Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Combat Baker and His Automaton Waitress
The wars have finally ended, and war hero Lud Langart has left the service and moved to a small town to open a bakery, which has been his dream for many years. Unfortunately, a lifetime of military service has scarred the young man both physically and emotionally, and he can no longer truly smile – which doesn't do much for his reputation in town. With his bakery failing, Lud is convinced by his young friend Jacob to advertise for a pretty young waitress to help him out – and Sven, the girl who answers the call, turns out to be much more than she seems to be.
Strange, overlong, or simply bizarre light novel titles have certainly become de rigeur, but even though we all at this point know better than to judge a series by its title, every so often that's still hard to do. But just like Is It Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon's title hides a good fantasy series, The Combat Baker and His Automaton Waitress conceals a story that not only deals with the fallout, both physical and psychological, of war, but also has the makings of a very sweet character drama.
The story takes place in a world similar to ours, but slightly more technologically advanced. There's an implication that this is actually simply the remnants of a much more advanced society, and this dystopian basis works with the plot very well as it moves forward. The European Continent has just ended years of warfare, a nightmarish time when borders were redrawn and countless lives were lost, and now people are tentatively taking a stab at peace. Tensions are still high, however, and there's a particular distrust and dislike of former Wiltian soldiers, who were among the most aggressive participants – and arguably the winners of the conflict. This makes life doubly hard on twentysomething Lud Langart, a former Wiltian child-soldier who, after leaving the army, moved to a small town in newly Wiltian territory and opened a bakery. Doing so has been his dream since a tragic experience in his past as a spy, but the twin factors of his nationality and his scarred face mean that no one wants to buy his breads. Only one boy in town, Jacob, is willing to give Lud a chance, and he suggests that since Lud can't smile in a non-terrifying way, he ought to advertise for a cute female helper.
The girl they get is Sven, and readers will quickly realize that she is the AI of Lud's former gundam-like war machine, Avei. As Avei, Sven narrates the prologue of the novel, and her character is where we see the story really taking shape. Because Lud was kind to her and treated her like a partner, Avei developed more of a personality and emotions, resulting in her wish to become human in order to be with Lud even after the war's end. This thread gives the story much more of an emotional aspect – Sven/Avei's love for Lud is very human, and the fact that it was Lud who awakened these feelings within her, or rather allowed her to evolve into a more independent, human, person, brings up the question that series like Atom the Beginning and Chobits have: what role can non-humans with emotions play in human lives? What is our responsibility to them? And more importantly, is a romantic relationship possible between human and former AI?
Author SOW (presumably not intended in the English sense of a female pig) handles the plot threads, if not precisely deftly, then with a light hand and good control. By the end of the book Lud is starting to realize who Sven may actually be, and Sven herself is continuing to evolve, not only able to understand emotions, but also able to express them with increasing clarity. Unlike Lud, Sven doesn't suffer from her war-torn past, but she is able to understand that Lud's emotions are firmly tied up in what he had to do as both soldier and spy, and that his bakery has much more meaning than mere income. The impact of war on everyday lives is repeatedly brought up (specifically Marlene and Jacob's grandfather show this), as well as the consequences of attempting revenge when the war is over and done. This gives the novel a strong backbone, as well as a theme going forward – even with one problem taken care of, Lud still has his own emotional damage to deal with, and the man who gave Sven human form is clearly up to the kind of no good that leads back to war.
BookWalker's translation is generally smooth and largely devoid of awkward attempts to too-strictly translate the text. There are a few minor typographical errors – mostly a missing article here or there – but the translation reads well. Zaza's art is liberally sprinkled throughout the text, and both text and art avoid being overly cute, giving the book a more serious atmosphere that is lightened by Lud's attempts at smiling. On my Kindle Fire, there were some odd, grid-like lines behind some of the images; I didn't notice that issue on PC web browser version.
The Combat Baker and His Automaton Waitress has notes of Kieli alongside lighter fare. It never forgets that it is, if not a war story, a war sequel, and although it never gets too dark, the characters' memories are always just beneath the surface. If you're a little tired of isekai novels or teen comedies, this is a good book to check out.
Overall : B
Story : B
Art : B
+ Story embraces its war-torn roots, mixes darker emotional content with light humor and romance, doesn't try to be inappropriately cute
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