Wait – a shoujo show with a girl who doesn’t just pine after boys the whole time?
Confession: I’m a bit behind schedule with this review. I actually have been keeping up with Yumeiro Patissierre week-to-week, but I’ve been extremely busy lately because I have a very large course-load this semester, and I’ve also had various other activities sucking up my time.
I tell this to you because of a very simple fact – Yumeiro Patissierre is my favorite show currently.
I love this show. I also think that it is a good show. I am not in the target audience, obviously, but I really do enjoy it. But I’m a little more interested in defending it as a good show as opposed to explicating on why I, myself, like it.
Yumeiro Patissierre does something fairly admirable – it starts with a “stupid” character, and then it actually does something constructive. It demonstrates that, no, this kid isn’t stupid; they just don’t do well in what we traditionally consider to be areas that connote intelligence. Ichigo loves food. Very standard trope. She doesn’t do so hot in school. REALLY standard trope. But she moves beyond this – she goes from simply liking food a lot to wanting to understand it better and be able to create culinary delights herself. Unlike leadings ladies of shoujo shows past like Wedding Peach or Sailor Moon, Ichigo isn’t dreaming of growing up and getting married – she’s dreaming of being able to go study in Paris so she can become a better patissierre.
This is actually kind of remarkable for this genre. And, if you think about it, its very contrary to the narrative of Japanese society writ large, where there is such a heavy emphasis on doing well academically and then going on to have a career (if you’re male) or get married (if you’re female) (yes, I know women are more and more present in the workplace, but it is still very much a male-oriented environment, and women are subject to extreme pressure over having a family). Ichigo sucks at math, literature, etc. But she’s good at her own thing.
I think this was best demonstrated in the episode where the middle school students were trying to get slots in the preliminary Grand Prix competition. Ichigo goes through a set of problems, all of which starts with a piece of cake. She then has to identify which of a few different ingredients were used – which of these three types of eggs, which of these three types of sugar, which of these three types of flour. In watching her differentiate them properly, I suddenly realized the degree of skill necessary for what she’s doing. I’ve always had a sense of being a pastry chef as being difficult, but I’d never really understood it before. I could never tell the difference between different types of flour if someone handed me three bowls!
Now, I’ll admit that, yes, Ichigo does nevertheless rely on her male friends to an extent. But I do think the aforementioned test shows that she has her own skills and abilities, too. Her work ethic is also laudable – shoujo shows such as this so often just have the idiot savant at work, but Ichigo slaves away in practicing her skills. The presence of the little fairies here isn’t to work miracles, but instead they serve more like little cheerleaders; if anything, I am most reminded of the imaginary friend. Ichigo gets better at what she’s doing because she, herself, invests effort into it.
Another thing I like about the show is that its drama isn’t of the “bitches being bitches” type for the most part. When the kids are cruel to each other, or scheme, or something, it is in service to an actual end-goal – being the best patissierre. There’s very little of the pointless torment going on here.
Yumeiro Patissierre has also done a good job in largely ignoring romance. I like this. So often, shoujo shows devolve into farces centered around the male love interest; instead of being truly about the female lead, they are instead solely about her defined in relation to the love interest. Ichigo remains her own person here; dammit, she wants to go study in France! And eat cake! Forget the boys! (Although, admittedly, a few of the more recent episodes have hinted slightly at potential romance afoot.)
Now, there are of course some drawbacks in the mix. The Heiress is fairly grating and really doesn’t go beyond pure stereotype. Kashino looks like he’s the most likely love interest even though he’s a jerk. The filler episodes about the Sweet Spirits are really dull. But, overall, this is a solid show; a good show, even. Its the kind of show, even, that I wish would get licensed for TV broadcast in America if only to give little girls something to watch where *they* are the center of attention, not simply the token Smurfette content to cheer the boys on from the sidelines.