One of the nicer things about the Internet is that you might find something that you never knew existed and might even appreciate learning about it. One example of that for me was finding this obscure yet cute short manga, which I had found through a Yumeiro Patissiere recommendation.
"Lovely Decoration!!" may not be the best, "absolute-must-read" cooking manga ever, but it does have some... I guess you can say... "sugar, spice, and everything nice" in it.
Now, first things first... I feel it's worth noting that the synopsis for this story is actually a bit misleading (in my opinion, anyway). While it is true that this
is a story about a cake shop owner's daughter and his apprentice left to manage without said shop owner, the story doesn't actually focus on Ginjiro Cake Shop that much.
The synopsis implies that Lovely Decoration would be a bit like the game Diner Dash (weird example, I know, but stay with me here), where everything mainly takes place in the shop and the main characters would have to keep customers happy by taking on lots of orders and keeping the place well maintained and innovative (as in by adding new things to the shop). That in itself sounds pretty interesting, but this manga doesn't exactly deliver that way.
What this manga DOES deliver is essentially an origin story for our main character's possible passion for pastry-making. There is an order taken, but it's not in a casual way like how I described with orders earlier— it has significance in the story by presenting a challenge for our main characters while drawing out passion from the two main characters in this story. Not exactly the focus I thought this story had, but it's not a bad direction, especially for a manga of this length.
So how exactly was this direction handled? I'd say it was all right. The story does have main characters that aren't that unique with this genre, and there are, of course, cooking duels throughout. It's not too surprising to see comparisons to Yumeiro Patissiere with what ideas are explored in here— in fact, I find myself feeling like this could've been an inspiration to Yumeiro Patissiere (remember that Lovely Decoration came out first). But both manga have their own takes with some similar ideas, and what this story went with, in my opinion, does have its place.
It has attempts at comedy, but it wasn't anything particularly laugh-out-loud for me. The series of events was good enough for me, and it's good that each chapter briefly foreshadows or connects with the next, because it means that nothing in the story really feels like filler.
Artwork (as well as panel design) for Lovely Decoration is pretty much standard for a shoujo manga, with cute eye designs and simple but smooth hair designs. Aside from the main characters looking a little different between the front cover and the actual comics, the art style and characters are consistent throughout the whole book.
Some parts of the book could have been drawn a bit differently in my opinion, though... there are a couple of panels that I feel could've been more effective if it was a bit more experimental or had more space on the page, and a few panels are drawn in a way that feels a bit odd or slightly lacking to me. But then again, this is a story with only 6 chapters that make up one volume, so I can't complain too much.
Earlier, I mentioned that the characters weren't unique with the genre. Our main character, Anzu Sakurai, is a junior high schoolgirl who is energetic, quick to react, and loves to eat cakes, especially the ones made by her father's bakery. That may sound familiar to others who've read other cooking manga before, but she stands out from the other female protagonists I've seen in other cooking manga with two things: her energetic nature is shown naturally through her karate skills, and that she actually starts off by having no interest in following her father's line of career.
This is what I meant by the story being handled like an origin story. Slowly but surely with each chapter, Anzu starts to have visible changes to her character— she doesn't even realize that she learns to like cake-making, and she learns to be more engaged towards the challenges she accepts. Anzu may not seem unique at first, but it's the little changes throughout the story that made her into a bit more interesting of a lead role.
The other main character we follow other than Anzu is her father's apprentice, Tsukiya Naruse. He gets easily annoyed with Anzu, whether it's from her regular food heists, her lack of cooking skills, or from her more pessimistic actions. But he doesn't seem to actually hate her, and is in fact, glad to see that Anzu is learning to see and share his passion. Maybe it's because she is his boss's daughter, but hey, he isn't a complete jerk at all, so that's something.
There is a main antagonist that does eventually come up, and although I really like their character design and how they are introduced in the story, they honestly are a bit lacking in terms of character (aside from hating the main characters, of course). Even if they had to be an antagonist, it would've been a bit nice to see some kind of character trait or shtick from them. Can't be a short story without something getting the short end of the stick, I guess...
So what Lovely Decoration has here is a small, one-volume treat that may be worth of occupying a bit of your time. The story's length and unlikeness may be small, but there is some charm in here that is bound to please somebody. If anyone would like to read a small cooking story, or just want to see a shoujo manga that actually doesn't focus on romance, you might want to help yourself to Kaoru Igarashi's story of a girl learning to work in a bakery.