If anime series revolving around food are of any comparable measure, one can expect them to have an illuminating, if not downright addicting, feel to their overall atmosphere. Antique Bakery happens to revolve around a group of handsome gents that manage a cake factory, and honestly, I haven't watched a series with such a nice, calming atmosphere that pulls you into the realm of the treat it revolves around since Bartender (alcoholic beverages) and Yakitate Japan (bread).
I sincerely love series like this, because not only do they properly do their homework regarding the subject at hand, they also create a point for the viewer to easily follow and become as invested in the art as the characters featured. I wouldn't be surprised if some viewers, after watching Antique Bakery, develop a bit of a sweet tooth (if they don't already have one).
There are quite a few things about Antique Bakery to consider: yes, it's a boys-love/shounen-ai series. The elements of this in the series are much more mature than I've seen in series of its respective genre and I would even go so far to say it's one of the best titles to look into for this genre. It blends slice of life with comedic and dramatic elements around a strong charismatic cast.
The story focal point falls upon Tachibana, who quits his job at a firm in order to open a bakery, and finds himself in a pinch to find appropriate staff to help him run the business accordingly. His paissiter happens to be the same boy that confessed his love for Tachibana many years ago, which creates some awkward (and hilarious) moments between the two, in addition to a former boxer with a love for sweets and an overprotective, but clumsy bodyguard on staff.
The series does an excellent job with progressing in the first part of the series, emphasizing humor and allowing the viewer to grow with the characters, but about halfway through, one will note that the story turns noticably darker. This transition is never awkward because it progresses at such a pace that it never feels like it hops from one plot point to the next or abandons. It does an excellent job revealing Tachibana's backstory, and delving a bit into the quirks and demons of the characters to give them more dimension.
Now, I'll be honest, some might not care too much for some of the rationales given in some aspects of the series and it may come across about as tart as the cake it chooses to focus upon, but when you look at the broader scope of the series, it's more of the character interactions and environment that appeal to the viewer in its overall progression.
The ending for the series is quite strong in how it resolves the conflict and ties of where the characters progress in the end, while tying into an important theme that matches the title of the series opening theme: "Life goes on." For that, I was satisfied on so many levels from beginning to end.
Some might find that I'm ranking the animation score rather low for this series, and the reason being is that while the character designs and settings are consistent, beautiful, and done very well, I take issue with it slightly in the same way that I did for series like Honey and Clover and Nodame Cantabile. They're very clearly tied to the manga counterparts to the tee, I wasn't turned off so much by the designs, but the coloring is sometimes a little too light in contrast, and could have been adjusted to give it a less..."pastel" feel.
Still, I would rank it highly among the better animated series presented this year.
Very nice musical score, for the most part. Chemistry, a popular J-pop/J-R&B group performs both versions of their song "Life Goes On" very well for the OP/ED themes. The opening sequence for the series is quite charming, using cut out figures and a panoramic view of the bakery to give it a nice, soothing feel alongside a synthesized, mid-tempo song. The ending theme is considerably more reflective, though the change in arrangement is quite fitting with the falling puzzle pieces.
The Japanese VA work is very well done. I was particularly taken by Tachibana's and Eiji's VAs, as they brought out their characters very well: Tachibana has a calm demeanor, but a cynicism that will make one laugh when you watch his interactions with the other gents. Eiji's character is an enthusiastic and energetic former boxer, who gives quite a few laugh out loud moments in a more extroverted sense. Ono's and Chikage's VAs were well matched as well for their respective characters.
I found it very difficult not to find myself falling in step with Antique Bakery's characters, and considering how it is a character driven series, there's no surprise lingering in its appeal. The primary cast leaves plenty of room for humorous and endearing interactions. I wouldn't say you come to know them as well as characters in slice of life series such as Nodame Cantabile or Honey and Clover, but you find yourself wanting to know more about them, particularly Tachibana, who has a bit of a dark past and a lingering mystery surrounding his character: why does he have the respective nightmares and why open up a bakery?
I also have to give due credit for Ono's character, as he's a likable lead whose romantic pursuits can often leave one in a fit of laughter (watch for his nickname in the series) while in others, you do tend to see his character felt under the weight of the implications some of those relationships lend. I wished in the back of my mind that some of conflicts Ono faced could have been made more tangible in depth, but for the scope of this series and what it chose to focus upon, I think his character was done well.
Eiji and Chikage are fine (and engaging) male leads in themselves, and they're given ample screentime alongside Tachibana and Ono. I actually found myself surprised with how well the series treats the secondary characters as well, though they aren't as thoroughly explored/expanded upon as the leading characters.
Those looking for a good series in the shounen-ai genre would be best to start with this series to give a good measure of how a series in this genre is done right: great characters, humor and progression throughout. Those who love slice of life stories and addicting series revolving around food would also find this a sweet experience, no puns intended.
Tachibana has recently quit his job at a high-class firm, and for unknown reasons, decides to open a bakery. His first employee is Ono, an extremely talented patissier who is also known as the 'Gay of demonic charm' - something that has caused him to lose his job countless times. Joining the crew also is Eiji - a retired champion boxer - who is hired on the spot as only a trainee purely because he is not Ono's 'type.' However, Chikage, the bumbling childhood friend and shadow of Tachibana, is exactly his type! Now, with the shop finally open, everyone seems to be filling their positions well; but one question remains: what were Tachibana's motives for opening the bakery, and does it have a link to his troubled and forgotten past?
I tend to be a fan of slice of life, dramatic and romantic series, but my palette is open to different series of a plethora of genres. I love watching series that engage my senses and imagination, and as a writer, I always appreciate a good story with a great cast of characters. I love when people give feedback on my reviews, because it helps me see things in a different lens, so I encourage you to converse with me if you have any questions, commentary or just want to chat about a series. ^_^