Oct 30, 2013
treelet (All reviews)
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.