Compiling the first two volumes of the Kitchen Princess manga series, the Omnibus covers the origins and back story of the orphan, Najika, daughter of two famous pastry chefs who died when she was very young. Soon after, Najika almost died by falling in a river while sobbing. She was rescued by a young boy who gave her flan and a special spoon. Now it is her life’s mission to discover her “Flan Prince” and to cook for everyone around her. To fulfill both objectives, she attends the Seika Academy where they hand out the special spoons as awards. Of course, nothing can be easy for this sugary sweet heroine and none of Najika’s classmates appreciate her or her cooking, at least until they taste it. She is almost ready to give up, but she finds joy in staffing a neglected campus café and in two brothers who become her friends.
Najika is the saccharine heroine who uses a positive attitude to overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles and the biases of people around her. Positivity is something to strive for, especially in shojo manga, though she seems to use positivity in place of intelligence at times. The characterizations in general lack believability The two love interests, Daichi and Sora, are brothers who once got along but now can’t stand to be in the same room with each other. Both are extremely handsome and popular. In fact, Sora is so popular and responsible that he’s filling in as the director of the school. The sneaky antagonist is the head mean girl who models and has an eating disorder. Yes, they pit the dessert queen against a girl who refuses to eat anything.
However, if you can suspend your disbelief, Najika’s faith in her cooking and ability to reach out to people through food give the book a wholesome feeling. While the stories are fluffy, it is the kind of fluff that makes you want to stand up to bullies and discover that girl with the perfect sense of taste. Still, there are plot points cheesier than Najika’s Onion Gratin Soup (this recipe and more inside!)
The art is in a flowy manga style with wispy hair and large eyes. In fact, Najika’s eyes take up more than half of her face. Perhaps true manga fans will despise me for saying it, but I couldn’t help but see Sailor Moon in Najika’s high pigtails and short skirts. I do wish we got the opportunity to see more of the color work by Ando because the food looks good enough to eat even in black and white.
Overall, Kitchen Princess is a surreal journey into a fantasy Japanese boarding school where all the kids are special but no one can recognize true genius until it slaps them in the taste buds. If you’re looking for fun, but not for serious character development, this is your book.
Kitchen Princess Omnibus, vol. 1
by Miyuki Kobayashi
Art by Natsumi Ando
Kodansha Comics, 2012
Publisher Age Rating: Teen