that his pastries don't compare to Jean-Baptiste's) - instead, it looks kind of like Ono was right, Kanda really does forgive the guy because of his pastries.

My response to the revelation that Chikage had had a child was pretty much like Ono and Kanda's - I couldn't believe the guy knew how to make babies. I wouldn't be surprised if Sakurako had had to help him figure out what to do. This was a great thing to end the volume with - so much of the volume was weighty and a bit dark that the humor and sweetness of this portion was very welcome.

Speaking of weighty and dark bits, the flashbacks of Tachibana's various girlfriends were interesting. Tachibana had said before that he acts like a perfect young man for his family so that they won't worry about him, but his mother, at least, worries because he's like this. In addition, this behavior is also what drove most of his girlfriends away (one of them dumped him because he didn't really know her as well as he thought he did, something she realized when he proposed after she was told to quit her job). This part finally explains why a guy who, in present day, seems pretty decent, was so horrible to Ono back in high school. It also explains a little more what prompted him to open a bakery.

Finally, I found it intersting that Ono seems to be getting over his fear of women a little. It starts during the fair, when Haruka tells him that the reason he was popular with the women was not because he was acting "obviously gay," but rather because he is really, really attractive - his expression after she tells him this was very hard for me to read, so I'm not sure if he really appreciated what she said and was just stunned or if her words upset him. However, later on, he does fine speaking to a waitress and doesn't realize it until Tachibana mentions it to him. Then he handles throngs of women without a problem when the Antique Bakery handles the catering for Tammy's wedding.

I can't wait to read the next volume and see what else Yoshinaga reveals about these characters. Sure, it's tons of drama, but drama is fun.

Sorry for the pathetic read-alikes and watch-alikes. All my usual resources for hunting down potential read-alikes and watch-alikes for anime and manga that aren't like what I usually read have failed me for this series. It's like Emma, all over again... Feel free to suggest read-alikes or watch-alikes of your own in a comment.

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.)

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