It's weird that there's honestly so little shoujo out here about food. There's plenty that feature plenty of sweets, but not so much about cooks themselves, save for this one. Maybe the quality of this one is the reason there aren't others like it.
MIXED VEGETABLES (Mikkusu Bejitaburu), by Ayumi Komura. First published in 2005 and first published in North America in 2008.
Hanayu Ashitaba is the daughter of a baker but her real dream is to become a sushi chef. Her oh-so brilliant plan to escape her parents' expectations is to get together with Hayato Hyuga, the son of a sushi chef who also happens to be in her class at culinary school. That way, when they inevitably marry, she will be able to pursue her dream without ever actually having to confront her own family about it. What she doesn't know is that Hayato has a similar dilemma: he's a pro with a sashimi knife, but he really wants to bake. Will these two ever come to an understanding, and will Hanayu ever get to impress Hayato with her mad cooking skills?
This cooking-themed romance is as lukewarm as microwaved leftovers. Mixed Vegetables is the sort of story that's driven less by the main relationship than it is by the heroine's determination to be as passive-aggressive as possible in all things.
Hanayu's conflict is frankly ridiculous. She could solve her problem easily with just a single conversation and never have to bring marriage into it. It's never stated nor implied that her parents would disapprove of her pursuing a path outside of the family bakery, so why is she so afraid of some unspecified wrath or lecture? Instead, she pursues this convoluted scheme with a guy she barely knows and whom she admires more for his skills than as a person. It's beyond passive-aggressive, it's cynical, and it's more likely to fail than not. Of course, with this being a fluffy shoujo series, the two do eventually bond, but their connection is not a terribly deep or emotionally driven one. It's more about Hanayu learning to appreciate Hayato for himself instead of just a step in her master plan. It's a step in the right direction, but it will never be compelling because the both of them are so painfully plain. None of them demonstrate much in the way of personality, and are instead mostly defined by their respective skills. Thus it's really hard to get invested in their romance when there's nothing there between the two of them but a skill set and a ridiculous plan. Mixed Vegetables is a failure all around. Its premise, its characters, and its romance are too dull to ever take off, much less capture a reader's attentions.
First of all, look at that cover art. More specifically, look at Hayato. Maybe it's just me, but I'm pretty sure that he's supposed to have two arms. I guess one could be tucked behind him and hidden by the kimono sleeve, but it's not clear if that's what intended or if it's a genuine error. It certainly doesn't set a good precedent for the artwork within. The character designs are totally average looking and rather stiffly drawn. The backgrounds abuse sparkly screentones with abandon. The artwork can't even make the food look good, something that most food-based manga gets right, as they're drawn just as blandly as the people making them. Panels tend to be big, but that space tends to just be filled with talking heads. It's all just so mediocre, so thoroughly flawed, that it barely registers even as you read it.
If you're looking for a culinary-themed romance, look elsewhere than in Mixed Vegetables. It fails as a food manga, it fails as a shoujo romance. There's so little personality in the story and art that it's easily ignored.
This series was published by Viz. This series is complete in Japan with 8 volumes available. All 8 were published and is currently in print and available in e-book form through Viz.com.
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