Sometimes, the magic that you seek is not without, but within. It just requires some hard work and perseverance. Imparting moral lessons is all part of entertainment aimed at the younger set. The key is to be able to do that without sounding either preachy or high-handed. Yumeiro Pâtissière succeeds in managing to be both uplifting and entertaining. How does it manage it? Read on…
What They Say
According to Ichigo Amano, she doesn't do anything better other than eating cake. She can't find anything she wants to do everyday. However, when she meets a teacher from St. Marie Academy, Henri Lucas, her fate changes. She discovers that she wants to reproduce the flavors that her grandma used to make! So begins the discovery of her dream!
In order to accomplish her dream, Ichigo moves into St. Marie and is visited by a legnedary Sweets Spirit! She is still just a beginner so there are a series of failures but she puts all her passion into making sweets so she can get better one step at a time.
Ichigo's dream has just begun!!
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Dream-Colored Pastry Chef, which is what the title roughly translates as, is an ongoing Japanese shoujo manga series written and illustrated by Natsumi Matsumoto. It began serialization in the October 2008 issue of Ribon, a manga magazine aimed at girls roughly 9-13. The manga has also been collected into four tankoubon volumes so far. Studio Pierrot is in charge of the animation adaptation. Since the series is currently being streamed by Crunchyroll, I decided to check it out.
To a certain extent, all shoujo manga, and by extension all shoujo anime, have certain genre conventions that bond them together firmly in their genre. Having seen a decent amount of shoujo anime by this time (including the still ongoing (and going, and going, and going…) Shugo Chara (My Guardian Characters)), I am familiar with the standard tropes and elements that one should expect: a fairly average girl in her early teens or a pre-teen for the protagonist, but one who has a unique or special power, often magical but not always so; some kind of animal or magical mascot; one or more male love interests, who will sometimes turn out to be magical or special in some way themselves; adversaries who will behave in a dastardly manner towards the protagonist, only to be won over by the heroine’s hard work and genuine feelings; a wise mentor of some sort who will on occasion appear to provide help; a good amount of hardship and struggle; and, of course, a slow, but steady character progression, where the protagonist slowly proves her worth and special nature to all comers.
In those respects, Yumeiro Pâtissière is not unusual or different from any number of shoujo shows. It is rife with stock characters and predictable events. The premise is somewhat unusual, but not especially so. Ichigo Amano, a 14-year-old girl (but one who is, as happens all too commonly in anime, drawn to look a bit younger than her stated age; frankly, she looks about 12, tops) with no special talents or abilities, except that she is somewhat clumsy (a trait meant to endear her to the audience, no doubt), lives with her family somewhere in Japan (it’s not especially clear where her family lives). Her younger sister Natsume gets the lion’s share of attention in their household, since she is both good at her studies and talented at the piano. The show opens, in fact, with the entire family getting ready to take Natsume to a piano competition in which she is competing. They are running late because Ichigo could not decide what outfit to wear. In the end, she comes down the stairs (with a crash, of course) in nothing more special than her school uniform. She says that she did not want to draw attention away from her sister, who is the one who is actually competing. From this, we already learn two important, and quite stereotypical things, about Ichigo’s personality: she is humble and thinks of others more than herself, while at the same time being a scatter-brain. Common staples in shoujo.
Though there is a brief moment of tension, the piano competition goes well for Natsume, and Ichigo begins to feel a certain amount of loneliness and sadness, as she is left out of the spotlight. Thus, she wanders away, ending up at a cake fair being held in a nearby building. There, she indulges in the only thing she believes that she does well: eating cake. Here, Fate (with a capital F here) intervenes by having her cross paths with Henri Lucas, a talented French pâtissier, which is a fancy term for a pastry chef (things always seem fancier if you say it in French). When Ichigo comes wandering back to his table holding a cake which she only took one small bite from before stopping, he wonders what could have been wrong with his creation. Ichigo tells him, however, that there is nothing wrong with it. No, she has come to ask him how he could make a cake that tastes so much like the cakes that Ichigo’s late grandmother Michiko, who also happened to be a professional pâtissiére (what’s with the spelling? Remember, French has male and female nouns…) made. It transpires that Michiko Amano had actually studied at a place called St. Marie Academy in Paris when she was a young woman, and it just so happens that St. Marie Academy was founded by one Marie Lucas…the great-grandmother of Henri.
Thus, no surprise that there would be a similarity in taste. Henri, curious at how Ichigo could tell the similarity with just a single bite, wants to test her palate, and so asks her to taste a new creation of his. Ichigo does so, and stuns Henri by being able to recognize instantly the effect that he was trying to achieve with this cake. While Ichigo may suck, by her own admission, at academics and athletics, she apparently is possessed of a singularly powerful Sense of Taste. Thus, Henri strongly urges Ichigo to come to St. Marie Academy and become a pâtissière. Of course, Ichigo had once had similar thoughts herself, as it appears the only time she was ever happy was when she was eating cakes made by her grandmother. (Childhood background filled with adversity? Check).
After the predictable fight between her father and mother over Ichigo’s changing schools, the transfer happens (it appears that Mom has been ignoring Ichigo ever since Natsume showed greater ability, and thus she wishes to make it up to her elder daughter by trying to grant her wish this time), and Ichigo moves to St. Marie Academy’s campus in Japan (how convenient that they would happen to have a branch campus in Japan?). Here, of course, she is faced with a series of adversities and challenges that test her pluck and courage against those who would wish her to leave the school because of her lack of talent (after all, she may be good at eating cake, but she has never professionally made a cake). But, lest we forget that Amano is possessed of a Special Power™, soon after she comes to the Academy, cue the magical sidekick… Ichigo meets a tiny little fairy named Vanilla who happens to be a Sweets Spirits. Apparently, those who are especially gifted will attract the notice of one of the inhabitants of the Sweets Kingdom, a Sweets Spirit. The Sweets Spirits are also attempting to become pâtissiers, and they pair up with a human who is talented and filled with a true spirit for dessert making.
As is quite predictable in shoujo, and it is not spoiling anything to reveal this, Ichigo manages to overcome several early adversaries and win them over to her side while at the Academy. First of all, there are the three premier members of her class, the A Group consisting of the "Sweets Princes": Satsuki Hanabusa, a green-haired, smooth-talking charmer who specializes in carefully crafting the appearance of his creations; dark-haired Sennosuke Andou, member of a family of Japanese confectioners, who wishes to make desserts blending Western and Japanese flavors and ingredients; and Makoto Kashino, an arrogant blond who is the expert at chocolate. While they are skeptical at first because Ichigo is a complete novice, they are slowly won over, especially by the two-part story in episodes 6 and 7 where the team are called upon to make a birthcake for a local elementary schooler named Ringo ("Apple"), who is not making any friends in her class (her elder sister is also a classmate of Ichigo and the Princes).
Faced with a Standard Adversity™, in the form of Group B, a group of catty, jealous girls who envy Ichigo’s closeness to the Sweets Princes (who said cake school wouldn’t have its own team of "mean girls"?), stealing Ichigo’s design for Ringo’s cake. Never one to give up (cliche), Ichigo redesigns the cake on the fly and it is a triumph (even if it relies just as much on the Princes’ culinary skills as Ichigo’s Sense of Taste and knack for knowing what effect a cake will have on a person). After the struggle is overcome, the Sweets Princes begin to have a little more respect for Ichigo (they still have doubts about her cooking skill). As Hanabusa puts it: "She has an inherent ability to discern the shape of a person’s request. Now, once she has the technique to match…" When Kashino asks him if that scares him, Hanabusa replies, "On the contrary, I can’t wait for it to happen."
Of course, shoujo shows like this, that often intend to run for a very long time, can’t help but introduce yet more rivals and adversaries, and right after the elementary school cake battle, Ichigo is faced with the imposing presence of Miya Koshiro, heiress to a large company. She is a year ahead of the gang, but she has a crush bordering on obsession for Kashino. In the year before, she had teamed up with the Sweets Princes for a school-wide competition, the Grand Prix, but Koshiro only managed to get in the way of the Princes, as she constantly tried to get Kashino’s attention. Now, Ichigo challenges Koshiro to a pudding-making battle (what is this, Iron Chef ?), after the latter badmouths Henri Lucas. The prize? Miss Heiress will steal the Sweets Princes away from Ichigo for this year’s school-wide competition should Ichigo lose. Of course Ichigo wins this challenge, but I will not say how.
Of course, it’s far too early for our heroine to have a moment of triumph, and her seeming victory instead results in the Sweets Princes telling her honestly how far she has to go before she can compete in the Grand Prix. Ichigo, wanting to bask in her temporary triumph, takes their honest counsel for harsh criticism. Vanilla even joins in, trying to point out how pigheaded Ichigo is being. Thus, our heroine runs away from school, before realizing the truth and coming back. Nothing innovative in this plot event appearance, but it is used at just about the right point.
Finishing up the first "cour" (to use the term that has become common with many anime fans to refer to the normal "half-season" blocks of 12 to 13 episodes), we have a couple episodes that give some background to the Sweets Princes, who each, of course, have Sweets Spirits of their own, and a final episode to the cour that sees Ichigo travel through the looking glass to the Sweets Kingdom during a school holiday when everyone else has already left, leaving Ichigo alone.
Oh, and the moral of the story? Persevere if you are going to realize your dreams. Fortunately, they don't hit the audience on the head too strongly to get it across.
Following a formula can be a tricky proposition. On the one hand, formulas lack originality and can seem nothing more than pale reflections of earlier, better works. On the other hand, there is a reason why formulas are used time and again: they often work, if they are properly used. Yumeiro Pâtissière is a case where you have a rather formulaic shoujo show where all of the story elements work enough to provide for an entertaining experience. You have the plucky heroine who is average except for one special, magical gift. You have the magical sidekick who provides support and comic relief. You have the usual run of adversaries, some of who become friends, while others have not yet been won over. You have the male potential love interests, though at this point there is no overt romance, just subtle hints here and there. You have hardship and adversity, which the heroine overcomes through pluck, determination, luck, and just a hint of skill. There is nothing new in Yumeiro Pâtissière, but there is enough to entertain. The characters may very well be cookie-cutter predictable in their all-too-expected roles, but the original creator and anime adaptation team have managed to make very good use of them. The plot development so far is also not innovative in any way, but the formula has been deployed in a fairly skillful fashion. Think of it as you would of one of the famous desserts you see on screen: it is not an original creation, but it is a well-executed example of a shoujo story.
Japanese 2.0 Language, English Subtitles
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