Reviewby Carl Kimlinger,
Sub.DVD - Collection
Welcome to Antique, the manliest bakery in town. And by manly, I mean full of men. Here you can find Keiichiro Tachibana, an enterprising man whose bakery plans definitely involve waitresses. Helping him is Yusuke Ono, a gifted pâtissier who is definitely waitress-phobic. And also very gay. Their assistant pâtissier is a cocky kid and former boxing champ and their assistant manager is Tachibana's secretly studly childhood friend and occasional servant Chikage. That's a lot of guys for a girly shop. And a lot of problems. Put them together and the same-sex romance and tragic histories come jumping out of the woodwork. And get resolved, along with the occasional customer's personal issues, via the magic of pastries...along with good advice and good company.
As its title suggests, the main thrust of Antique Bakery is the creation and growth of Tachibana's bakery. The show clearly believes that that isn't enough to carry it through twelve episodes. In short order it mixes in a substantial subplot involving Tachibana's childhood kidnapping at the hands of a deranged cake-lover, and further complicates things with Ono's incredibly messy love life. It probably shouldn't have.
The best of Antique Bakery comes from the bakery. The details of how Tachibana's entrepreneurial effort comes together are, contrary to expectation, quite interesting. The process is hardly what you'd call realistic—the bakery opens to immediate success and universal acclaim—but there's planning, marketing, and managing of human resources involved, which places it a good step or two above your average animated small business. Watching Tachibana adjusting his business model on the fly, recruiting talent (or having it fall in his lap), and managing the interpersonal conflicts of his employees isn't just involving, it has a slight but crucial ring of truth to it. The business that takes shape is surprisingly believable: classy yet easygoing, profit-driven yet people-centered. It's a nice place to hang out, made nicer by the universally nice guys who run it, and human enough that you don't really mind that the whole thing is one giant snort-worthy fantasy. The series clearly loves its four leads, giving each an episode or two of their own to gather depth and woo us with warmth and humor. The one in which an unbearably cute girl comes to visit Tachibana and Chikage is a stand-out, full of cuddly moments, revealing interactions, and humorous surprises. Customers get their own quirks and personalities and, in some cases, home lives and histories. This allows for a surprisingly wide range of experiences, most of them pleasingly adult, from the pains of single parenthood to the angst of an endangered romance and the raucous humor of a great holiday get-together. Even passing pastry purchasers are given enough individuality to hint at lives and personal problems unspoken.
It is to this side of the show that its look and feel belong. The series has a gentle, slightly faded look, as if composed of old photos. Everything is drawn as if filmed through a gauzy filter, with the color fading to white towards the edges. It gives the series an aged feel, appropriate given its name, but also emphasizes its reserve and quietude—also reflected in the generally unobtrusive score when it isn't being humorously hammy. Characters, for their part, are drawn more realistically than is the norm, and settings are rendered in meticulous CG detail. The pace is easy, the atmosphere subdued, and the production on a whole skewed towards realism. When tone and content match, when the natural camaraderie of the main quartet, the elegant comfort of their shop, and the meandering rhythms of shop life combine, the series approaches a kind of mild-mannered brilliance.
Even Right Stuf can see what side the show's toast is buttered on. Their box has the same minimalist feel as the show itself, and their inevitable booklet focuses heavily on the characters, with amusing profiles and lengthy interviews in which the actors dissect their characters' (generally well-constructed) personalities. What remains is devoted to cultural notes and profiles of desserts—not plot, not relationships.
So why can't the series itself see it? As if unsure that a simple tale of four guys founding a bakery is enough to hold our interest, it top-loads its plot with preposterous romantic entanglements and forces unnecessary structure onto it with Tachibana's kidnapping. Rather than spice the series up, the move makes it into a hodgepodge. The intensity of Tachibana's trauma feels horribly out of place in Antique's world, and the romantic byplay looks like Moe poking Curly in the eyes next to the cast's workplace relations. Romantic scenes are melodramatic eyesores amid generally subdued events. Unnecessary narrative convolutions open gaping holes in Tachibana's backstory. Silly SD banter alternates with overwrought confessions and emotionally spare dialogue. The intriguingly ambiguous ending sits cheek-to-cheek with patly resolved relationships, and the earnest championing of homosexuality is nestled next to casually exploited homosexual domestic abuse. It is, as you may have gathered, an often frustratingly uneven experience.
The hell of it is that it didn't have to be. Aria long ago proved that a show could have no action, no romance, no drama, and no plot and still entrance. The best parts of Antique Bakery recall the plotless, poetic sensibilities of Aria, but it lacks the strength of Aria's convictions. Instead of trusting in the ordinary growth of its less-than-ordinary bakery and the ordinary lives of its less-than-ordinary bakers, it tries to goose itself with big emotions and ends up laying an egg.
Overall (sub) : C+
Story : C+
Animation : B-
Art : B+
Music : B
+ Likeable cast, nice ambience; a very people-centric portrait of a blossoming business.
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