Shogo Ban, a college student from Fukuoka, likes to cook. Thanks to the owner of the restaurant where he works part-time, he finds himself working at the line of Roppongi's best Italian restaurant, Trattoria Baccanale, and discovers that the real deal isn't quite as easy as he'd thought. The manga follows Ban as he struggles to keep up with the hectic workload and his co-workers, along with issues outside the kitchen like his relationship with his girlfriend Eri, who he left behind in Fukuoka.
Bambino! is a seinen manga about the nitty gritty of the culinary world as seen through the eyes of a young man looking to find who he is on the threshold of adulthood. The story is fairly simplistic at the offset, with Ban struggling to juggle his ambitions, his relationships, and the tangibility of his dreams as he sets off to become a great chef. It will strike a chord with many young adults with similar dreams, especially in creative fields like cooking. Therein lies the primary theme of Bambino!: having the heart -- or the ambition, the drive, the optimism, the
spirit -- necessary to follow one's dreams, no matter what.
Ban's sheer idealism may be grating after a while, especially once the story picks up some more slightly ridiculous/out-of-the-way plot elements, but it is motivating. There's a lot of emphasis placed on Ban's ability to succeed not because of his prodigious talent, per say, but rather his sheer force of will -- Ban is willing to go the distance, work as hard as possible, and also happens to (luckily) be a likable and affable person. He's honest, stubborn, prideful, and temperamental -- the perfect vehicle for a young man's fantasies of personal achievement.
The art for Bambino is fairly well done, with a lot of technical prowess displayed in drawing figures from interesting angles with an excellent sense of movement. It would easy to make a cooking manga where everything is static, if finely drawn, but Bambino! succeeds in communicating the sheer physicality of cooking. Tetsuji Sekiya makes good use of the brush pen for more stylized and dramatic moments, creating theatricality where there would otherwise be none. Bambino! makes heavy use of splash pages, exaggerated angles and close-ups, changes in brush strokes, and deep contrast to create atmosphere to great effect. This is not a visually boring manga, by any means.
Characters are well-designed, unique-looking, and memorable. The story relies on Ban's character development and so other story elements and character conflicts remain merely satellites to his narrative, but they do stay with you despite this. Other characters tend to come and go within Ban's life, some only appearing for an arc before disappearing completely, but there's a real sense of humanity behind these other characters -- something sometimes difficult to achieve in a non-ensemble story. It's very easy to care about these characters in of their own merit, and though the story fails to tie up the loose ends of some of these characters by the conclusion, they still feel like very real people in a very real world, even as they exist alongside our protagonist. They're funny, hard-working, clever, cruel, honorable, petty, loving, sarcastic, pathetic, uplifting, complicated people who contribute to a dramatic slice-of-life story that goes well beyond its settings in the hot kitchens of one of Roppongi's greatest restaurants.
In the end Bambino! isn't merely about cooking, although it does a tremendous job with that. Descriptions are lush, and the level of technical knowledge applied to some of the dialogue is impressive. If you enjoy cooking (or eating) it's very easy to get swept up in the sheer excitement and enthusiasm the characters (and the author) seemingly have for the culinary arts.
At the heart of Ban's story however is the drive and desire which fuel the dreams of young people. Ban meets several characters throughout the course of his journey who have at various points had to make compromises or sacrifices for the sake of their dreams. He's consistently faced with the consequences, both good and bad, behind a path driven by almost single-minded idealism -- but as noted by several older characters within the book, there's something charming, interesting, and romantic about Bambino's dreams, about the dreams of youth. The narrative neither condemns nor uplifts one fate over the other, but rather pays tribute to a very specific type of abstraction: a youth dreams of the future, dreams of passion, and of freedom, and so changes the world around them.
When people say "cooking anime/manga", the first thing people think of is Shokugeki no Souma. And for most, that's the best cooking series that they've watched/read. I also thought that way until I read this series, Bambino!. Don't get me wrong! I like Shokugeki. But... This isn't just a cooking battle shounen series like Shokugeki.
It's about life, motivations, dreams and how to overcome hurdles.
I would compare this series to Tetsuwan Girl (a sports seinen about freedom, virtue and liberation; one character in Bambino reminds me of the MC in Tetsuwan) and Honey & Clover (a slice of life josei about finding your raison
d'etre). I, myself, am struggling to find where I should go in life and reading this series was something I really needed. Now, for the actual review...
I think that one of the strongest things about this series are the distinct, real characters. Usually, side/recurring characters in fiction are just one-dimensional stereotypes that are used to make the main character look better but in this manga, they're real people with struggles, hopes and dreams just like our main character. They all get a time to shine some time in the series and the thing I really like is that the arcs feel very natural! In a lot of Anime/Manga, when they try and squeeze in a lot of side characters' arcs, sometimes, it can be a hit and miss. Like, one person's arc may be super boring while another's is very interesting. In this manga, all the arcs were interesting and captivating. I wanted to cheer all of them on.
I finished this manga in two days because of how good it is. It makes me want to keep reading because I want to know what will happen next. Everything feels like real life. Another Anime/Manga that do this well are Space Brothers and Major. They're all about adults doing real things. It's not idealistic or wish fulfillment at all.
Another thing I really like is that that main character, Ban, is talented and hardworking but he doesn't get all the spotlight and still has to work hard to get where he is at the end. In Shokugeki, the main character is basically the best cook in the entire series right from the start and keeps on "pwning" everyone in every single battle. Ban in Bambino! has lots of flaws and struggles a lot which is why I enjoy reading his story. He feels real. When a character starts out weak, it makes it easier to cheer them on because it's like putting yourself into their shoes.
Other aspects: The art is very rich, exaggerated, detailed and realistic which is fitting for this series. The pacing is done exceptionally well as I finished this in two days. Chapters are typical 20-page length which is perfect if you want to take a breather in between although, it's such an intense manga that you won't want to put it down. Despite being a prequel, the ending wasn't too rushed and still felt like a solid ending, even though it was an open ending.
If you want something life changing, exciting, fresh or just want to learn more about food/cooking (Italian dishes!), I really recommend this series. It's very fun, refreshing, and powerful to read especially if you're bored of the typical high school LN magic harem bullshit.
Bambino is a frustrating reading experience that had me feeling all sorts of emotions. I don’t mean that in a negative way. You see, it’s always a tendency that success is always the objective of the story when it revolves around an empowered character. They have their own share of struggles, but they immediately overcome it through the power of plot convenience. Bambino, however, is quite different.
The road to success is not a smooth route that can be achieved by just having talent. The manga attempts to slap the harsh truth to our main character Ban Shogo. He is not as great as he
thinks he is. He may cook good food, but can he maintain that quality when put under constant pressure? It becomes apparent that he is just a naïve amateur who thinks he can be like one of those overpowered shounen MCs that can take down any opponent because he is the rising star of the story. While this realization comes as a gut punch, he slowly accepts this reality and swallows his own pride, proceeding to improve the weaknesses that he never realized before.
This is where most of my personal frustrations materialize. Reading the early chapters made me cringe a lot due to the endless streams of embarrassment the main character receives every chapter. I initially thought this would be a laid-back comfy cooking manga with a highly determined main character, but boy that first impression was wrong. This is not Shokugeki no Soma where you are a newcomer chef who thinks he is hot stuff and still manages to dominate because who doesn’t love seeing underdogs triumph? Bambino, on the other hand, knows how to put its main character in his place and let him develop and mature by letting him taste hardship. Every time the main character feels like giving up, I relate to that. Because I understand what it feels like thinking you know everything but then you find out you still have a long way to go. You then harden your resolve for self-betterment and fight against the things that are holding you down.
An aspect of the story that I appreciate very much is that it lets the main character go through the various sectors of the restaurant. Every time he is transferred to another work station, it would come as a shock to him to adjust. But with these difficulties that are placed on him, he can gain more experience and see cooking in different perspectives. Cooking is not just tossing a bunch of ingredients in a fry pan; it’s a delicate form of art that requires both passion and skill. Also, it also gives you a realization that cooking is not everything. Bambino teaches us that serving great food also requires great service. This includes from how you serve your customers to how you leave a strong impression that goes beyond the food. It’s not only about the ones making the food, it’s also about those who receives the food.
While the initial story puts Ban in a series of challenges that tests his determination, it slightly devolves later into a set of predicaments that you can predict that he will overcome. The stakes are still there, but you no longer feel that sense of uncertainty of whether you get a pass or not. It could be due to how he has accumulated experience over time that tempered his character, but I find myself relaxing that he can hurdle through any obstacles thrown at him with guarantee. To be honest, this is the only issue that’s holding me back on giving this manga the 10/10 that I was eager to give early on. It’s certainly a personal nitpick of mine, but I want to give this review a subjective edge to it.
This review wouldn’t be complete if I don’t at least say something about the art. The centerpiece of this manga is not really the food as it’s just a medium of how the story progresses. However, I can see the effort put into drawing them into gorgeous and savory meals. They don’t feel too perfect, but they look like a labor of love. The character designs are alright, albeit I get the impression that they are inspired from the shounen demographic despite the manga being a seinen. The paneling is impressive, I had no difficulty at all devouring every page of every chapter. They seem to flow very efficiently although very chaotic at times, just like the atmosphere of a cucina.
Despite only being a prequel with no conclusion yet, Bambino is a fantastic yet underrated manga that everyone should read. While I do also love the more popular cooking titles like Shokugeki no Soma, Bambino deserves the same amount of attention. Not only it’s more realistic, but it has actual development going on. It might only stick with Italian cuisine but fusion with other cuisines happen from time to time. I still feel like it hasn’t used up all its potential and I’m excited to see what happens next with the sequel. The question is, when the hell is it going to be fully scanlated? Give this the acclaim it deserves, and we might see that fulfilling conclusion.