By Fumi Yoshinaga
200 pages, black and white
Published by Digital Manga Publishing
Some books just defy any neat sort of categorization. That’s definitely the case with the first volume of Fumi Toshinaga’s Antique Bakery. Is it a romance? A workplace comedy? A series of mysteries? Well… apparently, the answer is that it’s whatever Toshinaga feels like at that given moment. And oddly enough, once it gives up trying to fall into a single style or category, that’s when it begins to shine.
The hottest new shop in town is Antique Bakery, serving delectable baked goods out of a former antiques store. You’d think that a gay pastry chef who makes everyone he crushes on fall madly in love with him, an owner who is the one straight man that got away from the chef, and an pastry assistant that used to be a professional boxer would be a strange mix of personalities. That’s only the case until you’ve met the customers, though. The question doesn’t seem to be who shops at Antique Bakery, but rather, who doesn’t?
Early on, Antique Bakery seems to be taking a familiar tactic, that of the store that all sorts of mysteries, odd, and out of the ordinary seem to shop at and how their own stories connect to their love for baked goods. It’s a tried and true formula, but in the case of Antique Bakery‘s first volume, it just doesn’t quite seem to click. The old high school friends reuniting, the strange relationship between a husband and wife… they’re all things that we’ve seen before, only done with slightly more heart and interest. It’s actually a little frustrating in places because you want to like Antique Bakery, but it’s just not all coming together. Then, about halfway through the first volume, Yoshinaga seems to give up (or at least postpone) his original plans and instead gets into the back story of owner Tachibana, baker Ono, and assistant Eiji. This is much more interesting, seeing how the three of them came to work together and learning more about their personalities and what makes them tick. As the background characters and trappings for other people’s stories, they aren’t that terribly interesting, but as protagonists they’re gold. Suddenly there’s a bit of humor, a bit of drama, and just all-around amusingness.
Yoshinaga’s art ranges through the spectrum, from average to entertaining. Yoshinaga is quick to skimp on backgrounds, more panels than not consisting of faces on a white background. The saving grace is that it’s faces where Yoshinaga has his greatest strength, using an economy of lines to draw effective portraits of his characters. From Ono’s clean-cut charming looks to Tachibana’s scruffy and unkempt appearance, it’s clearly what Yoshinaga enjoys drawing more than anything else. There really isn’t much actual movement or storytelling technique going on here; in many ways the art really only serves the purpose of illustrating the writing. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it’s nothing to look forward to either.
After a shaky start, I have to give Antique Bakery credit for finding its own way and not being afraid to switch things up a bit. When I’d hit the halfway point through the book I’d figured I wouldn’t be reading the second volume. By the time I was done, though, I was absolutely ready for more. Baked goods may not improve with age, but Antique Bakery knows all about things getting better with time.