So many manga, so little time. Reports from the front lines of my manga consumption….
Antique Bakery by Fumi Yoshinaga is FABULOUS. Really, don’t waste your time reading this review and just go get it, it’s four volumes, I think they sell used on amazon for a couple of bucks each. Go on, I’ll wait here.
Okay, now that you have a copy (the originals have scratch and sniff covers!), let me warn you, the first volume is a bit of slow starter. Don’t worry! Let the bits and pieces revealed now linger in your mind as you keep reading, they all add up in a delicate and wonderful way, I promise! Luckily for me, I was in the bath and had nothing else to read that I could reach, so, you know, captive audience, I kept going past the first couple of chapters until these gentle opening touches started to gel and make something increasingly complex, mature, interesting, and lovely. Stick with it!
Antique Bakery is about a group of men who work at a high end patisserie shop, a slice of life story with a complex layering of character and relationship, sporting strong themes of bearing (and growing beyond) one’s past, appearances vs. secret selves, friendship, and always, always, jaw dropping descriptions of the most amazing, mouthwatering, sexy desserts.
A boxer forced to retire for medical reasons, a kidnapped child who escapes, a rejected confession of love, a gay man of devilish charm, a childhood friend who has always been there, an ex-gang member and thug finding his calling in fine dessert making, plus hilarious, laugh-out-loud moments in every chapter. This is not yaoi, nor is it a romance, nor is it BL (boy love), although there are gay characters. Wonderful gay characters! Wonderful straight characters! I love these characters so much!!!
Trust me when I say all the hints and passes over the various back-stories and side characters add up in the end to a transcendent, complex, multilayered moment that made me cry.
I really, really enjoyed this series.
And I really, really want to EAT THE STUFF THEY MAKE OH MY GOD WHERE IS THERE A SHOP LIKE THIS TAKE ME THERE IMMEDIATELY!!!!!!!!!
I also see that there is a live-action version, which is tempting. Here is a picture of the cast.
The guys look almost as yummy as the desserts, don’t you think?
Antique Bakery is complete, four volumes, go forth and enjoy. I’ve read through it twice, and it was even better on the second go round.
Moving on! Next from my stack….
Black Bird by Kanoko Sakurakoji is a smutty, guilty pleasure kind of story, just the kind of thing to read while eating chocolate in the bath. What, you don’t read smutty books while eating chocolate and soaking in the tub? Well, you should. It’s divine. Okay, I typed that sentence about “guilty pleasure” and then immediately thought of Tim Minchin saying “that shows an incredibly low tolerance for both pleasure…and guilt.” Too true, Tim.
Black Bird is about a teenaged girl, Misao, who finds out she is the reborn “Celestial Fruit” who, through sex or by being eaten (chomp), gives great power to whatever demon partakes of her. Okay! So, of course, demons from all over show up wanting to kill her or rape her or drink her blood, whichever is convenient—until her childhood friend Kyo, head of the Tengu demon clan (that’s crow demons with big black wings), shows up and stakes his claim, saying she promised to be his bride when they were children and he won’t let anyone else have her.
See? Doesn’t this sound fabulously trashy? It gets better.
Kyo is pushy, demanding, jealous, and not above feeling up a seventeen year old (he is twenty something, maybe twenty-four or five) against Misao’s will (“Don’t! Stop! Don’t stop!”) or stealing kisses she only reluctantly, at first, returns (“it was CPR!”). Did I mention Kyo can heal Misao’s wounds by licking them?? YESSS. Oh so much licking! And of course, with all these hungry demons around wanting to chow down on some Celestial Fruit, Misao gets LOTS of wounds, poor baby. I would too, if I had a smokin’ hot, black-winged, red-eyed, Tengu like Kyo around ready to lick me at a moment’s notice. Kyo takes a job as Misao’s homeroom teacher in order to be on-hand to protect, and lick, Misao, although this is fairly minor part of the story which, on the whole, has a lot more to do with infighting and politics between various clans of demons—in between relationship deepening moments and plenty of sexy times for our heroine. It’s also damn funny. (“The lower tengu is becoming aroused!”) Lots to enjoy here.
On a more serious note, the series does look at what being in a relationship with a monster means to Misao. Kyo is a demon, after all. He willingly kills his enemies, sometimes violently (slice your throat with a katana kind of violent) and just generally has a non-human-centric moral compass, and this is hard for Misao at times. She says, “if I’m going to be with this guy, my hands will be bloody, too. But I have to keep my open and see the violence he does on my behalf.” In this way she willingly goes down what seems to be a dark path, saying, “I want him more than I want to do the right thing.” This theme is lightly touched, but it returns repeatedly, and for me it adds just enough weight to the proceedings to keep it from falling into mere froth. I reckon I like a little angst with my sexy demons, than you very much.
Black Bird won the Shogakukun Manga award in 2008, which is how I came to it, as I’ve been sort of systematically working my way through the list of award winners past. But as I was hopping around the net, I was a bit surprised to find lots of fairly negative reviews of the series. It seems that lots of folk feel that Misao is a bit of a wet blanket, Kyo is controlling and abusive, and the story portrays a bad relationship and bad role models for girls.
Well, I mean, yeah. I wouldn’t want a real high school teacher coming onto a 17 year old girl, or demanding that she marry him. Misao does seem to cry a lot, but she’s got some metal under there, for example covering herself in venom in order to take down an enemy that wants to eat her. Maybe I’m not troubled by Kyo’s personality because it so clearly is a fantasy. And I don’t mean it’s about demons, I don’t mean genre fantasy (although, clearly it is that). I mean its a fantasy, as in, not something you actually want to do, but something that’s lots of fun to playact. Like, say, getting a check up from a naughty doctor. Or, say, being captured and enslaved by a lusty gang of pirates, oh my! Or, I don’t know, fill in the blank, okay? You know what I’m saying? Semi-forced to bed a hot, sexually dominant black-winged Tengu that you love even though he is abrasive…oh darn, whatever shall I do? That kind of fantasy.
Maybe it’s because I’m in my forties that I am completely immune to any negative role model implications here and am able to wholeheartedly jump into the smutty fun of it?
The negative reviews I read reminded me, actually, of the oceans of negative stuff written about Twilight along the same lines, and there are certainly similarities in the stories (except for the sex, obviously). And then I ran across this interesting post on shojo, Twilight and the Plight of the Female Fan, by manga critic Melinda Beasie. Shojo is manga written for young women—and I’m not sure if Black Bird falls in this category, probably older teens (and forty year olds?)? shojo plus sex?—but that embarrassment factor that people seem to have to reading and enjoying this series or others like it, that “guilty pleasure” factor, fits right in with with Ms. Beasie’s point that just because a story is somewhat gendered, meaning, read and enjoyed primarily by young women, does not mean it is Less Than stories primarily read by other groups. Actually, I wrote a similar post four years ago about the Twilight backlash, so I’m happy to have been on the cutting edge of take-back-the-shojo thought.
On the other hand, I’m writing here about Black Bird calling it “trashy” and a “guilty pleasure” so, oh well, I’m guilty of putting down girlish stories, too. But no more! From now on I will stand proud in my enjoyment of smutty Tengu stories! I don’t find Kyo’s pushy behavior offensive even though I certainly would never date a dude like that! Just ask Paul!
On the other, other hand, I am surprised Black Bird won that award and not Antique Bakery. Antique Bakery has layers, man. Antique Bakery, while being super funny, charming, and delightful is a stronger, more meaty story, for sure. Certainly, not everything is for everyone.
But, hey, if you like supernatural bodice-ripper-style romantic, sexy, fantasy, Black Bird might be right up your alley. It isn’t finished, and several volumes in Japanese have not been translated yet to English, but its a bit of a soap opera, where the story just keeps going, so it doesn’t feel so bad to be left hanging.
And there you have it. I’d love comments on these manga posts if anyone has read or reads these. Book discussion in one of my favorite past-times.