Reviewby Carlo Santos, Oct 12th 2008
Najika Kazami came to Seika Academy to become a chef and find her childhood sweetheart—but a string of tragedies has all but destroyed her dreams. After being demoted from the culinary/fine arts class to the regular student body, Najika meets the new arrival who will be replacing her as Seika's star student: the talented but arrogant Seiya Mizuno. Strangely enough, Seiya looks just like Sora, the boy Najika loved and lost ... but Seiya feels nothing but disdain toward Najika, especially after a controversial cooking match where she succeeds on intuition. On the romantic front, former-rival-turned-friend Akane tries to win back the heart of Daichi, who still has feelings for Najika, while Najika's search for the "Flan Prince" of her childhood leads to a shocking realization ...
After the dramatic highs and lows of Kitchen Princess's sixth volume, it should come as no surprise that this one doesn't quite reach those levels of accomplishment. What this set of chapters does instead is to return to the series' comfort zone, revisiting themes designed to uplift the reader: Najika's joyful love of food, her hard-working spirit, her unconditional kindness towards others. But don't get too comfortable just yet: Seiya's smug love-to-hate-him attitude is strong enough to maintain a certain level of friction, and a forehead-slapping jolt of realization in the final chapter proves that this story still has some twists in store. After all, what would the path of a heroine be without some challenging and unexpected obstacles?
Having one of those obstacles take the form of a new character is one of the oldest plot devices in the book—but this series pulls it off by making the new character a very polarizing one. After all, what's not to hate about an arrogant bastard who has all the best tools and ingredients at his disposal? Meanwhile, feel free to laugh off the "he looks just like Sora" bit as a feat of lazy character design, or maybe a clumsy attempt at manipulating Najika's emotions, but there is a very good reason for this ... which won't be revealed until a few chapters later (those who are thinking ahead might already be able to guess it). It just goes to show, though, how carefully the story is planned out.
Some of that story planning results in humdrum material, though, as proven by the middle chapters where Najika takes on Seiya in an impromptu cooking contest. It's a lightning-quick way to show how the characters' personalities mirror each other, but there's also a certain monotony to always throwing down one's gauntlets in the kitchen (see also: endless tournaments in Yakitate!! Japan). Then of course there is Najika's intensely positive Pollyannaism, which might grate on some readers even more than Seiya's arrogance—there's just no room for complex shades of personality here.
But even with this simple black-and-white characterization, the series is able to achieve strong emotional effects—most notably in the chapter where Akane bakes a cake for Daichi in a last-ditch attempt to win him over. Forget about Najika's saccharine positivity; it's in the taste of bittersweetness that Kitchen Princess really excels—feelings of longing and loss and the resulting catharsis. The last chapter, with its carefully planned plot revelation, also offers feelings of uncertainty and shock, as well as the perfect cliffhanger to keep readers hooked for Volume 8.
The extremes of emotion in the later chapters also carry right over into the art, where sparkly effects and expressive faces lead the way. Of course, it's hard not to be expressive when one's eyes are half the size of one's face—that sense of character design, along with the patterned, stylized backgrounds, clearly show where the series' target demographic lies. Even so, this implementation of "shoujo style" is confident and appealing in its linework, and the layouts (usually the weakest aspect of this genre) are cleanly spaced, always leading the reader's eye in the right direction. Sure, maybe the screentoning is a bit excessive at times, but when stuff really counts—like Akane's breakdown, or Najika's lightning-strike moment of realization—the artwork absolutely nails it.
Translation is pretty much fail-proof on this title, if only because the dialogue is so simple—the characters rarely say more than two sentences to each other, and the most difficult vocabulary to be found is probably cooking terminology. Of course, this is to be expected for a kids' series, and there's something refreshing about manga characters who actually say what they mean and don't get lost in vague ambiguities and trailing bits of dialogue. Sound effect translation is a walk in the park as well, since they're used only sparingly throughout the story, and when they do appear, it's simply a matter of placing a small translation right next to the original. Even the cultural glossary in the back is sparsely populated, as there isn't a whole lot to explain—but as far as bonus material goes, would-be cooks will definitely enjoy the supplementary recipes for each chapter.
Is Najika getting closer to finding her Flan Prince and finally becoming a true "Kitchen Princess"? Maybe, maybe not—but one thing for sure, this series takes the hoariest elements of the romance/drama/cooking genres and still manages to come up with something greater than the sum of its parts. Volume 7 is a classic example, with a new rival, a conflict of ideals and a tearful confession—things we've all seen before, except that this series does it surprisingly well. It may not match the dramatic intensity of the previous installment, and the middle chapters drag a bit, but the overall aftertaste is still a good one.
Overall : B-
Story : B-
Art : B
+ An abrasive new character and a carefully planned story twist keep the plot rolling.
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