Najika faces a new challenge -- to duplicate a white cake a woman tasted as a teenager!
Writer/Artist: Miyuki Kobayashi and Natsumi Ando
Translation: Karen McGullicuddy
Adaptation: Karen McGullicuddy
What They Say
For all the fans who can't get enough of the smash hit manga Kitchen Princess'"a thrilling new prose story of romance and adventure!
Najika faces a new challenge, and it may be her toughest one yet. Before their tragic accident, her parents, both famous pastry chefs, made a promise to the grandmother of a classmate of Najika's: to duplicate a white cake the elderly woman once tasted abroad as a teenager. Now Najika hopes to re-create the cake herself.
With so few clues (it's fluffy and heavenly) and so many possibilities, the trial and error might just go on forever. But Najika refuses to give up for one reason: She knows that all great masterpieces contain a distinct magic: a secret ingredient called love.
Najika will need lots of it to make the wishes of Anju's grandmother'"and certain other classmates'"come true. And who knows? With so much amour in the air, Najika might just find a little left over for herself!
For owners of the Kitchen Princess manga, this novel will fit right in with the rest of your collection. Aside from the fact that the book is arranged left to right, the cover layout, artwork, and checkered background are comparable to the manga covers. And like the manga, the novel includes simple recipes for the foods Najika makes, using the same format of illustrated instructions.
While it is not a manga, it includes a few full-page illustrations along with smaller drawings of foods and other objects decorating the corners of several pages. The art is drawn by the same illustrator for the manga so if you liked what you saw in the manga, you'll like what you'll find in this novel. For those not familiar with Ando-sensei's artwork, she puts a lot of detail into her food illustrations while her character designs are of the large-eyed shojo variety.
In regard to the text, structurally, it feels like it's for elementary level readers, but the content varies widely. In the first section, we have a couple's divorce thwarted in an overly simplistic fashion, but in the fourth section, there are some heavy, philosophical thoughts about death. Stylistically, it reads like a manga script although I'm not sure how much is due to the original text and how much is due to the translation. Dialogue in scenes with multiple characters often gets confusing because the text is lax about indicating who's speaking (obviously, if dialogue bubbles were used, this wouldn't be a problem).
I would not recommend the novel for non-manga readers unless they have a general knowledge of Japanese culture. Honorifics are used but not explained, and neither are cultural references. For instance, characters talk about the meaning of the kanji that make up a person's name in one scene, and that would likely go over the head of most American readers.
Before the accident that took their lives, Najika's parents promised a renowned pianist to duplicate a white cake she tasted abroad as a teenager. Now the woman's granddaughter Anju asks Najika to fulfill that long-ago promise. Najika agrees at once, but the task may prove harder than it seems. The old woman's memory is fading, and her descriptions of the dessert are vague. Still, Najika works through the long process of trial and error with gusto. On a certain level, it's a chance for the budding chef to reconnect with her deceased parents, and best of all, she gets to make desserts for new friends!
Thus, Kitchen Princess continues with new characters and a new challenge for Najika. The main story is the search for the mysterious dessert that the aging woman can scarcely remember, but there are three shorter arcs tucked into the novel's four parts, which are named for the seasons. Each story is romance related, but while the novel does touch on Najika's growing affection for Daichi (especially in "Fall"), she and her food play more of Cupid role with Akane, Daichi, and Fujita as supporting cast. Interestingly, Seiya is mentioned but doesn't have an active role.
The quality of the story arcs is mixed. "Spring" centers on Anju's estranged parents rediscovering love for one another. As mentioned in the Packaging section, it felt too simple for their marital problems to be resolved over a bite of French toast. "Summer" was better with puppy love budding between a couple of kids at Najika's Hokkaido home. In "Fall," we have a fairly standard storyline with junior high crushes colliding with school festival time at Seika Academy. As for the mysterious white cake, Kobayashi works an interesting twist in the climax for a satisfying final resolution.
While it is possible to read this book and get the gist of the story without having read the manga, it's best treated as an extension of the series. The novel glosses over the details of Najika's difficulties at Seika Academy, and references to past characters and events are made in passing throughout the book.
Kitchen Princess fans will enjoy this novel, written in the vein of the manga series, which gives Najika new friends and a new challenge, brings her a bit closer to Daichi, and includes four recipes. If you're not familiar with the Kitchen Princess manga, I'd recommend picking up the manga first. Not only is the novel spoilerific (it starts where the manga ends), but you'll get that much more out of the story.