by Natsumi Ando; story by Miyuki Kobayashi; adapted by Nunzio DeFilippis and Christina Weir
published by Del Rey Manga; $10.95 US
Ah, shojo. Everything that happens here is predictable or generic, but I enjoyed reading it anyway, for two reasons: I love reading about creative tasty food solving problems, and the characters are so gosh-darn nice.
Najika is your typical shojo heroine: good-hearted but befuddled, and incapable of dealing maturely with her feelings for the opposite sex. She likes Sora, whom she thinks saved her as a kid, but she’s just been kissed by Sora’s brother Daichi. First she’s upset because he did it, but after he plays it off as not that important (backing away because she doesn’t respond as he expects), she’s upset that it didn’t mean more to him.
This is all a distraction from the meat of this issue, Najika’s participation in a dessert cook-off. She has to survive several challenges in a standard competition-style story. She has an amazing natural gift and she vows to work hard and do her best in the face of challenges both professional — she’s one of the youngest in the face-off — and personal — working so hard may have damaged her hands. But with support from those who love her, she will triumph. That’s formula all the way (and reminiscent of Yakitate!! Japan) but an inspiring one.
The cook-off led to one of my biggest problems with this volume, though. One of the major challenges revolves around Najika cooking castella. I’d never heard of this before; turns out that it’s a Japanese sponge cake. (It’s drawn to resemble banana bread.) However, that’s never explained, even in the pages of cultural translation notes or in the recipes in the back. That’s a pretty basic thing to leave as an assumption about the reader’s knowledge. Najika’s skill is supposedly demonstrated through her variant on the base recipe. Without understanding what that is, it’s hard to evaluate how creative or exceptional she is.
Sora and Daichi’s father, headmaster of their school, makes an appearance to reveal that he knew Najika’s parents before they passed away. How convenient! Three cast member roles in one! He’s got an ulterior motive in pressuring her to win the competition for the wrong reasons. Her love of cooking is pure in its innocence; she makes delicious food to make people happy. Others try to take advantage of her, but her gift won’t run true if used for the wrong purpose. When she is allowed to proceed in her own way, she’s an inspiration to others.
After a cliffhanger — someone trying to get to the event to watch her compete is struck by a car in a rainy crosswalk accident, another scene I’ve seen many times before in manga — there’s a one-off story about Najika and her friends making a bakery successful as a Spring Break job. All of this is very typical for the genre. I don’t feel a need to read this book again, but for lightweight entertainment, it’s not bad. And it’s a treat to read the recipes for what she makes, included at the end.
I previously reviewed Book 4 in this series. (A complimentary copy for this review was provided by the publisher.)