キッチンのお姫さま (Kitchen no Ohime-sama)
ANDO Natsumi (Art), KOBAYASHI Miyuki (Story)
Shoujo – Romance, comedy, drama
10 Volumes, 4 Omnibuses (complete)
When she was young, orphan Najika was saved by a boy and then given a flan. Najika promises to one day return the favor and make the best dessert in the world for him. Her search has led her to an elite school where everyone has a special talent. But despite her love of cooking, she has trouble fitting in. Will she make friends, and will she find her Flan Prince?
While technically being a shoujo manga, Kitchen Princess is much closer to being a children’s (kodomo) manga. This series is rated T in the US, but despite the story including some serious issues (think Bambi), the manga is much more childish than some other T rated manga. I don’t mean it in a bad way, but the demographic is different than some other Nakayoshi manga which approach the smut category. Thirteen-year-olds may start wanting to move on to more dramatic manga, so I would give this an age rating of 10+.
That being said, Kitchen Princess is a charming, informative manga. However, it will forever remain in my mind as “the manga that had a bold twist, then kind of ruined it”.
As this manga target the younger Nakayoshi readers, the story is pretty straightforward. Most of the chapters follow the same formula: someone has a problem, Najika makes something, people feel better. Several plotlines dealing with love, jealousy, rivalry, and friendship carry over for many chapters. The Flan Prince’s identity is at the center of all the mystery drama. Readers of shoujo manga will recognize many of the usual shoujo twists (which isn’t too surprising considering the demographic), but the story did have a major shock about halfway through. I remember smugly thinking it would be a cop out, but to my disbelief, I was very wrong. (It was even planned from the beginning, which was even more surprising.) However, I did not like the next plot twist. It’s cheap, even for kids manga. Each chapter of the series focuses on a food or drink, and the recipes to make them are included in the back of the book.
Najika is basically a modern, less extreme version of Cinderella. She is a genki girl with a humongous appetite. But unlike many other similar characters, she is a hard worker despite all her setbacks. How many other middle schoolers have practically a full-time job? Other main characters include perfect student body president Sora, his younger, tsundere brother Daichi, their childhood friend and model Akane, and cooking rival Seiya. All have various issues with their parents, which contrasts with the orphan Najika who has a loving guardian. I really like this message that while the others seemingly “have it all”, it is Najika who is truly happy.
Over the course of the series, Ando simplifies her eye designs and makes faces less angular. Daichi, in particular, looks as if he’s matured a few years by the end of the series. (Well, he actually looks like he morphs from Hiro in Zodiac P.I. into a dark-haired Manabe from Arisa.) The first volume is more comedic and full of the usual manga visual gags like SD faces. Panels layout is extremely easy to follow, which is very important considering the target demographic. Panels themselves are not crowded nor do they look empty; the artist fills them with backgrounds and screentones. The desserts look delicious! All in all, it’s a nice visual experience.
As is standard in Kodansha (and old Del Rey) releases, honorifics are used. Daichi’s use of “aniki” is also kept. “Mama and papa” is “mommy and daddy” here. At times, the text is sometimes adapted to sound a little too formal for middle school students, but in the translation’s defense, in many ways, they act older than their age. This is usually more of an issue if the text is translated very strictly, but the English adaptation does sound natural, just not always natural for their age. The biggest issue I had was the lettering. The text was oddly off-center many times, and often too small for the larger speech bubbles. The person or persons needed to hit the font increase button more often. Fill the space!
Kitchen Princess is a fun series no matter whether you’re an older reader looking for a sweet story where the heroine isn’t solely dedicated to romance or a young reader just breaking into manga. The rerelease into 4 omnibuses makes it even cheaper to buy this award-winning series.
The light novel takes place during the main series. It had a couple of errors or inconsistencies from the manga. The light novel focuses more on new characters rather than the original ones, but it does add a couple of details about the old cast. It can also be read as a stand-alone.
Has anybody else tried some of the recipes? They didn’t turn out so well for me, but that could be my complete lack of cooking skills.
Tokyopop released Ando’s series Zodiac PI while Del Rey (now Kodansha) released Wild @ Heart. Kodansha USA has released her title Arisa. Ando’s latest complete series Let’s Dance a Waltz will be released by Kodansha USA starting April 2015.