Monday, April 18, 2011

Antique Bakery (anime TV series)

The image on the left is what one side of the box looks like - the original looks much nicer. I did terrible (but kind of cool) things in GIMP  to get this image.

Synopsis:

When Tachibana was a little boy, he was kidnapped. Although he was found and reunited with his family, with no apparent physical harm having been done to him, the experience affected him and his relationships with others for years afterward. All he could remember about his kidnapper was that the man liked cake and fed it to him every day. After he was found, Tachibana could no longer stand the taste of cake.

Years later, Tachibana suddenly quits his job in order to open a classy Western  bakery. His parents take it in a stride, and his father even finds him a genius pastry chef. That pastry chef turns out to be Ono, who, when they were both seniors in high school, confessed to Tachibana that he loved him. Tachibana told Ono that he disgusted him and should go die. The experience so upset Ono that he forgot what Tachibana looked like and went on to become the Gay of Demonic Charm - if he finds himself attracted to someone, that person, whether he is gay or straight, ends up pursuing him, something which has resulted in him being fired from numerous bakeries. Once Ono remembers who Tachibana is, he says he's relieved that he's finally found a bakery where his Demonic Charm won't work. In actuality, though, Tachibana and Ono still have some issues to work out.

Tachibana and Ono are joined by Eiji, an ex-boxer who adores sweets. Ono takes Eiji on as his apprentice, and Tachibana acts as the bakery's salesperson, beautifully and deliciously describing the bakery's pastries and cakes despite never having tasted most of them. The bakery's number increases by one more when Tachibana's childhood friend, Chikage, arrives. Although Chikage is generally useless, Tachibana prefers him in the shop to sitting in his car like a stalker.

The show deals with these four characters' relationships with each other, as well as their individual pasts and development.

Commentary:

Back when I was first reading the manga this anime is based on, I learned about the anime and was tempted to watch a fansubbed version of it. I never did, and then, when the anime was finally licensed, I wished I had, because I wasn't sure I would like it. I wasn't sure how four volumes of story was going to manage to fit into 12 episodes, and I hadn't entirely liked some of the screenshots I had seen. However, I'm a sucker for a sale, and when Right Stuf had a sale on Nozomi titles I went ahead and preordered the series.

Overall, I'm glad I own it, although I now wish I also owned the manga. I think the anime is fairly good, but I remember the manga being quite a bit better.

The anime is more linear, for one thing. It still has the flashbacks that provide tantalizing glimpses of the events that so affected several of the characters, but I think the manga had this to an even greater degree. Part of the fun of reading the manga was rereading it and catching the nuances that were easy to miss during the first read - that's not as much the case with the anime, and I don't think that's just because I already knew the whole story. I'd love to hear from someone whose first exposure to the series was via the anime and who then read the manga. I'm glad that I read the manga first, since I think the anime would have ruined that feeling I had that I was getting to put together pieces of a puzzle as I read.

Like I said, I had worried about how 4 volumes worth of material would be dealt with in only 12 episodes. Rather than rush through everything, the screenwriter chose to cut a lot out. Most of the stories dealing with various customers in more detail were cut out - Miss Urushihara and her husband only just barely had a part in the anime. Tachibana's family never visited the bakery, Tachibana's failed relationships with women were cut down to one scene, Ono offered to take Eiji to Jean-Baptiste's restaurant but nothing was ever shown to come of the offer, Ono's habit of having sex with just about any man he's interested in was cut down to three characters (Ono is shown going off with another guy and also shown laying in bed with Jean-Baptiste, but that's pretty much it)..I could go on. Again, it would be great to know what someone for whom the anime is their first experience with this series thinks about this. As someone who has read the manga, I think all that stuff that was cut out was part of what made the manga stronger, but I think the anime still tells a good story.

When I first saw screenshots of the anime, I was dismayed, because it looked like someone had decided to give the characters pastel hair. This turns out not to have been the case. In actuality, the coloring used on the characters has an almost washed out look, like they were trying to imitate the delicate coloring Fumi Yoshinaga used on the manga covers. I didn't so much mind this where Eiji and Ono were concerned, but I would have liked it if Tachibana's hair had seemed more black and less gray. It didn't help that the backgrounds, which I think were entirely CG, did contain true black, making Tachibana's hair look even more like that of a gray-haired old man. I think shading on people's faces and highlights in hair was done in some kind of airbrush-like way, which looked fine in some parts but just plain muddy in others. I had the same thoughts about the backgrounds - sometimes that CG backgrounds looked gorgeous and fit naturally with the 2D characters, and sometimes the 3D looked painfully obvious. There's a CG cat that shows up in a couple scenes that looks terrible, but then there were times when the bakery itself looks stunning.

As far as the voice acting goes, I thought Mamoru Miyano didn't sound quite right as Eiji at first, but he seemed to grow into the role. Since I felt that way during my second viewing of the series, too, I don't think it was just because Miyano didn't sound quite like what I had imagined Eiji would sound like. I thought all the other casting decisions were excellent. While I was thrilled that Kazuhiko Inoue, one of my voice crushes, has a part in this series, it was a little painful hearing him try to speak French. It's been a long time since my last French class, but I'm pretty sure he had a fairly heavy accent. Sadly, as is the case with many (all?) Nozomi releases, the series does not include an English dub.

Overall, I'm glad I own this series, and I'm adding the Antique Bakery manga onto my list of manga I'm going to try to acquire when and as I can. I do think the anime keeps the manga's nice mix of humor and drama. This is a series I'd recommend to someone who wants to try anime but isn't wild about the usual stereotypical stuff that shows up in most series. Ono's "Gay of Demonic Charm" status is about as off-the-wall as this series gets - the focus is primarily on characters' pasts and relationships, with a few nice shots of delicious pastries being made to break things up.

Although the characters appear to be mostly fine on the surface, several of them have deep issues that they have to deal with somehow. Deep down, Eiji is afraid of not being needed, of being abandoned. Ono has lots of sex (off-screen, in my opinion fairly marginalized in the anime, and never actually explicitly stated - instead of "having sex," Ono does "all sorts of things"), sometimes with people who are really, really bad for him, but I don't think he's ever had a healthy, emotionally engaging relationship. Tachibana wants so badly not to upset the people he cares about that he has a tendency to never fully open up to most people. While I do feel that all of this is presented and dealt with better in the manga, it's still riveting stuff in the anime. Also, I'm sure there are those who will cheer, saying, "Yay, an anime series starring adults!"

Extras:

Extras include clean opening and closing animations (I love the opening!), the U.S. trailer for the series, an interview with Tomomi Kasai, live event coverage featuring the voice actors who played Ono, Tachibana, Eiji, Chikage, and Deko, and a full-color booklet containing character bios, quick facts, interviews, and featured desserts.

I've only flipped through the booklet. I really enjoyed the illustrations and descriptions of the desserts, although it would have been nice if those illustrations had been larger and more detailed. I thought some of the character illustrations looked slightly fuzzy but otherwise nice. Most of the character information is probably nothing new if you've watched the anime and read the manga, and I don't think there's anything new even if you've only seen the anime. There are only a couple pages of quick facts, but it's still a nice section - it includes some Japanese cultural information viewers might have wondered about while watching the anime, as well as information about a couple pastry-related French phrases, and a few random facts (for example: "April 26 - The day Antique opened."). I haven't yet read the interviews.

The interview with Tomomi Kasai, who voiced Deko, had me scratching my head - of all the people they could have chosen to interview, why interview a fairly new voice actress whose character only appeared in one episode? I was glad that the voice actors who played Chikage, Tachibana, Ono, and Eiji all showed up in the live event coverage, but then Tomomi Kasai showed up again. Once again, I wondered about it. I'm guessing that someone was trying very hard to use Antique Bakery to boost Kasai into stardom. Or maybe someone thought that a cute young woman was needed to sell this show.

I am no better at coming up with read-alikes and watch-alikes for this series than I was when I wrote the posts for the manga volumes. In fact, if you know of better things to put on this list, please tell me, because I'd love to read/watch something else at least as good as Antique Bakery.

Watch-alikes and Read-alikes:
  • Kare Kano (manga) by Masami Tsuda; His and Her Circumstances (anime TV series) - This is another series in which there is more to the characters than meets the eye. One of the main characters has a dark past he has been trying to overcome, resulting in him making some of the same mistakes Tachibana made while trying to keep his loved ones from worrying.
  • Emma (manga) by Kaoru Mori; Emma (anime TV series) - If you really enjoyed the lovely slice-of-life moments in Antique Bakery, like the times when Eiji and Ono were making and decorating the cakes and pastries, you might like this series, which has similar moments. This series is set in Victorian England and features a cross-class romance between a young maid and a member of the gentry.
  • Ristorante Paradiso (manga) by Natsume Ono - Want something else that stars adults and is pretty character-oriented? Then you might want to try this. Nicoletta travels to Rome to find her mother, Olga, who basically abandoned her because she didn't think the guy who she'd fallen in love with would still want to be with her if he knew she was a divorcee with a child. Now, 15 years later, Nicoletta blackmails Olga into helping her find a place to stay and giving her a job at Olga's husband's restaurant. While working there, Nicoletta starts to fall in love with one of the waiters, a handsome older gentleman, and gradually builds a relationship with her mother.

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