This “review” will be on the rambly side, so I apologize in advance.
I probably wouldn’t have even heard of this manga if it wasn’t for the fact that it was going to be made into a Getsu9 (Fuji TV’s Monday prime time) drama starring Matsumoto Jun (first episode airing today!). I tend to enjoy the adaptations of manga that MatsuJun starred in – he had got me reading Hana Yori Dango and Gokusen and Bambino, and helped me discover new favourites that way. That, and the fact that this drama is about a chocolatier (and I love manga and dramas about food), made me curious. So I started reading reviews, and saw it compared toNana and Honey & Clover. That sold me, and I immediately got the first three volumes to try out. (This would be one of those moments when I despair the fact that there are no Book Offs in this country… well, okay. I always despair the fact that there are no Book Offs in this country.)
Shitsuren Chocolatier, or Heartbroken Chocolatier, is at its heart a love story, I guess. The protagonist is an overly naive, masochistic young man named Sota who had been in love with the same girl all through high school. She had never really paid him any attention, until he asked her out before Christmas, and she accepted. The thing about the girl, Saeko, is that she’s really passionate about chocolate. She doesn’t just like any chocolate – she’s rather picky and only likes the best. Sota’s family owns a cake shop and he began training to learn to make chocolates just for her. So when she dumped him right before Valentines day, he was understandably devastated.
So devastated, in fact, that he took off to Paris. Yup. I’m still hazy on how this was even possible, but I’m too used to these things in manga to even question it, really. In Paris, he visits Saeko’s favourite chocolatier to beg to be made an apprentice, and of course one of their staff is an otaku, who helped Sota out in exchange for magazines and manga. End suspension of disbelief, here. The story picks up again five years later when Sota had become a chocolatier in his own right, and returned to Japan to take over his father’s store. He met with Saeko again, only to hear that she was getting married, and wanted him to cater for her wedding. Ah, the stuff that dramas are made on, definitely. I wonder how the story would be treated in live action format (I hope that Sota would be less of a pushover when it comes to Saeko, really), but back to the book.
I think right now I have a love/hate relationship with this manga. It happens a lot, when I read josei manga. On the one hand, I love reading about the shop and the descriptions of the chocolates are lovely, and there are really good side characters. I’m completely into Kaoruko, the girl who worked at Sota’s father’s shop, and now worked for him. (I heard that Ishihara Satomi, whom I absolutely adore, will be in the drama. I was hoping she’d be Kaoruko, but apparently that role is being played by Mizukawa Asami, and I love her even more, so much yay for me!) Even Olivier, though annoying when in full-out otaku mode, had his moments. I find myself wanting to know more about them, which I hope to do in future volumes.
Saeko, though, is utterly clueless, and selfish. It’s hard to believe that she had no clue as to how she was affecting Sato, and while I don’t hate her for it – she does remind me a little of Nana Komatsu from Yazawa Ai’s Nana – it gets hard to read, at times. And Sato. I’m torn as to how I feel about his character. On the one hand, I understand his desire to devote himself to his love for Saeko, even when he knew nothing might come of it. On the other hand, I hope that this series wouldn’t be volume after volume of him pining after her, because seriously, that’s boring. And really a little too masochistic for my taste. I think there’s hope, though – in the last chapter he talked with Kaoruko, who questioned his “stalkerish” habit of keeping track of what Saeko buys every time she visits the shop. He had answered that it wasn’t out of mere desire to know everything about Saeko, but because he knew that Saeko had a strict and distinctive taste for good chocolate. Even if it was her friend’s shop, she would not purchase something she didn’t like twice. So he was keeping track of her purchases because she tried his new products, and he wanted to know which worked, and which didn’t.
While the fact that he records her purchases still come across as a tad creepy, I was glad to see this side of Sato for once, the one that thought of his chocolate first and his love second, the one that was determined to make only the best. It tied in nicely with what Olivier said to Kaoruko towards the end, that even if the shop was born out of something like unrequited love, the fact that that love made it possible for such a shop, and the chocolates that came from it, to exist, meant that that love had value, and wasn’t something that’s “wasted”, which is what a lot of people would say of unrequited love.
The sentiment does seem to carry tinges of Honey and Clover, and those two scenes made me raise this manga from three to four stars on GoodReads. It isn’t as epic as either of the two series that it had been compared with, but it certainly had something that made me want to continue reading. Here’s hoping for more character development in the next installment!