In which a man still has traumatizing memories of being kidnapped and forced to eat cake, so he opens up a cake shop in hopes of catching his long-ago tormenter. ...Seriously.
STORY - The absurdity of the above summary still surprises me sometimes, but if nothing else, I have to give Antique Bakery props for being unique. The bakery element is pretty original in itself, but I was more impressed to see an easygoing comedy/slice of life-ish series involving mostly-ordinary, adult characters in their thirties. That Tachibana has reoccurring nightmares involving cake is very, very laughable to me, but thankfully, even though that could be considered the main plot of the series, it usually takes a backseat to the everyday shenanigans around the bakery, which I find infinitely more entertaining. I don't really think the series would have lost much if the kidnapping cake trauma had been left out, honestly, but I suppose that's one of the few things that makes this series stand out a little, and Tachibana needed some weird kind of reason to quit his well-paying job to start a bakery.
A lot of people label this series shounen-ai, but I really don't think it is. I mean, yeah, there's a gay character, but there is no romantic center to the story at all. Ono just happens to be gay -- he's a "magical gay," but whatever; he has a few one-episode subplots (including, unfortunately, the first episode), but it's nothing consequential to the rest of the story. Tachibana is insistently straight, so it's really not that important at all. Antique Bakery wouldn't be all that different if Ono was closeted or hetereosexual instead. I guess that's another thing that makes the series unique though -- a gay character without a gay subplot.
Beyond the cake, the shenanigans themselves aren't all that original or of a particularly high quality. They're passable, but that's about it.
CHARACTERS - Tachibana is the only vaguely interesting character in the entire series. Though I'll probably always find the source of his nightmares hilarious, the personality that results is entertaining enough. As a privileged son, Tachibana can pretty much do whatever he wants. He gives no reason for wanting to start a bakery, but those around him accept it. Really, even he doesn't think much about the half-hearted desire to catch the man who kidnapped him; it stems from his frustration at the gaps in his memory more than any want of vengeance or retribution. I think that lack of hatred towards his tormenter and his general easy come, easy go attitude is what makes Tachibana attractive as a character. Then again, his tormenter tormented him by endlessly feeding him cake.
The rest of the cast is pretty stereotypical. Ono is a flamboyant gay man who has the retardedly cheesy talent of making other men fall for him. Eiji is a simple-minded, ex-boxing champion who really, really loves cake. Chikage is the village idiot. All of them have backstory that's tossed around to spice up a few episodes, but none of it really interested me since they seemed more like excuses for the characters to be situated in the bakery than anything else. None of them have much in the way of lasting conflict, and none of them change, so at the end of the day, I just don't care.
ARTSTYLE & ANIMATION - The art style's pretty generic, and I found the occasional transitions to chibi forms rather jarring. There are also random bursts of flowers and other weird shoujo backdrops, but you kind of get used to it after a while.
The opening animation is pretty original and cute, though I wouldn't think that "cute" really suits Antique Bakery. The ending animation is much more generic and rather unimpressive. The animation in the series itself surprisingly disappointing. All of the cake and fancy desserts and baked goods in the series are gorgeous, which is appropriate, but that's about all that's worth praising, sadly. From afar, the backgrounds don't look so bad, but closer inspection reveals many of them to be computer-generated and very clunky-looking. The character animation is cheap and flat and the shading is absolutely terrible -- I shouldn't be able to see all the Photoshop brush strokes, seriously. It's not clean at all. The characters and background don't integrate at all and the whole thing is just a visual mess. The cakes are pretty, but when they don't look like they belong in the same scene as everything else, something's wrong.
MUSIC - I'm not particularly fond of the opening theme. The bouncing, upbeat sound is appropriate for the silliness that encompasses much of the series, but I didn't really feel as if it fit with the accompanying animation for the opening. The end theme is a bit better though and provides a decent, thoughtful tone for the end of each episode. Despite this though, neither songs are very memorable. Maybe I'm just not a fan of CHEMISTRY? The score for the series is comprised mostly of piano and classical music. As a pianist, I suppose I'm biased, but I really loved the piano tracks in Antique Bakery -- for the calmer scenes, they're very soothing, relaxing and just all around nice to listen to; for the more dramatic scenes, they're loud and accompanied by urgent violins. Everything fits well.
VOICE ACTING - Pretty average, though I was surprised to find yet another credit to Mamoru Miyano, who does the voice of Eiji. The man has quite the impressive range and portrays his character well without invoking thoughts of the other (rather prominent) roles he's voiced. I was also pretty fond of Keiji Fujiwara as Tachibana, though it's easier to spot the similarities in the voice to his other roles.
OVERALL - Antique Bakery is not a great series, and it certainly isn't for everyone, but it isn't a complete waste of time either. Really, I don't think there's much to say beyond that.