For those who missed this column’s introduction, this is a new, weekly spotlight featuring books from my own personal manga collection that I’ve offered up as a library to my teen students. And since talking on and on about manga series I love is my usual role here, it only made sense to adapt the column from its origins on Facebook to my true home as a manga blogger. I hope you’ll enjoy!
After spending my first installment of this new column to recommend an out-of-print 27-volume epic, I’m going to take the second to make things a little easier, at least on one front. This week’s spotlight manga is also out of print and (unlike Basara) not yet enjoying new life, digital or otherwise. On the other hand, this series is regularly available for sale on eBay, and my students can be rest assured that I own no fewer than three copies of it in full, so there are plenty of books to go around. Furthermore, this series is only four volumes long, making it easily digestible for nearly any manga appetite.
And speaking of appetite, what could be more enticing than the combination of Fumi Yoshinaga and food? If you’ve enjoyed more recent of her series such as Yen Press’ Not Love But Delicious Foods Make Me So Happy! or Vertical’s ongoing What Did You Eat Yesterday? I’m sure your answer must be “not much.” That’s my answer, too, and has been since the very first time I picked up a copy of Antique Bakery.
Debuting in Shinshokan’s idiosyncratic shoujo magazine Wings in 2000, this short series (about four men in Tokyo running a western-style bakery) is notable in several ways. First, it falls very close to the beginning of Yoshinaga’s departure from her BL roots (following up on the much less ambitious Garden Dreams), while still including gay characters (something still much too rare in manga). In 2002, it won the Kodansha Manga Award for shoujo (and was nominated for a 2007 Eisner award during its run here in the US). It’s been adapted into an anime series, a Japanese live-action drama, and—most successfully, in my view—a Korean feature film (students, I own this on DVD), and was for many of us our first introduction to Yoshinaga’s glorious wit, delicious dialogue, and distinctive art style.
Students who have been with our studio for a while may remember a long-ago summer session that included a class I called “Acting & Manga” in which we looked at several specific scenes from various manga series to study the way silence and physicality impact a scene. One of these scenes was from Fumi Yoshinaga’s later series Flower of Life (probably my favorite of her older works), but she uses these tools just as effectively in Antique Bakery.
As an example, Michelle and I once examined a scene for Let’s Get Visual, using scans from the Japanese original to demonstrate how clearly the artwork tells the story, even without words. Though Yoshinaga has been criticized by some for favoring similar looks in character designs, it’s impossible to deny the expressiveness of her artwork overall, and that’s always been a huge draw for me.
On the other hand, an even greater draw is her wonderfully witty, wordy dialogue—the likes of which I’ve yet to encounter from any other manga artist. Her silences may be powerful, but her words are warm and utterly delicious. And despite the drama depicted here, one of her greatest strengths is humor, which flows through the entirety of Antique Bakery, even in its darkest moments—and some moments are surprisingly dark. This is no lightweight series, yet it leaves the reader walking on air. It is a true delight.
Antique Bakery is available to any of my students 13 and up to borrow. (For non-student readers here’s at least one you could check into). But that’s not all! I own a fairly large collection of Fumi Yoshinaga’s work in English, and while some of it is definitely for older readers, there’s plenty of everything to go around. For a taste of what’s available, you can check out my 2010 Fumi Yoshinaga Week post, and she has several newer works available as well.