Sunday, February 9, 2014

Mixed Vegetables (manga, vol. 2) by Ayumi Komura

Mixed Vegetables is a romantic comedy series. It's published by VIZ Media, as part of their Shojo Beat imprint. I found it in a used bookstore.

Synopsis:

Hanayu learns, to her shock, that Hayato has been lying to her about his feelings: he was only dating her because he wanted to one day inherit her parents' bakery and become a pastry chef. Once he learns that Hanayu wants to become a sushi chef, she becomes useless to him, so he dumps her.

This results in a lot of tension, since Hanayu and Hayato are still classmates. Gradually, they get to know each other for real, without all the lies in the way. Hanayu teaches Hayato a little about baking, and Hayato tries to recreate the sushi-style rolled omelets that inspired Hanayu's desire to become a sushi chef.

Review:

In some ways, volume 2 is an improvement upon volume 1. In other ways, it's worse.

The scene that began the volume was shocking, probably the most exciting moment in the series so far. Hayato revealed himself to be just as selfish and manipulative as Hanayu. Perhaps more so, considering that he briefly entertained the thought of doing away with Hanayu's little brother so that there would be no one else who could potentially inherit Hanayu's parents' bakery.

However, as great at this scene was, there were two problems with it. One, it should have happened at the end of the first volume. And two, it was almost too effective at making Hayato unlikeable.

There wasn't really much about volume 1 to inspire readers to continue on. Having nice, safe, bland Hayato suddenly reveal his true self at the end of the volume would have made for a fantastic cliffhanger. It would have been a risky move, but, I think, an effective one.

Of course, this being a romance series, Komura had to somehow turn Hayato into a viable love interest again. She didn't accomplish that quite as smoothly as I would have liked, and I'm still not sure I understand the thought process that inspired Hanayu to chase after Hayato, apologize to him, forgive him, and become friends with him again.

So, with this volume the full premise is finally clear. Hanayu is the daughter of a pastry chef and will be expected to one day inherit her parents' bakery, but what she really wants is to become a sushi chef. She has a little brother who could potentially inherit it in her place, but he has the makings of a pro baseball player, so she doesn't want to do that to him. Hayato is the only son of a sushi chef and is expected to one day inherit his parents' sushi restaurant, but what he really wants is to become a pastry chef.

Neither one of them feels like they can tell their parents. I haven't seen much of Hayato's parents yet, but Hanayu's seem pretty nice and laid back. I wanted to shake her when she talked about not wanting to ruin her brother's dream. What, did that mean her brother's dream was more important than hers? I continued to wish she'd just talk to her parents about all of this. It's always possible her dad has an enthusiastic apprentice who could inherit the bakery. Heck, if both Hayato and Hanayu talked to their parents, maybe Hayato could be that enthusiastic apprentice.

As over-the-top as Hanayu's obsession with sushi could occasionally be, I could still believe in her dream more than I could in Hayato's. Supposedly, he really wanted to be a pastry chef. Fine. There were signs of it even in volume 1. Just like Hanayu made sushi when she was supposed to be doing other things, Hayato made desserts.

However, whereas Hanayu had spent years secretly learning to make sushi and making fish-based meals at home whenever she could find an excuse to do so, Hayato didn't even have access to an oven. If he had been even half as obsessed with baking as Hanayu was with sushi, I would think he'd have talked his way into a kindly neighbor's house to use their oven.

Then there was this, said by Hayato to Hanayu: “I've never been to your bakery. It's embarrassing for a guy to be seen in such a dainty place.”

You've got to be kidding me. How am I supposed to believe that he wants to be a pastry chef as much as Hanayu wants to be a sushi chef when he's embarrassed to even go to a bakery on his own?

One area where volume 2 was definitely an improvement upon volume 1 was the increased number of food illustrations. In this volume, several students, including Hanayu and Hayato, had to participate in a make-up exam that involved baking and decorating cakes. The resulting cakes were lovely – I'd love to try a slice of Hanayu's bitter chocolate cake. A visit to Hanayu's parents' bakery resulted in more pretty dessert illustrations, and Hayato's efforts to recreate the sushi-style rolled omelets that inspired Hanayu to become a sushi chef rounded the volume off. The egg roll omelet with aojiso leaves and cheese made my mouth water, and that's with me not having a clue what it would even taste like.

I'm now officially finished with all the volumes of Mixed Vegetables that I own. If I had more volumes, I'd probably read on, but I don't know that the series is good enough for me to go to the effort of continuing it via interlibrary loan. I realized, somewhere in the middle of this volume, that I ship Ichii (Hanayu's more normal and down-to-earth best friend) and Matsuyama (Hayato's quiet and nearly invisible best friend) more than I do Hanayu and Hayato.

Extras:

There are full-page comic-style author's notes after each chapter, short author's notes at the beginning of each chapter, a couple pages of translator's notes, and a 1-page bonus comic. In one of the comic-style author's notes, Komura tried to explain what sort of hairstyle Hanayu has. I've seen this cited in other reviews for this series, and I have to agree - Komura's character drawings aren't always very consistent, and it can be hard to tell some of her characters apart. My biggest problem in this volume was telling Hanayu and Matsuyama apart, particularly in the simpler, more comedic panels.

Read-alikes and Watch-alikes:

  • Yakitate!! Japan (manga) by Takashi Hashiguchi - There is zero romance in this series - it's completely focused on crazy, over-the-top bread-baking competitions. Those who want more yummy food drawings may want to give this a try. I've written about volumes 11-12.
  • Beauty Pop (manga) by Kiyoko Arai - This is another romantic comedy, but the focus isn't on food. The main characters are three boys who give random girls makeovers, thereby making them feel better about themselves, and Kiri, a girl who happens to be a master hairstylist. Those who like main characters who are obsessively focused on being the best at one particular thing may want to give this a try.
  • Kare Kano (manga) by Masami Tsuda; His and Her Circumstances (anime TV series) - Those who'd like another romantic comedy in which the main characters are lying about who they are and what they want may want to try this. Just be warned, there's also a good bit of drama as the series progresses. Miyazawa is vain and likes to be praised by others, so she works hard to look like a model student and perfect girl. Her greatest rival is Arima, who seems to be the real deal, an actual model student who's good at everything. Then one day Miyazawa and Arima find out the truth about each other.
  • Antique Bakery (manga) by Fumi Yoshinaga; Antique Bakery (anime TV series) - Okay, so this series is nothing like Mixed Vegetables. It stars adults who all end up working in the same Western-style pastry shop, and there is at least as much drama as there is comedy. I added it to this list mostly because it's an excellent food-related series. The pastries are lovely. I want them. I've written about the anime and all four volumes of the manga. Beware: my posts are filled with spoilers.

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