Kitchen Princess (Del Rey) is shôjo romantic comedy so formulaic you can practically read it with your eyes closed. A spirited country girl enrolls in a big-city private school, finding snooty rivals and romantic possibilities among the student body. Potential suitors include feuding relatives who are united only in their fondness for our heroine.
In other words, it’s Imadoki! without the smartly overturned expectations, or Fruits Basket without the supernatural pathos. The art is cute, the protagonist is spunky, the boys are dreamy, and the plot moves from point to point with lockstep familiarity.
Now would be the point to make a “cookie-cutter” joke, because the single distinguishing factor of Kitchen Princess is that it’s culinary manga. I’m a sucker for culinary manga. And while Kitchen Princess isn’t great culinary manga, recipes go a long way with me.
I like the book’s underlying food philosophy – that cooking is a way to express affection and to share something that matters with someone you care about. It’s corny, but it’s sweet. But I really do hope that the story and characters deepen along the way and that something even remotely unexpected happens.
Oh, and while I’m not entirely convinced that works of fiction lead to dangerous, imitative behavior, I’ve got to speak out on one subject. It would be great if reading manga motivated kids in the audience to learn to cook, but making caramel at home results in a substance roughly the temperature of molten lava and about as friendly to one’s epidermis. The story is perfectly safe for all ages, but the recipes require parental supervision.