Can you say melodrama?
Y’know, it isn’t a good sign when you’re reading something, and you find yourself repeatedly comparing it unfavorably to a different story with a similar premise. This is especially damning if the different story post-dates the one you are reading, and thus may’ve ripped off of the volume you have in your hands. All of which is to say that I spent much of my time reading the third Kitchen Princess omnibus making comparisons to Yumeiro Patissiere, and considering why it is that YumePati is a much better story… and this despite the fact that YumePati almost certainly owes its existence to the existence of Kitchen Princess. Perhaps it is also worth noting that YumePati has two anime series and a couple of OAVs to its credit while Kitchen Princess remains firmly in the printed world only?
Honestly, the reason that YumePati is better than Kitchen Princess is pretty simple, and it is also a good way of explaining what isn’t so hot about this omnibus. YumePati keeps itself fairly straightforward, sticking to its basic premise – Ichigo is a girl who loves pastries and sweets and dreams of being able to recreate the strawberry tart that her patissiere grandmother used to make for her when she was a child. Ichigo enrolls in a fancy culinary school to that end, and the story is about her improving her skills and competing against classmates and others in culinary competitions. Kitchen Princess begins somewhat similarly, although Najika is searching for her Flan Prince instead of trying to replicate a relative’s pastry. But where YumePati is fairly simple, Kitchen Princess here cannot resist the urge to make it all cloak-and-dagger in grand melodramatic fashion – and, quite simply, its stupid.
So we find out in this volume that the actual chairman of the school, Sora and Daichi’s father, accepted Najika to the school and offered her a scholarship so that she could be the spokesperson for a planned culinary extension for the academy. And, dun dun dun evil laughter, he did so because Najika’s parents were themselves famous pastry chefs, and he’s trying to spin it as Najika bravely defying odds and tragedy to become like her parents. Of course, Najika has no idea that her parents were these star-studded pastry chefs, despite having participated in a cooking competition and being surrounded by classmates whose parents are exactly the sorts who would say, “Wait, did you say so-and-so? Gee, are they related to that famous person with the same last name? I’m pretty sure they had a kid who survived that accident!” And this doesn’t even touch on the fact that for Najika to wind up in some orphan’s home is pretty peculiar, even if she didn’t have any relatives – really? There was no one who could take her in or who wanted to take her in? If her parents were such big deals, she likely came with a decent amount of cash attached, after all.
But, really, I could shred in that direction endlessly and it really wouldn’t add much to what we’ve already established – Najika’s back-story is paper-thin at best, and major plot developments keep hinging on its paper-thin nature (as well as Najika’s utter idiocy).
Actually, but let’s hang with the idea that Najika is really stupid. Good lord! This girl is so stupid! I feel like I could never even hit the tip of the iceberg on why this girl is dumber than a sack of rocks. And we get back here again to YumePati, since Ichigo herself isn’t exactly introduced to us as the brightest young thing. However, YumePati essentially presents Ichigo not as a stupid girl, but as a girl who hadn’t yet found her niche in life and who had been told over and over again over the years that she wasn’t smart and that her genius younger sister was the star of the family. YumePati is really all about Ichigo growing as a person and finding her true passion, all about her learning process and improving skills. Najika, on the other hand, has been a fairly static character to this point in the storyline, and her culinary skills basically get swept up as “oh, she’s really good at knowing people, so she knows what they like to eat!”. So Najika gets to remain bumbling and dense despite her successes.
Sigh. So, this omnibus. Melodramatic stuff happens, lots of tears are had, Najika runs away AGAIN, then almost runs away ANOTHER time, and its all just… really kind of ridiculous and over-the-top. I mean…
Ok, look, I’m gonna give a minor spoiler. Its the sort of spoiler where it won’t mean anything to you until you actually read the volume, though, because it lacks specifics. Someone dies in this omnibus. And it was completely out of the left-field. I figured it was going to be played as anime and manga usually plays these things in titles like Kitchen Princess, in that it would be an uguu sadface must overcome it so angst thing where the person involved is prancing around fancy-free a few chapters later, all better. But, no, they die. And you know what? I felt nothing. NOTHING. And this is the underlying issue here – I don’t care about the characters. Najika is an irritating idiot. Akane was interesting, but here she gets flattened down into something more conventional and bland. Sora is the blonde-haired cool student council president whom everyone loves. Daichi is his dark-haired brother with whom he doesn’t get along and who is a bit rebellious. This is our core cast. And, really, that’s all there is to them – there’s no real depth, and there’s nothing about them that makes them the tiniest bit interesting to myself as a reader. The only character I care about at all in the cast is the seemingly lazy, rough-around-the-edges Fujita, but even he fits into a fairly well-established character type – the apparently no-good male mentor who is actually well-qualified and hides it under a thick layer of stubble and frequent naps. If the core cast was all killed off, I wouldn’t care at all!
So, doubtless the expectation here is that I hated Kitchen Princess Omnibus 3… well, actually, no, I didn’t. I enjoyed it a touch less than the previous omnibuses, but I didn’t hate it at all. I did roll my eyes frequently as the developments got more and more ludicrous, but I read the whole thing cover-to-cover in one sitting regardless. But I also recognize that it wasn’t very good, and that the earlier issues with the storytelling are starting to stand out in greater starkness than they had before.
When you get down to it, Kitchen Princess is bogwater standard shoujo fare, and this portion of the manga is exactly that. The characters never go beyond being archetypes, and the drama and personalities involves can’t even pull off the incredibly entertaining melodrama that other shoujo titles can given similar material – the machinations of the chairman and the antics of the classmates who hate Najika could be incredibly entertaining, but its just not executed with any skill. So, yes, its an enjoyable lot of bogwater you’re wading through, but it fits perfectly with the notion of manga as being disposable entertainment.
Anyway, before I close out, I want to note that for this omnibus Kodansha USA decided to drop the two-volume approach and packed three volumes into the omnibus, making for a veritable doorstop if it weren’t for the fact that its a paperback. I can only conclude that the omnibuses haven’t been selling as well as hoped since the original solicitation for this release indicated that it was going to be just volumes five and six, not five through seven.
So… well, if you’ve been enjoying Kitchen Princess so far, there’s not much reason to think you’ll suddenly hate it now. Its perfectly fine as an afternoon read, even if the thing isn’t terribly well-written and is roughly as substantial as whipped cream. I’ll pre-order the final omnibus in the next few months, so you know I must still be getting something good out of it even if I just shredded the hell out of it in this review.