Mixed Vegetables Vol. 1 (VIZ Media/Shojo Beat)

The sushi-obsessed daughter of a pastry chef and the pastry-obsessed son of a sushi chef join forces in this culinary delight.

 

 

208 pgs B&W; $8.99 (paperback)

(W / A: Ayumi Komura)

 

Hanayu Ashitaba is a student in the first year of the Culinary Arts program at Oikawa High School. Her father is a famous pastry chef who runs the Patisserie Ashitaba and everyone thinks she will take up the family profession, but since childhood Hanayu has harbored a different desire: to be a sushi chef. She’s got the talent, too: her filleting skills impress her classmates, who are equally amazed at her knowledge of fish, something most girls find icky.

Her classmate Hayato Hyuga has the opposite problem: his father is a famous sushi chef and wants him to take up that line of work, while all he wants is to be a pastry chef. He’s very creative and a real perfectionist: when his cake-decorating project requires wild strawberries (they’re sweeter than the store-bought variety), he and Hanayu go on an expedition to pick them.  

The cover to the first volume of Mixed Vegetables by Ayumi Komura.Hanayu doesn’t dare to tell her parents, but she’s worked out a plan to achieve her goal without hurting their feelings: she will marry Hayato and work in his family’s sushi shop. If that sounds like the long way around to effect a simple career decision, remember that she’s only 15 and not particularly wise in the ways of the world. Luckily, Hayato is a sweet boy who really does like her, causing Hanayu pangs of guilt as she realizes she is using him to further her own career ambitions.

Of course our young pair has to work at cross-purposes for awhile, and there are plenty of misunderstandings and mean classmates and school exams as well. Their sexually ambiguous instructor Matsuzaka Sensei likes to up the ante on examinations: if the national standard is that the students must cut a cucumber into 40 slices in 30 seconds, she makes the class do 80 slices instead. And they have to arrange their slices on a numbered sheet: if any are not perfectly round or are too thick to read the numbers through, they fail.

Mixed Vegetables is the first of a new series of cooking manga by Ayumi Komura, who does both the story and the art. It’s shojo manga (for girls), rated T for teen (suitable for ages 13 and up). The rating seems based more on the characters’ awareness of their desires than anything drawn or even discussed, however: if Mixed Vegetables were an American movie it would have a G rating.

The art is nicely done in standard shojo style: big eyes, small mouths, androgynous characters and effortless alternation between realistic and expressive styles. We see the story through Hanayu’s eyes, so Hayato is an idealized bishonen ("beautiful boy") while she is an awkward girl whose rapidly-cycling emotions are always evident on her face. The many illustrations of food are done with particular care (and often supplied with annotations), while the cover art (in color) is almost suitable for framing.

And yes, in case you were wondering, there are a whole series of manga and anime devoted to different aspects of the Japanese culinary world. Mixed Vegetables is a worthy addition to the genre: it tells a sweet story which expresses the unsettled emotions of teenagers and the difficulties they encounter trying to remain loyal to their families while also pursuing their own dreams and desires. It conveniently ends with the various situations unresolved, leaving plenty of material for future volumes.

Reading Mixed Vegetables is also a good way to learn about Japanese food culture. Two pages of explanatory notes follow the main text, and the author regularly interjects notes (if your cucumber slices stand up, they’re too thick) and asides about her experiences with food. | Sarah Boslaugh

 

Click here to read a preview of Mixed Vegetables, courtesy of VIZ Media.

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