It’s not typical for a young, upper class Japanese businessman to quit the rat race and open a patisserie. However, Tachibana is far from a typical young, upper class Japanese businessman, no matter how good a front he puts up. A kidnapping when he was a little boy has left scars deep inside Tachibana. He believes that the bakery may be the way to draw out the cake-loving attacker who took him, though he’s not certain what he will do once he faces his kidnapper. Before he can worry about that, however, Tachibana must find the time to handle the troubles of being a small-business owner. His pastry chef is a genius, but Ono’s “demonic gay charm” has caused disaster at all of his previous jobs; Eiji, Ono’s assistant, is a former boxer wrestling with the abrupt changes to his life; and Chikage, Tachibana’s childhood friend is determined to “help” Tachibana in any way he can, but the gentle giant is so helpless himself that he is often more of a hindrance. Together the four of them must find a way to work together, a process that may lead to emotional discoveries and healing for all of them.
Manga creator Fumi Yoshinaga is probably best known for her boys’ love titles, but Antique Bakery – despite a predominance of handsome men, one gay character, and some unrequited love – is not actually a yaoi. In the interviews with her in the supplementary booklet included in this collection, Yoshinaga calls Antique Bakery shojo, but as most American fans probably think of fluffy schoolgirl romances featuring a lot of sparkles and flowery backgrounds when they think shojo, it might be better to say that Antique Bakery is a manga for adults who like emotional stories. (And cakes. Lots and lots of pretty cakes.)
That’s not to say that Antique Bakery is an over-the-top soap opera, though it does occasionally veer in that direction. Instead Antique Bakery is about the process of dealing with the “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,” as it were. Tachibana and his cohorts are all damaged; some more so than others, but all in some way. These four men are trying their best to move on from the hurts of the past, even as they know that some things cannot be healed, so much as simply forgiven. And, as the series progresses, it becomes abundantly clear that they must do this emotional work together, for it is only with each other’s help that they will be able to heal, to forgive, to move on.
Yoshinaga’s manga is not long, only four volumes, but the anime is even briefer, a mere 12 episodes. Screenwriter Natsuko Takahashi does a beautiful and seamless job of compressing Yoshinaga’s story, keeping the most important elements and removing those that are simply filler. The result is a series that lingers on the emotions, but does not drag things out. The one element that is dwelt upon is Tachibana’s kidnapping, but even the repeated references to it serve more to ground the story and keep it on track. It is clear that Takahashi knows the source material and appreciates it. (Devout Yoshinaga fans may be amused by the last line of the anime. It is taken not from the manga, but instead from Yoshinaga’s more explicit, self-published, and non-canon doujinshi spinoffs.)
Another aspect where the anime succeeds is the art. Yoshinaga’s art is thin-lined, with few backgrounds and the use of frequent close-ups on small facial changes to tell the emotional stories. This style is beautiful, but can be hard to follow for new manga readers, especially when her men look too similar to one another. The anime keeps the essence of Yoshinaga’s art and adds just enough detail and distinction to make the characters stand out from one another. A unique touch is the blending of computer art and hand-drawn art. The characters are all rendered with thin lines and shaded in soft colors, as if they’d been drawn in pencils. The backgrounds and settings, however, are computer generated and feature deeper colors, though not so deep as to overwhelm the characters. This blending of styles makes the characters pop out, keeping them from fading into the lavish settings. It also gives the story a solid, more realistic quality.
The combination of the beautiful, blended art and the deftly abridged plot leads to an anime that will appeal not only to Yoshinaga fans, but also to viewers new to anime. There’s nothing to keep this from older teens, as even the brief hints of sex in the manga have been toned down here, but the story is really more for those who have had enough years to understand the pain that the past can leave and the cool touch of forgetting and forgiving. Suggest this one to adult women who want to try anime, but who are not interested in giant fighting robots, harem comedies, or schoolgirl crushes. The subtlety, beauty, and true emotion should win them over. They should be aware, though, that Right Stuf treated this release as they do their yaoi anime – there are only subtitles, no dubbed version. There also are not a lot of extras, but the supplemental booklet has some very interesting interviews with Yoshinaga and some of the voice actors. It’s clear from those interviews, and from the quality of the work on the anime, that all involved were deeply committed to creating a fine production. They certainly succeeded.