Antique Bakery 1-4 by Fumi Yoshinaga: A

antiquebakery1Last month, I debuted the Manga Marching Orders feature, in which I invite readers to help me decide what to read next. The results were very close, but, in the end, Antique Bakery came out on top.

On the surface, Antique Bakery is the story of four men who work together at a bakery, providing delicious cakes for their customers. What that simplified summary fails to mention, however, is that the characters are subtlely changed by working together and that their growth is the real focus of the series. They’re nuanced and multi-layered and each has something he needs to overcome.

Keiichiro Tachibana is the stubbly 32-year-old owner of the bakery, “Antique.” He comes from a rich family and there’s nothing he can’t do, except manage to convince a woman his feelings are sincere. A consummate salesman, he’ll be in the midst of showing his real personality to his staff, but will seamlessly slip into a smilingly attentive persona as soon as a customer enters the shop. Fumi Yoshinaga shows this trait of Tachibana’s from the start, but it’s only at the end of volume two that we learn the shocking reason he acquired this skill, and that it’s a deeply ingrained habit that, while it might prove useful in some circumstances, is really hurting him when it comes to forming close personal relationships.

antiquebakery2Yusuke Ono was a former classmate of Tachibana’s and confessed his love to him on graduation day. After being cruelly rejected, he contemplated suicide, but decided that he first wanted to act on the homosexual desires he’d been harboring. This leads him into a life of reckless promiscuity, and he’s known as a “gay of demonic charm” for his ability to seduce any man, gay or straight, who catches his eye. He’s an excellent pastry chef, though he’s in it for the money rather than from true love of pastries, and has been fired from several establishments for the romantic turmoil his presence stirs up. Ono has issues being around women, stemming from his hatred of his adulterous mother, but gradually begins to conquer this fear, especially after his sister imparts some information that reveals his father is not entirely blameless, either. Too, towards the end of the series, he seems to be resolved to take better care of himself and look for something more than a fleeting sexual encounter.

Eiji Kanda is the youngest of the crew. A former street thug and boxer with a sweet tooth, he has the most colorful past of the group. Detached retinas forced him to give up his preferred career, and while pastry-making starts off as his second choice, he shows a lot of talent and dedicates himself to training under Ono, to whom he becomes very attached. Eiji was abandoned as a child and, though Ono and Tachibana believe it’s a good thing when they mention he might be able to branch out on his own one day, the prospect terrifies Eiji, who’s found a warm and welcoming home at last. Though he appears tough on the outside, and has no compunction with using violence, Eiji is really loyal and protective and more affected by the opportunity he’s been given than one would assume.

antiquebakery3Chikage Kobayakawa, age 34, is the last to join the group. The son of the Tachibana family housekeeper, he’s known Tachibana since childhood and has been sent by the family to keep an eye on him. Upon his arrival, Tachibana puts him to work at “Antique.” Though he looks rather like a yakuza, tall and intimidating in his sunglasses, Chikage is actually incredibly pure and sweet, though lamentably slow on the uptake. He falls victim to Ono’s demonic charm, but the latter refuses to take advantage of someone so wholly good. While he doesn’t have as many personal problems to battle as the others, he has his own challenges. Small victories are what Chikage achieves, like moving out on his own and becoming more useful around the shop.

I love each of these characters, but more than that I love how skillfully and carefully Yoshinaga develops them. Instead of dumping all of the above information on us at once, we receive it in bits and pieces, with later revelations causing the significance of earlier moments to suddenly become clear. The best example of this is probably Ono’s confession to Tachibana. The first scene in the series, it remains an important moment hanging between them, and it’s not until the end of volume four that we truly understand what experiences and thoughts made Tachibana react so cruelly. And although a few chapters seem to focus more on the customers than the staff, there’s always a reason for it. Chapter four, for example, purports to be about a failed boxer and his pregnant girlfriend, but Yoshinaga uses it to elicit a confession from Eiji that he’d do anything to go back to being a boxer if he could.

antiquebakery4Yoshinaga’s spare, expressive artwork is also an integral part of what makes the series work. Backgrounds are minimal, putting the focus squarely on the characters, though the cakes themselves are rendered in loving detail. I especially love the way changes in character expression are depicted, devoting a few successive panels to Eiji’s face as it cycles from challenging to relaxed to amused, for example. It’s easy for the reader to tell what the character has been thinking by the way his face changes, but it’s also easy for other characters to tell, as well. Again, the issue of Ono’s love confession is an excellent example. Near the end of the series, Ono mentions that he has a much clearer impression of Tachibana now than he did in high school. Tachibana replies, “Is that right? I’ve always remembered you… since graduation day.” And simply because of the way Tachibana turns away after saying this, Ono is able to recognize how much Tachibana truly regrets what happened. He looks surprised at first, then smiles faintly. “I see,” he says, and makes sure Tachibana knows he has brought a lot of good into his life, too.

Antique Bakery is poignant, surprising, well-paced, well-written, funny, and excellent. In short, it’s required reading for manga fans. I can’t believe it took me so long!

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  1. Danielle Leigh says

    I’ve been doing a Yoshinaga reread now that Ooku is out but I’ve been saving this series. I think because it was the first manga of hers I ever read and I read it so early upon discovering manga this title will always have a special place in my heart. I’m so glad you enjoyed it (Ono, as I said on twitter is my favorite but I really love them all).

    But now you have Flower of Life to look forward to! (FoL is even funnier than AB. Hard to believe but it is true).

  2. Danielle Leigh says

    Hee! That is the perfect plan….I really look forward to see your reactions to her other titles.

  3. I love Antique Bakery and Yoshinaga’s artwork in general. I’m not a fan of her BL stuff, but I love that she has series about gay characters that aren’t BL. I’m also loving her current series, Kinou Nani Tabeta? (What Did You Eat Yesterday?), which is a slice of life seinen series about a gay guy in his 40s who loves to cook. Unlike many BL authors, Yoshinaga can write realistic gay characters (Ono in Antique is stereotypey, but still realistically gay rather than the usual sort of thing you find in BL).

    • I really, really, really want Kinou Nani Tabeta to be licensed here. Hopefully it’s just a matter of time.

      I definitely agree about her skill in incorporating gay characters without making the narrative all about their gayness. Ono did have some stereotypish traits, I suppose, but he definitely came across with far more depth than gay characters are allotted in typical BL.

      Thanks for the reply!

  4. Oh how I love Antique Bakery; I’m glad to see how much you enjoyed it, too. And thanks for a lovely review; this reminds me of why AB should be near the top of my ‘to re-read’ list :-).
    Next year is going to be a year of Fumi Yoshinaga for me; I’m making it my mission to lay hands on all her stuff!

    • Thank you! I can definitely see myself rereading it and appreciating even more how carefully details about the story and characters are revealed.

      Have you read Ooku yet?

      • Nope, Ooku is not to be found locally, so I’m going to have to bite the bullet and import lots of stuff next year. Oh well, if I buy in bulk it works out cheaper than buying locally anyway :-(.


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