December 28, 2009

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Antique Bakery Volume 3

Written by Fumi Yoshinaga
Illustrated by Fumi Yoshinaga
DMP

I hope that Digital Manga won't be offended that I didn't try the scratch and sniff cover, given that I got this from the library. I'm afraid I don't know where that strawberry has been!

What I do know is that this is Yoshinaga at her best, throwing a grouping of characters (our established set of four men plus others that wind their way in and out of the world of the bakery) into the mix and letting them interact in ways that are both comic and touching.

We start with a pair of "reporters" who are thrown into comic sketches because of their assets and a remote location for the baking team. The usual comic problems of Ono and women crop up (not to mention that he ruined several of the other competing bakeries with his sleeping around) but in the end, both reporters and bakers manage to do okay.

Of course, nothing stays stable long at the Antique Bakery, and soon Ono's mentor comes calling--and wants to bring Ono back with him to France! What lengths will Tachibana go to keep Ono? And oh yeah, by the way--just how many people has Ono slept with, anyway? This was a fairly dramatic section, as we get Ono's past history and see that while being a baker is natural for him, he went through quite a bit of pain (both emotionally and physically) to get where he is.

Obviously, Ono stays in the end, and we're off to a wedding where Kanda gets to show off his pastries and we peer further into the history of Tachibana, who seems to have had trouble keeping his hands off his female peers. (This leads to one of my favorite lines in the book--"Sakkiko was small-chested, so I thought that it was true love this time...") We also see a hint at a possible future romance, but maybe I just misread the story.

Last up is a story that seems rather out of place, as a seemingly uncaring mother ignores her child. But there's a link to the Bakery that isn't what you expect. In the end, all is revealed, we learn more about another of the cast that surprises even his fellow workers, and Yoshinaga leaves this trade with a patented bit of comedic cheapness by Tachibana.

I've mentioned before that at heart, Antique Bakery is a sugary set of stories fitting with the setting and this is no exception. There is some conflict this time around, but it's never serious. Like in a good sitcom, you worry that things may be changing, but by the end of the episode/chapter, all is reset to normal. We do learn more about each character in this volume, but it's not as though the Bakery is really ever going to lose Odo. The fun is in watching our cast react to the situation presented to them by Yoshinaga.

It's Yoshinaga's ability to shape a fun read out of basic situational comedy--and use homosexuality as a running gag without it feeling stereotypical or forced into the narrative--is what makes Antique Bakery so good. By this volume, the premise is pretty well set up, so the jokes come faster, especially recurring gags like Ono's sluttyness. It's all helped along by gorgeous line work that focuses on the characters and gives the reader just enough background to understand the situation. Reading Antique Bakery is sometimes like watching a stage play...the actors and their lines are the focus and the viewer/reader can fill in the rest as needed.

I'm sad because my time with the Bakery is almost up--there's only one more volume to go. But if you are looking for a manga that doesn't take itself too seriously but revels in great character interplay, you should order a copy of Antique Bakery to go. You'll be glad you did.