Well, if I forgot to review The Sacred Blacksmith for a few months I should apologize for not reviewing this, I actually read three volumes of this way back in December but wasn't able to get the fourth volume at time (this was all through my local library) so I had to hold off of it for months. Actually, I'd wanted to read this title for a few years but for some reason all four volumes were listed in the same entry in the library catalog so I had a one in four chance of getting the one I wanted (they were all at different branches too). One day I actually went ahead and emailed them about this problem and then the next day each volume had it's own entry, really wishing I had done this years ago now.
Antique Bakery by Fumi Yoshinaga
Summary: One day, seemingly on a whim, Keiichiro decides to open a bakery in what was formerly an antique shop (hence the store's name Antique). He hires Ono, a "gay of demonic charm" who was a high school classmate of his, as his pastry chief and eventually also hires Eji, a 21 year old former wrestler, as a kitchen assistant and another old friend of his, Chikage, to help in the shop as they enchant all kinds of people with their delectable sweets.
The Good: While the story is character focused, not plot focused, each volume has it's own larger arc with a few reoccurring characters and that's a nice thing. It's a slice of life story but a really good slice of life story won't use new characters in each chapter, rather it knows when new characters are needed and when already introduced characters will keep the story going. As for the characters themselves, it's nice to see characters who aren't high school students (the youngest character, Eji, is already 21) and it's a bit surprising since this story is shojo, not josei, and the characters really needed to be older for this story to work. The characters deal with more adult issues and choices in life, which again is a refreshing change.
The Bad: The beginning of the first volume was rather confusing since it introduced numerous characters who wouldn't reappear for a few chapters and left me flipping back and forth through the pages, trying to figure out who was who and, more importantly, which guys were the main characters. The story does something similar in each volume but it's the most confusing in the first volume, it makes the storytelling feel a bit choppy in places. Also, reading this series will give you an incredible desire to go out and eat/make pastries with each new chapter which, while not precisely bad, could be bad for your health and wallet.
The Art: The art is rather restrained for a shojo work, a lot of panels are plain black and white drawings of the characters talking without any background art and and it doesn't go tone crazy like many shojo series do (you can see why I thought this was josei to start with). The characters look a bit similar to each other at times, especially early on in the series when a lot of characters are being introduced at once, but they all look different enough (and each one has a well established personality so they all act very differently) so that readers shouldn't be confusing them too often.
I really enjoyed this (even if I did have the constant to urge to make crazy pastries that I had no clue how to make) and would love to see the anime. The anime is licensed (and out now) by Nozomi but, since they very rarely stream anime on their youtube channel and never anywhere else, it's likely to be quite a while before I get a chance to check it out.