Monday, May 21, 2012


ANTIQUE BAKERY (Seiyō Kottō Yōgashiten), by Fumi Yoshinaga, first published in 2000, published in North America in 2005.

One day, salaryman Keisuke Tachibana declares to his family that he wishes to open a bakery!  Now, if you or I were to make such an announcement at the dinner table, we would probably get the same sort of confused, skeptical look as one would get if he or she suddenly announced that they were moving to Bulgaria to live out their dream of becoming a cartographer.  Tachibana's family reacts slightly better than that, with support and a hint of mild confusion.  Fast forward sometime later, and Tachibana is finally opening the Antique Bakery, where gourmet sweets, drinks and snacks are created and served for guests by the handsome wait- and kitchen staff: Tachibana, the manager; Yusuke Ono, the head patissier and (in his own words) “a gay of demonic charm,” an unfortunate thing to be when it has caused your previous coworkers to fall madly in love with you to the point of fighting and bloodshed; and Eiji Kanda, the ex-boxer/apprentice patissier whose enthusiasm for baking is matched only by his sweet tooth.  In this first volume, we not only get the background on Ono and Eiji, but a number of side stories that all lead to the Antique Bakery, be it a pair of high school associates who reconnect as adults, an ex-detective whose one remaining passion is sweets, or a couple of people with ties to Eiji’s past.
Yoshinaga starts this story off in a unusual sort of in media res, showing you snippets of scenes from the past from a number of characters – some of them from the main cast, others who are just incidental to this volume.  At first it may be a little confusing, as the first half of the volume seems to focus more on the guests than on the bakery staff, but the further you read, the more you realize that Yoshinaga clearly knows what she is doing.   She is letting the story unfold at a lesiurely pace, revealing the personalities and backstory of our main trio through their interactions and conversations, instead of giving it to us right away through forced narratorial infodumping.   It's also interesting that she spends more time on Ono and Kanda versus our ostensible lead, Tachibana, who is mostly left to serve as comic relief (albeit comic relief with hints of something darker in his past).  Mind you, it's not a bad trade-off, as Ono and Kanda are both really well-written characters, with complex pasts and interesting personalities.
Now, some of you may have seen Ono’s summary and thought “this is yaoi, isn’t it?”  I must note that while Yoshinaga is primarily known as a boys' love mangaka (and in my opinion, one of the better ones out there), this work is in fact josei, that rare and elusive subgenre of shoujo targeted towards older teens and women.  While Ono is a fairly major character, not to mention a sexually active one, he and his relationships are not the main focus, and you will find no boys' love tropes here. so those of you who dislike the cliches of that genre can rest easy.  The only kind of porn you’ll find here is food porn, because the sweets described within WILL make you hungry.  It’s no surprise that Yoshinaga went on to write a work called “Not Love But Delicious Foods Make Me Happy.”
Overall, this manga is like being served a slice of tiramisu after the spicy bombast of shonen or a dramatic shoujo served en flambé; it not only serves as a quiet, refined contrast, but also carries a richness and a depth that can be enjoyed all on its own.
Like her storytelling, Yoshinaga’s art is subtle.  Backgrounds are rare, and not deeply detailed.  Her character designs do admittedly tend to look alike, with similiar, square-jawed, narrow eyed faces.  Luckily, those faces are really expressive, especially when it comes to more subtle emotions, so it's something I can easily overlook. This is a fairly talkative story, so expect a lot of tight shots of talking heads versus big, dramatic poses and action.  She does vary things up by often using larger panels than your average manga, and she uses all that extra white space to communicate tension or quiet moments between characters without any of them saying a word.  She also has her own distinct form of superdeformed for the more comic moments.  Overall, the art of Antique Bakery is minimalist, but refined, and compliments the story beautifully.
This may be the only manga that comes with a scratch-and-sniff feature.  Indeed, if you are lucky enough to come by a first edition of this work in good enough condition, you can smell one of the berries on the fruit tart on the cover art.  Sadly, mine was bought used and in fairly worn shape, so I cannot do so.  This color cover is in fact a slip cover, with a sepia-toned copy of the same picture underneath.  It’s a nice detail, but I can’t imagine displaying this without the slip cover, in part because the sepia-toned cover is so dull in comparision, and in part because Yoshinaga’s artwork looks so nice in color.
Josei is a hard thing to find in the American manga market, and this series is one of the best available.  It's as subtle and refined as a cup of tea served in good china, and readers who are looking for a quieter, more character-driven story will find it similiarly satisfying.
Antique Bakery is a 4 volume series published in the USA by Digital Manga Press.  It is now out of print.

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  1. I'll admit, I instantly assumed yaoi. Also I can't sat I ever expected a manga to be scratch and sniff.

    This was a good review. I don't have any suggestions for improvement. Also thanks for linking my site.

    1. Not a problem! I'm a fan of your podcast, so it was an obvious inclusion.

      I'm glad that I'm getting positive feedback from guys about this one. It's a story (and a genre for that matter) that's a tough sale to the XY crowd, so if I can convince a few to give this series a look, I feel like I'm doing a good job.

  2. I can't say I'm going to run out and get a copy, but this is the most "respectable" josei series I've ever heard of. That is to say, not demanding that I root for an unhealthy relationship (cough Gravitation cough cough) or just being pornographic (everything I've ever seen with a josei label on mangafox.)