Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Komomo Ninomiya is the daughter of a wealthy family who live in a marvelous mansion filled with servants to cater to her every whim. One of them is Natsu Azumi, the son of the family pastry chef, whose sweets are an especial delight to Komomo...even if she doesn't always show it with kindness. Natsu moved to France with his father when he was five and she was six, but when her life takes a turn for the worse with the bankruptcy of her family, Natsu returns. But from his attitude it isn't clear whether he wants to help Komomo – or torture her!
Readers of Maki Minami's other English-translated works, Voice Over!: Seiyuu Academy and Special A, may be surprised by her latest heroine. Where the stars of those previous two series were poster girls for the plucky, determined protagonist, Komomo Confiserie's Komomo Ninomiya is more of an entitled princess, a true ojou-sama type. While she does face adversity like other Minami heroines, it's a little harder to sympathize with her at first, mostly because her “trials” are having to actually be a responsible human being. This is not to say that she herself isn't struggling, because she truly is – for Komomo, taking orders or washing dishes is totally foreign and not a little scary. But her attitude makes it difficult to get behind her as a protagonist, and while by the end of the volume she's a better character, it makes getting through the first two-thirds less enjoyable than it could be.
Unsurprisingly, Komomo starts out the series as the privileged daughter of a wealthy family. She lives in a fabulous mansion where she is taken care of almost exclusively by servants – her parents, she's been told, are too busy. While that may bother her on some level, she generally consoles herself by ordering the pastry chef's son, a boy about her age named Natsu, to make her sweets, which she eats to hide her tears. Natsu moves to France with his father when he's five, and ten years later, when he returns to Japan, Komomo's family has lost its house and fortune, and she's been foisted off on a random acquaintance and told to get a job. Where many a shoujo heroine would buckle down and work her fingers to the bone, Komomo proves too much of a lady to the manor born, and she can't get the hang of it. It's not out of anything malicious – she's just not used to it and is having trouble adapting. At this point she learns that Natsu, now an award-winning patissier, has come back to Japan, and the two soon meet up. Natsu offers to take her in (and since her current landlady is fed up with her, this is a good thing) and takes her to his family's confiserie (sweet shop) where he promptly turns into a bully. It turns out that he really enjoys seeing her cry as a result of how she tormented him as a child and then ate his cooking while sobbing, so this has all the makings of an unhealthy relationship.
If you like the shoujo dynamic of the harsh romantic lead, Natsu is an interesting one. He seems genuinely conflicted in his feelings for Komomo, stuck somewhere between love and disdain, and Minami gets that contradiction down fairly well. He does seem to want to help and take care of her, but he also can't quite get past how she used to treat him, and while he's not physically aggressive in this volume, emotionally he's putting her through the wringer. We don't always see this type of male lead paired with the princess-like heroine (usually he gets the naive girl), and while this is an interesting change up, it also puts two of my least favorite character types together.
This is the major issue with Komomo Confiserie, and it will not be a problem for all readers. Komomo is largely unsympathetic for the first two-thirds of the book, refusing to learn (and if some of it isn't deliberate, she's not the sharpest tool in the shed), which when combined with Natsu's nastiness can make the first three chapters kind of irritating. Around chapter four Komomo comes to an epiphany as she interacts with Natsu's friend and assistant Yuri, and it is at this point that the story begins to take off. Komomo doesn't change her intrinsic nature, but she learns how to use it to get along with people rather than to alienate them. That this takes place once she starts at her new (public) high school might speak to the fact that Minami is simply more comfortable writing school stories; whatever the reason, once Komomo is finally able to make the transition the book becomes much more readable. (Natsu remains an issue throughout.)
Maki Minami's art is much more refined than in her previous works, and she has a knack for facial expressions, such as Komomo's frustrated face with pursed lips and puffed out cheeks. She does a much better job drawing girls than boys, though she has improved in terms of bodies in general. The use of screentone has scaled back quite a bit since Voice Over!: Seiyuu Academy, making the art easier on the eyes, and Komomo's outfits are enough to make you wish Minami would draw a series set in the late 19th century.
Komomo Confiserie does not start out as strongly as Minami's previous works, but if you can get through the first three chapters it begins to grow on you. Plagued by a hero and heroine who don't inspire a lot of sympathy (or are simply downright annoying), there's a real drag that holds this book back. The pastries, on the other hand, are mouth-watering, so if Minami can bring the characters up to the level of the food, which she seems to be starting to do with Komomo at least, this could be a much better series than it right now appears to be.
Overall : C+
Story : C+
Art : B-
+ Delicious looking sweets, Minami's good with hair and clothes. Komomo does start to evolve as a character...
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