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Tuesday, 8 February 2011

LGBT History Month presents Antique Bakery

Writer and artists: Fumi Yoshinaga
Publisher: Digitla Manga

What's it about?
An old antique shop reopens as a bakery.  A surprising selection of characters staff the shop, some unlikely coincidences take place and some delicious cakes and pastries get baked.

The book opens with some historical episodes.
14 years ago... In high school Ono confesses his love for Tachibana, who responds by telling him to 'Hurry up and die, homo'.  Nice.
13 years ago...Urishihara is being bullied in school for looking different and Miss Ito admires her.
5 years ago...Eiji Kanda is a champion boxer.  Unfortunately for him he develops a detached retina and is forced to give up boxing.
3 years ago...Mr Tadahiro is a grumpy businessman with a wife and son and an obsessive desire for desserts.

This unlikely group of people drift to the Antique Bakery.  We learn some secrets, see some relationships blossom, and, well, learn a lot about different types of cake.

This is a Yaoi title.  Yaoi means boys love and is the name given to manga about male couples.  Yaoi can be explicitly about sex, or can be more about the relationship side of things. Some of it can be a coming out narrative, some of it can just be two men getting it on.  A lot of it is written by women, for women.  The female equivalent is called Yuri.  This book is not explicit and is far more about baking than sex.
What's good about it? Oooh it's simply delightful!
Let's start with the bakery part - throughout the book there are mouth watering descriptions of cake.  If you like cake you'll want to eat them all.  My book comes with a scratch and sniff cover - you get an aroma of strawberries.  I read this on a Monday and it took me until Friday to find a cake that could satisfy my craving (Japanese cheesecake with green tea ice cream, since you ask).

The book is more of a cooking manga than a story about sexuality.  Ono's gayness is present throughout the book, as it is part of him.  His sexuality is part of him, but not necessarily always the most important part, and the story reflects that.  It's normalising of different sexualities in a way that is often missed by mainstream Western media outlets.

Having said that, there is a subplot about Tachibana and Ono.  Tachibana may start as an asshole but by the end of the book he has been thoroughly outshone by Ono.  It is clear that Ono is the better person, and in fact, in one of the best lines of the book, it is stated that Ono has grown up to become "..no ordinary gay. He's a demonically charmed gay, unspeakably gay, a legendary gay" who inadvertently seduces every man he takes a fancy to.  It's enough to send right wing bigots everywhere into a frenzy ;)

Note: Due to computer issues the scans in this post are taken from fan translations on the internet, so some lettering and vocabulary may be different from the official printed version.

If this book were a song it would be a light little summer ditty. 

What's bad about it?
Not a lot, if I'm honest,  The characters are all easily distinguishable (something I often have problems with in black and white books), the plots are fun and the build up to various reveals is done with skill and precision.  There are a few panels where it's not terribly easy to work out what the reading order is but overall it's fine.

Please note that this book is presented in the original Japanese format, so you read it back to front, right to left.  An explanation of how to read manga can be found at the bottom of this post.

What's the art like?
Most panels have little to no background detail, this has two effects - 1, you focus in on the character's faces and body language and the story is told through the way the characters are placed in each panel.  2, the blank space gives a feeling of solitude and contentment that you would expect to find in a peaceful artisan bakery.

Yoshinaga doesn't use a lot of pencil lines for her characters.   This produces restrained and simplified images where little things denote expressions and moods, for example, the angle of an eyebrow or a mouth.  Occasionally a wrinkle or a tear is shown, and it is their very scarcity which increases the impact of the scene.

To complement this simplicity, shading techniques are used quite often to emphasise moods and space.  And then, because there's an exception to every rule, some panels will be bursting with ink:

Other information
You are unlikely to find yaoi titles in mainstream bookshops, as the sexual content is incompatible with a genre still widely (and incorrectly) considered suitable only for children.  Because of this, you will be best off buying yaoi titles from amazon, ebay or British online distributors such as United Publications and Anime Online.

To read more from the same author, try Antique Bakery volumes 2 to 4, or The Moon and Sandals.  Click here to see what other LGBT books we have covered.  Click here to read other romance and Valentines themed posts.

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