„Antique Bakery“ shows us how a dessert shop and the people working there affect the lives of various people. While that may sound a little like the movie “Chocolat,” Keisuke Tachibana (the bakery’s owner) and Yusuke Ono (his pastry chef) are no Johnny Depp and Juliette Binoche.
Tachibana is an arrogant, uncaring bastard whose credo seems to be “business über alles.” Everything he does is about money, and the way he turns on what passes for his charm for a paying customer is more nauseating than spoiled crème anglaise.
Pastry chef Yusuke Ono is blessed – or possibly cursed – with two great gifts: he makes cakes that are to die for, and men fall in love with him. Gay men, straight men – as soon as he finds them attractive, they’re head over heels for him and willing to go Jerry Springer on whoever gets between them and the cake master of luuuuuv. There seems to be only one man who is immune to Ono’s overpowering pheromones: Keisuke Tachibana, which means that Ono might finally have found a job that doesn’t end in a meltdown of jealousy and sexual confusion. The bakery’s team is completed by Ono’s apprentice, a former boxer with a sweet tooth who had to give up his stellar career in the ring due to a medical condition.
Fumi Yoshinaga’s book succeeds because of the surprising depth of the characters and the unexpected plot twists. Tachibana is a spoiled brat, but we get to see a few puzzle pieces that help us understand why he turned out that way. The people who frequent the bakery often seem to be one thing on the surface but turn out to be something else entirely.
The book does have some definitive weaknesses, though. The artwork is serviceable at best – a book that is mostly talking heads and cream pies could use a little more variety, and sometimes the facial expressions are comically exaggerated to a point where I thought a new character was being introduced because they became completely unrecognizable. Also, while I usually don’t mind nonlinear storytelling, I had a problem following this story that jumps from various points in the past to the present and back. That may have had less to do with the jumps through time than with the strange bouts of amnesia that seem to befall some of the characters: Tachibana broke Ono’s heart in high school when he answered his advances with a barrage of homophobic insults, but Ono does not recognize him a few years later, even knowing his name? Come on! Who forgets their first crush like that? In another scene, Tachibana muses that he forgot Ono was gay – in spite of the scene in high school, in spite of the fact that Ono had just taken him to a gay bar to demonstrate his “demonically gay charm” and even though Ono’s sexuality constantly defines the way the two men deal with each other. Those plot points could easily have been dealt with differently and more believably by Yoshinaga and it’s unclear why she wrote them this way, when she crafted other storylines much more convincingly.
Still, I’m curious about what will happen to these characters next. Volume one of this series sets up an odd dynamic that could make for some great stories in the future.
“Antique Bakery” comes with a strawberry-scented scratch-and-sniff cover, but don’t call it a fruity little book because of that.