Still far from groundbreaking, but a decent read for the shoujo fan nevertheless.
So, here we are in volumes three and four of Kitchen Princess, and virtually all the criticisms I had for the first omnibus (volumes one and two collected) are the same here – the story isn’t original, and the art looks exactly like Arina Tanemura’s. It even continues to rip off of Revolutionary Girl Utena, which itself continues to feel so utterly bizarre given the massive differences in tone betwixt the two, as well as the fact that, other than the bits that are ripped off, Kitchen Princess is about as much like RGU as You are Umasou is like Serial Experiments Lain.
Here, we’ve got a would-be Touga in the form of Sora, one point in the typical shoujo love triangle that KP offers. In RGU, Touga, upon learning of Utena’s motivations (must find her prince!), manipulates her into thinking that he is her prince. Sora, upon learning of Najika’s motivations, does the same! We have yet to see why he does so, but I suspect it’ll end up being somehow noble or something, since this is a light-hearted story that does not feature chattel slavery, sword fights, or people guilty of domestic violence.
Otherwise in this volume, Najika faces a few tests. First is an attempt to close down the on-campus cafe at which she works and had in the previous omnibus reformed from the broken-down wreck it was when she first enrolled. Then the guardian of the orphanage that she grew up at falls ill, leading to a return home. We have further bitchery from Akane to round out the tribulations of the volume, although rather than grating on the nerves, I was fairly pleased with the fact that KP refused to have the Akane matter settled neatly.
Boiled down, Akane intentionally causes strife between Daichi and Najika because she is worried that Daichi has a crush on Najika (which he does). Its a really crappy thing for her to do, but its preferable to the sudden friend phenomena of some shoujo – Enemyko goes immediately from being a foe to a BFF! Usually she remains somewhat prickly, but its all for show, nothing more! Nope, Akane is by turns grudgingly kind to Najika (she gives Najika the keys to overcoming the board’s decision to get rid of the cafe) and incredibly mean (she steals a watch that Daichi leaves for Najika, who has broken her watch but cannot afford to replace it), which thankfully leads to Najika actually showing some spine for once. It does eventually end well, but it takes a while to get there.
Speaking of Najika showing spine, she gets a minor upgrade here, as she comes off as much less ditzy and dumb here than in the first omnibus. She spends more time in her own element, which I think is part of what helps. We get additional flashes here and there, too, that help to round out the picture; she’s very matter of fact in a few instances toward the end of this omnibus in a way that I can’t picture her volume one self as having been capable of. And that she finally stands up to Akane’s bullying gives her a big boost as well. I was sick of watching her play nice endlessly toward a girl who was a total asshole to her.
Finally, I want to remark upon the fact that, while far from progressive, I do enjoy that KP’s take on cooking and baking is that of it being a skill that takes effort. So much anime and manga is girls being good at cooking because they are girls, not because they are hard workers and have developed a solid skillset. Najika has been cooking for literally years, but in her new setting has honed her abilities in a way she couldn’t when she was preparing food for the other kids at the orphan’s home. At the end of the volume, she’s successfully entered a cooking competition, and I’m eager to read what happens next.