February 13, 2010

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Antique Bakery Volume 4

Written by Fumi Yoshinaga
Illustrated by Fumi Yoshinaga
DMP

It's always a bit sad to get to the end of a series that you enjoyed. But all good things must come to an end, and so does our time with Ono, Tachibana, and the rest of the cast in this quirky Yoshinaga creation that features all of her strengths as a creator on display.

This time around, Yoshinaga varies from the formula a bit in terms of the chapters. While we still have a different central focus in each section of the story, there's a larger overarching plot that extends across the pages. Not only that, it's a far more somber plot than we've seen so far in the series.

We knew Tachibana was abducted as a child, and that's how we got Kobayakawa, the nominal bodyguard, added to the plot. In this volume, Tachibana's memories haunt him, as a new wave of child abductions occur, with a similar plot. Only this time they're dying, too. The worst part? One of the customers of the Antique Bakery is the most likely culprit! Will Tachibana be able to help the police solve the crime, when the same people couldn't help him, all those years ago?

I quipped to my wife that after being used to reading Barney Miller, I was suddenly reading Law and Order: SVU instead. That's a slight exaggeration, but the humor that drove so much of the prior three volumes is largely missing here. Even the chapter-only plots are serious in nature. Kanda fears rejection by Ono after being asked to start taking classes for his personal development. Ono reflects on his life, as he starts to gets older and his friends begin to pair off (a similar feeling is echoed by Tachibana). And as the child killer plot takes center-stage, the few jokes that are there, mostly about a borderline diabetic performing a stakeout in a bakery, seem more like the kind of things you say to release tension rather than to get a laugh.

This doesn't mean the final volume of Bakery isn't any good--far from it. Yoshinaga sets the tone early and keeps the somber, reflective nature of the stories throughout. She's actually quite good at being dramatic. Tachibana's involvement in the child murders is dramatic, chilling, and hits just the right emotional notes, as his obsessive nature (set up in the prior three trades) comes in handy at just the right moment. Ono's progression to a more thoughtful character who is not just interested in bedding down makes sense based on what we've seen.

One of the things that I think is notable about this volume is that while the stories are far darker, at no point did I think any of the main characters were out of character in any way. They act exactly like I'd expect them to, if their situations were more serious than usual. Yoshinaga's ability to create strong characters is always notable, but here she shows that they have range as well.

That being said, I was a little bit saddened to have this manga turn darker. I really liked the lighthearted feel of the prior three volumes and was hoping for some really silly ending. Instead, Yoshinaga opts to have the characters grow, change, and move on (or, in the case of Tachibana, stay the same while acknowledging why he is who he is). By the end of this manga, our four bakery shop workers have learned from their experiences. That's rare to see in any comic, particularly one with a comedic edge.

While I would not have minded seeing the same old zaniness as they walked into the publishing sunset, Yoshinaga aspired for more, and it worked extremely well. My respect for her as a creator grows with every volume of her work that I read.

I'm not going to say much about the art, as I primarily read Yoshinaga for her characters. As always, she gives her creations very expressive faces and body language, but not a lot in the way of scenery. I liked how she paced the most dramatic moments, giving the reader just enough space to think about what is going on in the panels before revealing more information in text and pictures. She also did a nice job of de-aging Tachibana but still making him recognizable to the reader.

Antique Bakery is definitely one of my favorite series, though I think Flower of Life is my favorite Yoshinaga work so far. It's definitely a great way to introduce readers to Yoshinaga, and even to manga in general. Even a change in tone, which might have been jarring in other hands, works well for me. If there's a Yoshinaga bandwagon, I'm definitely in one of the front seats. This series comes highly recommended.

Antique Bakery V1 Antique BakeryV2 Antique Bakery V3