From the stack: ANTIQUE BAKERY Vol. 3

April 20, 2006

I’ve been enjoying Fumi Yoshinaga’s Antique Bakery (Digital Manga Publishing) a great deal. It’s beautifully drawn, gently funny, and has a cast of engaging characters, plus lots of pastry. I haven’t quite understood why it merited the Kodansha Manga Award, though.

Now that I’ve read the third volume in the four-book series, I get it. The rather slight sweetness of the earlier installments is used to build something more complex and challenging, with interesting twists and a quirky but layered look at sexual identity (plus lots of pastry).

Yoshinaga’s approach is very similar to the one Natsuki Takaya takes with Fruits Basket (Tokyopop). Moments that seemed like oddly pleasant little grace notes in previous volumes recur with greater impact or clarity. You see where they fit in Yoshinaga’s bigger picture. More significant past events are reframed in different ways as well, giving them more dimension and revealing more about the characters involved. It’s structurally impressive and, more importantly, very effective on an emotional level.

And the book is still very funny. A big chunk of the volume is devoted to the trials and tribulations of “busty female announcer unit Haruka & Tammy” as they try to maintain their dignity (a lost cause for this tier of television personality), balance the pulls of career and personal life, and manage to give some valuable advice to gifted pastry chef Ono in the process. Satire of popular media, gender stereotypes, and even yaoi fangirls mingle with nice character moments.

On the gentler end of the spectrum, Yoshinaga provides more of bakery owner Tachibana’s back story. Past and present intersect through some creative storytelling, and Tachibana gains a great deal more depth in the process. At the same time, it’s consistent with everything that’s gone before; it’s just richer, and it makes me more eager to know what happens next.

There’s just so much to like about this book. Much as I enjoyed Antique Bakery when it seemed like an amiable, meandering workplace comedy, I’m really impressed with the way Yoshinaga’s seemingly disparate story elements are coming together as things move towards closure. It’s work that’s worth an award.