What They Say
Najika is a great cook and likes to make meals for the people she loves. But something is missing from her life. When she was a child, she met a boy who touched her heart – and now Najika is determined to find him. The only clue she has is a silver spoon that leads her to the prestigious Seika Academy.
Attending Seika will be a challenge. Every kid at the school has a special talent, and the girls in Najika’s class think she doesn’t deserve to be there. But Sora and Daichi, two popular brothers who barely speak to each other, recognize Najika’s cooking for what it is: magical. Is either boy Najika’s mysterious prince?
Regarding artwork, I did not find Ando’s character designs particularly appealing. One of the problems was that it was difficult to tell how old the characters were. Ando draws Najika and her fellow students with superlarge (almost annoyingly so) eyes that give them the faces of elementary school students. However, their bodies are more… mature. Not to mention, Najika’s wardrobe is kind of strange. (What kind of orphanage director sends a child off to school in fishnet stockings and gloves?) So while it is a fact that Najika is in first-year A class, I have not yet been able to figure out whether that is first-year middle school or first-year high school.
Najika has a number of silly and embarrassing moments, and for these, Ando uses chibi drawings, which are rather minimal and not particularly cute. Her depictions of food items are well drawn though.
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers):
Najika has a dream… this daughter of two pastry chefs wants to make the world’s most delicious dessert in the world and give it to the “Flan Prince” that rescued her from drowning when she was a little girl. Not only did this boy save her life, but he comforted the despondent Najika, who was newly orphaned, by lifting her spirits with a cup of flan.
Years later, Najika is determined to find him again. Her only clue is the silver spoon he left during their brief encounter. When she discovers that the pattern on the spoon matches the emblem of prestigious Seika Academy in Tokyo, she leaves her orphanage in Hokkaido to attend that school in hopes of finding him there.
But attending Seika will be a challenge. For some reason, the school director places Najika in first-year A class, a class reserved for extraordinarily gifted students. When the girls in Najika’s class discover that she has no obvious artistic or academic talent, they reject her like a piece of bad sushi. Akane, the most popular girl in the class, even goes so far as using underhanded tricks to humiliate her. However, Najika has spunk and thwarts their efforts through her spirited nature and unrivaled cooking skills. And in doing so, her kitchen creations catch the attention of Sora and Daichi Kitazawa, the school director’s two extremely popular sons. Could one of these boys be the Flan Prince?
When I saw this title, I assumed that it would be a cooking battle manga, something along the lines of Iron Wok Jan or Yakitate! Japan. Turns out I was quite mistaken. Volume 1 of Kitchen Princess reads like a strange combination of Revolutionary Girl Utena and Laura Esquivel’s Like Water for Chocolate. The Utena comparison comes from the parallels between the newly orphaned Najika’s rescue by her “Flan Prince” and Utena’s first encounter with her mysterious prince. While the token that leads Najika to Seika Academy is a spoon and not a ring (and I highly doubt that the Flan Prince has a twisted/creepy relationship with a close family member), Najika’s reasons for attending Seika Academy sound awfully similar to Utena’s backstory.
As for Like Water for Chocolate , this manga mirrors that novel in that each chapter has a corresponding recipe. By the way, these recipes are at the end of the book. Food figures largely into Najika’s story, and Kobayashi orchestrates the plot such that each chapter highlights one of her culinary creations.
Regarding the role of cooking in this manga, it is not the means by which competitors show their worth as it is in battle-style cooking manga. Instead, cooking is Najika’s expression of self and her means of creating relationships and drawing others to common ground (like the estranged Kitazawa Brothers). As such, do not be looking for dramatic face-offs between kitchen rivals here. Najika certainly has an enemy in the story, but I highly doubt that the refined Akane will try to take her down in a cooking fight.
Do you need to suspend belief with this story? Yes, you do. Judging from the school grounds and surroundings, Seika Academy is a pricey school, and it is unclear as of yet how poor orphan Najika can attend this institution where she can’t even afford to purchase a meal at the school cafeteria. In addition, she is somehow able to re-create a primo restaurant’s taramasalata using ingredients that happen to be in the school cafeteria, and somehow she also renovates the rundown interior of Fujita Diner all by herself within a day (and presumably no budget).
I would probably be willing to accept the leaps of logic in the story if I liked the characters more, but I don’t find them at all appealing. Najika strikes me as an unsophisticated ditz, especially the way she just falls into Akane’s schemes. Truly, her only talent is her cooking, and while her spunkiness is supposed to be one of her good points, I find it more irritating than anything else. Two-faced Akane isn’t that compelling of a villain either, and it’s just too convenient how she easily manipulates everyone around her. For the most part, characters seem to fall into the shallow designations of “good” and “bad.”
This title is rated “teen” for an almost panty-shot of Najika and a scene where Najika walks into Daichi’s room when his shirt is off.
Content Grade: C
Art Grade: B-
Packaging Grade: B+
Text/Translation Grade: B
Age Rating: 13+
Released By: Del Rey Manga
Release Date: January 30th, 2007