What They Say:
In food and life, one must taste what is bitter to appreciate what is sweet.
Kidnapped as a child, Keiichiro Tachibana’s had trouble coming to terms with the haunting memory. He doesn’t remember much, only that the kidnapper forcing him to eat sweets. As a way of dealing with his past, Tachnibana decides to open a bakery. But will his choice in staff—a playboy pâtisser whose been fired from every job he’s ever had, an ex-boxer with a huge sweet tooth, and an absent minded childhood friend—be a recipe for disaster or success?
As this is a non-hybrid release, the only language track available was Japanese in 2.0 Dolby digital stereo. English subtitles are provided in yellow font, which is good because the show makes liberal use of the color white. Everything came through on the center channel and there were no issues with fading or distortion or the volume rising and falling unexpectedly. There’s nothing impressive with the sound quality, but considering this is a talky show, that’s to be expected.
Each episode is presented in 16:9 aspect ratio and while the technical quality of the show is fine, the backgrounds for the series are almost entirely rendered digitally, making the traditional hand drawn characters appear separate from their surroundings and creating an unintentionally surreal quality that was rather distracting at times.
Antique Bakery comes in a standard Litebox case with the twelve episode series spread across three discs with the first two housed in a center inset and the third on the back of the case. The front cover is predominantly white with the four main characters, Eiji, Chikage, Yusuke, and Tachibana in separate white vertical strips. Eiji, Chikage, and Yusuke are all either eating or holding cakes, while Tachibana is not, which makes sense when you watch the show. Underneath them in a cream colored, horizontal box is the show’s title and the pictures of three cakes, and underneath that is a set of slanting white and beige lines like a wallpaper pattern. The spine is also white and rather minimalist, featuring only the show’s title and the picture of a cake. The back cover is shaped like a menu page. The corners are cut off, as if we are seeing a paper menu whose corners are tucked into a leather case. The show’s synopsis and disc features are presented on the left side in a light brown font that compliments the white color scheme while still standing out well from the white background. Screenshots from the show dominate the right-hand side, arranged in ten orderly boxes. Another picture of a cake rests at the bottom, and below it are the series’ specifications.
Overall, it’s a solid case design that, like the menu, utilizes the show’s basic conceit to inform its design scheme.
The menu for Antique Bakery is quite cute and clever. As this is a show set in a cake shop, the DVD menu is designed to look like the cake shop’s menu. The background is a creamy white with the texture of high-quality cotton. A brown, art deco-ish border surrounds the screen and the same color is used for the font. The options are located on the left side of the screen and broken into two sections, “entrees” and “desserts.” The “Play All” and “Scenes” options are placed under “entrees” and the extras reside under “desserts.” There are no options given for language or subtitles. To the right rests a rather lovely cake and underneath it is the show’s title. The show’s opening song plays on a ten second loop.
I like this design quite a bit: it’s playful, aesthetically pleasing, easy to navigate, and fits with the series’ conceit.
In addition to the standard clean Op/Ed and trailers, there are a few interesting extras that elevates this above standard anime sets. Perhaps the most interesting—at least for me—was the Live Event Coverage where the voice actors came out on stage dressed as their characters and answered questions about the show. While the questions and answers were fairly straightforward the event itself held my attention because it provided a glimpse into Japanese culture and illustrated just how large a role anime plays within it. Sometimes the most mundane details and events tell us the most about people, places, and cultures, and that’s certainly the case here.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Antique Bakery is a twelve episode anime based on a shojo manga of the same name. It takes place in a cake shop run by four men: Keisuke Tachibana, who owns the shop; Yusuke Ono the pâtisser with a problematic job history; Eiji Kanda, an ex-boxer turned pâtisser-in-training; and Chikage Kobayakawa, Tachibana’s childhood friend and all-around klutz. The four work well together and form a fast friendship, but outside of the bakery, their lives are a total mess.
Having never read the manga, I had no idea what to expect from this title. From the cover I suspected that it might have some yaoi elements, but was surprised to find them pretty much nonexistent. Perhaps if I knew more about shojo titles in general I wouldn’t have been surprised, but I’m digressing.
Each character suffers from his own tragic history. Tachibana was kidnapped as a child and was only fed sweets. Even as an adult, the situation haunts him nightly and he can’t eat cakes or other sweets—an irony that the others quickly point out. Ono, the pâtisser, has a string of failed jobs behind him because he is the “Gay with Demonic Charm”—meaning that if he fancies a man, homosexual or straight, his desire creates within them a fascination that sometimes borders on obsessions. This causes understandable friction at work, and not surprisingly, Ono gets fired often. Eiji, the youngest employee, was once a championship boxer, but had to hang up the gloves after suffering from a detached retina. We learn later in the show that he is an orphan and because of that has some serious abandonment issues. The final character, Chikage, has lived with Tachibana since childhood. His parents were killed when he was just a boy and Tachibana’s family took him in. Ever since that moment he has looked after his friend, but often his clumsiness and tactlessness become a source of comic frustration.
The basic idea of the series is that this cake shop becomes a sanctuary and method for redemption for all of these men. Tachibana founds it ostensibly because he wants to meet cute girls, but his experience being kidnapped obviously plays a huge unconscious factor. As the show progresses, the men deal with their pasts to varying degrees while at the same time developing deep and abiding friendships.
Oddly enough, it took me a little while to figure out what the series was about. The majority of the episodes are standalone stories that revolve around one or more of the four main characters. A subplot is introduced later with a rash of new kidnappings, but it doesn’t reach fruition until the final two episodes when the police discover that the victims had been fed cake before being murdered. They use Tachibana’s bakery to try and find the kidnapper, and the incident makes him finally come to terms with his past.
While all of that is well and good, there are times when Antique Bakery doesn’t quite know what it wants to be. At first it seemed like a yaoi story between Tachibana and Ono, but that gets shot down by the end of the first episode. After that it seemed like it might be an anthology series that would focus on the customers of the bakery and how Tachibana and the others help them work through their problems, but that gets dropped in favor of stories about Ono, Eiji, and Chikage’s past. And yet even then plot threads are introduced then dropped. Ono and Chikage begin what I thought was going to be a relationship, but never actually do anything. We learn that Chikage has a daughter, but she only appears for one episode and never comes up again. This creates a rather inconsistent tone that hurts the overall quality of the series. The show weathers these issues to an extent because the characters are interesting, but with the exception of one particular moment, the show feels as insubstantial as one of the cakes they make—it lasts for a moment, but when the sugar rush dies away, you’re left feeling empty.
The one moment where the show truly shines occurs at the end, so if you wish to avoid spoilers, please skip down to the summary. At the end of the show, Tachibana discovers the kidnapper’s identity and rescues a child just before the kidnapper could murder him. However, the kidnapper is not the same man who took Tachibana when he was a boy. In some respects this feels like a cop out considering that our expectations built on a lifetime of stories tell us that this should be the same man and that this is what will give Tachibana closure. It was actually very smart to make this a different person and still have Tachibana achieve that sense of piece. It defies narrative expectations while at the same time stands as a natural and satisfying story point. This is driven home when the last person Tachibana sells a cake to in the series is the man who kidnapped him all those years ago. Neither Tachibana nor the kidnapper recognizes each other, and they go their separate ways. It’s a brilliant story choice and I wish that the show had more moments like it.
While the show does have its charms—mostly with its strong, likable characters, it meanders quite a bit and isn’t quite sure what it wants to be. Plot points and threads are introduced then dropped and while the ending does do something rather impressive, it’s not enough to make this more than an enjoyable yet forgettable title. Mildly recommended.
Japanese 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Clean Op/Ed, Interview with Tomomi Kasai, Live Event Coverage
Content Grade: C+
Audio Grade: A
Video Grade: B
Packaging Grade: A
Menu Grade: A
Extras Grade: B-
Released By: Nozomi Entertainment
Release Date: February 4, 2014
Running Time: 300 minutes
Video Encoding: 480 i/p
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Panasonic Viera TH42PX50U 42” Plasma HDTV, Sony BPD-S3050 BluRay Player w/HDMI Connection