Sunday, June 21, 2009

Kitchen Princess, vol. 1

The story: Najika is an orphan who loves to cook. Her deceased parents were pastry chefs and she longs to follow in their footsteps. She's also on another mission -- to find her "flan prince," an anonymous boy who shared a delicious flan with her years ago. With the beautiful spoon the boy gave her as her only clue, she heads to Seika Academy. However, once there she finds herself out of her element and longing for home. Fortunately, two brothers with very different personalities who are also sons of the school's director befriend her. Will Najika ever feel welcome at her new school?

Reaction: I loved the concept of food bringing people together and it was great to see Najika overcome her loneliness by cooking. There were even recipes for all the dishes featured at the end of the volume! While on the surface this seems like a romantic comedy, there were some dark undertones, too, which recalled another shojo series I love. From the death of Najika's parents to the bullying she experiences in school to Najika's bright exterior, this story reminds me of one of my other favorite shojo series, Fruits Basket.

Deep thoughts: I loved Najika's ability to remember any food she's tasted. Taste is closely aligned with smell and memories can be triggered by similar smells. There's also recent research showing that overeating can be controlled by smell. By using overwhelming aroma or taking it away completely, people may be able to lose some weight by being satiated by smell or deriving little joy from the eating experience. Maybe that's why we lose our appetites when we're sick.

Artwork: The artwork here is nicely done for a shojo manga. There's certainly enough screentone and "shojo sparkles" to satisfy even the most ardent of fans. But, the best drawings are those of the dishes and snacks that Najika cooks up -- I don't think I've ever been this hungry while reading a manga!

The verdict: Highly recommended. While this seems like your average shojo story, it has so much more going for it with the focus on food. I also like that Najika isn't infallible; while some shojo heroines "never say die," Najika doubts herself and almost gives up. But, because of the love she's spread with her cooking, she finds the support she needs. Kitchen Princess is available in the U.S. from Del Rey.

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