by Natsumi Ando; story by Miyuki Kobayashi; adapted by Nunzio DeFilippis and Christina Weir
published by Del Rey Manga; $10.95 US
Recently, I was saying how predictable I found this title. Then came Book 6 to prove me wrong, with something I don’t think I’ve ever seen in a shojo title.
Following up on the cliffhanger from the last volume, the boy Najika has a crush on has been hit by a car while trying to meet her before she has to compete in a dessert cook-off. All the friends rush to the hospital where he’s in critical condition.
Even in his weakened state, Sora tells her he wants her to fulfill her dream of becoming the best pastry chef. That’s not the unexpected part. He then tells her he’s not the kid from her past. I found that surprising, that the revelation we saw coming wasn’t dragged out for another couple of volumes. And then he dies! That’s the first time I’ve seen a male lead pass away in a shojo series.
Given that Najika is an orphan, the double-page spread of her thinking, “Why, God? Why do you always take away the people I care about?” packs quite a punch. In spite of her grief, she sets off for the competition because it’s what Sora would have wanted. Unfortunately, she’s then saddled with a remarkably odd psychosomatic syndrome: due to her shock, she loses her sense of taste.
I wish less attention had been paid to, “oh, no, how’s she going to cook with everything tasting the same?” I would think “how’s she going to cook having just lost her best friend?” would have been dramatic enough. Then it gets ramped up yet another notch: she’s kicked out of school as everyone, including the school headmaster who is also Sora’s father, blames her for his death. (Charming educational system, that is.)
Note that all the grieving also requires plenty of moist, marble-eyed closeups, both of those left behind and the departed one, who is shown watching from above. If you’re one of those people who can’t stand the big-eyed shojo manga style, this is definitely not the book for you — but you probably knew that several volumes ago.
In the midst of the overheated drama, teen model and friend Akane does a remarkably sensible thing: even though she doesn’t cook, she cobbles together a curry sushi roll and forces Najika to eat something. Her reasoning? That if anything would wake up Najika’s taste buds, spicy food would do it. Then, even more smartly, she makes an appointment for Najika with a psychologist. She’s my favorite character, even though we see her rarely. She provides some seasoned depth that balances Najika’s super-sweetness.
(A complimentary copy for this review was provided by the publisher.)