From the pages of Hana to Yume, a semi-monthly manga magazine that’s been running since 1974, Maki Minami, the mangaka behind such other shoujo series such as Special A (SA) and Voice Over – Seiyuu Academy! (Seiyuu-ka!), brings another classically shoujo manga to the page in Komomo Confiserie (Komomo Konfizuri). The English adaptation is licensed by Viz Media under their Shoujo Beat label with Christine Dashiell, known for her work manga such as High School of the Dead and Tenjo Tenge, providing the English translation.
At age six, Komomo Ninomiya had it all: money, status, even a companion to taunt and tease at her whim in Natsu Azumi, the son of her father’s patissiere. Yet ten years later when her father’s company blunders, plunging her family into debt, the spoiled princess Komomo is forced to face the hardship of a life as a commoner. With no skills to speak of, Komomo develops a knack for routinely getting fired from part-time jobs until she once again finds herself face to face with Natsu, now an award winning pastry chef recently returned from France. At first Natsu acts as her savior, offering her a job in his confiserie (a French confectionary) and a place to live in the apartments above, but his ulterior motives quickly become clear. All that Natsu wants is a chance to turn the tables, making Komomo the victim of his own brand of merciless teasing.
As a work of an experienced shoujo mangaka, Komomo Confiserie fits the genre to a T. Although, Minami’s lines and the structure of her characters have a little more weight to them than the usual light and airy styles seen in shoujo manga, she distinguishes herself in the details. For a story that focuses so much on the comings and goings of a confiserie, the attention paid to French sweets and their design is nothing short of impeccable. This isn’t a series you’ll want to pick up if you’ve got a sweet tooth, since the lovingly rendered drawings of calisson, succès praliné, and pont-neuf will leave your mouth watering. Minami’s efforts in researching the art of French confections certainly show through in this regard.
Of course, if you want to see the real meat of this shoujo story, just look to the plot. Is Natsu only teasing Komomo because he likes her? Why does Natsu react so badly when his friend and new employee at the shop, Yuri Lacroix, make friends with Komomo? And what about Komomo’s newfound rival at school, Rise, and her infatuation with Natsu? Though the characters do at times show hints of depth, such as Komomo’s struggles in understanding how to make friends when she no longer has her wealth to rely on, they’re often lost in the ways that they’re pushed to fit into the molds of the story’s tropes.
Conflicts and tension never seem to carry for much longer than a chapter. Even with Natsu’s possessive revenge teasing of Komomo herself, his motivations are muddled between a desire to see her vulnerable and crying and a somewhat confused concern for her well-being. Komomo’s development is also difficult to track, while by the end of the volume she seems to realize that you can’t buy friends with expensive gifts, she still flippantly makes demands of those around her–which, strangely enough, are obeyed.
Although she’s an experienced translator in her own right, the somewhat lackluster tone of the story isn’t always helped by the volume editing and Dashiell’s translations. While it’s easy to follow the character’s motivations, there are some areas where the phrasing comes off a somewhat unnatural–such as Komomo calling her first pay ‘wages,’ and a chapter that rather confusingly ends with the phrases ‘tell me more,’ only to change scenes on the next page. It can’t always be helped, given the story itself borders on the cliche at times, but it seems the characters could have been served by being given somewhat more distinctive voices to help draw them up and off the page.
Despite its shortcomings and somewhat predictable plot points, Komomo Confiserie is still an enjoyable read for anyone who needs a little bit of easy romance reading. In plot, characters, and art, it seems to fit in perfectly with the sort of fair one would expect to find in a confiserie: small, sweet, and full of empty calories.
Komomo Confiserie © Maki Minami 2013/HAKUSENSHA, Inc.