Sunday, October 10, 2010

Yumeiro Pâtissière Professional Episode #01

Ichigo Amano may have returned to Japan, but Team Ichigo did not survive the trip back: everyone has gone their own ways. This leaves Ichigo feeling a little down, but new opportunities await her when she receives a mysterious summons from Henri-sensei in the start of this new sequel series continuing the adventures of Ichigo and her quest to become a professional pastry chef.

What They Say
Ichigo's two years studying abroad in Paris are over and she returns to Japan to reunite with the rest of Team Ichigo, who had come back one week earlier. But when she gets to school, no one seems to be around. It turns out that Lemon has skipped a grade, and is now in Ichigo's class, while Hanabusa and Andoh are taking leaves of absence from school to pursue their own dreams! But where is Kashino? And who is this Johnny person that's in Group A? And why is Henri-sensei calling everyone in the A Group to a meeting somewhere? Will this be the end for Team Ichigo, or the start of something new?

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Yumeiro Pâtissière, Dream-Colored Pastry Chef in English, just ended a very successful 50 episode run last week, which resulted in seeing young Ichigo Amano, a novice at dessert making, rise swiftly to the top of the young pastry chef ranks, thanks to determination, hard work, but also innate talents that enabled her to create new and interesting flavors that took the sweets world by storm. That the run was successful is pretty obvious, considering that the production committee behind it decided not to wait for the manga, which has already been overshot, to catch up, but instead have chosen to forge ahead on their own with a sequel series, Yumeiro Pâtissière Professional,which picks up the story two years in the future, with Ichigo returning from her time studying abroad in Paris.

On the plane ride back Ichigo has a dream, appropriate for this dream-colored show: she is already an adult, married with a child (who looks suspiciously like Vanilla her Sweets Spirit and is, in fact, named Vanilla), and owns her own patisserie. She also has a husband, whom we only see as a shadowy presence before she awakens from her dream. Once back in Japan, she is greeted by her old friends led by her former roommate Rumi. And suddenly they've all developed busts, as they are now high schoolers.

Of course, Ichigo is immediately thrown for a loop upon her return to Japan, since she is split apart from all of her friends: Hanabusa and Andoh have decided to leave school to follow their own dreams; Kashino is still in school, but his grades were so outstanding at the main campus, that he's been allowed to skip a grade and start immediately as a second-year high school student (which also leaves him at the tender mercies of Miya Koshiro, who can now cling to Kashino during class time). Ichigo is not completely friendless, as her old roommate Rumi has been practicing hard and has now qualified into the A Group of their class, and Lemon, the underclassman that Ichigo befriended some time ago, has also transferred to the Japan branch of St. Marie Academy, and was allowed to skip a grade as well because of her top marks at the main Paris branch. But the fourth member of the new A Group with Ichigo is something of a mystery: a transfer student named Johnny McBeal (obviously an American), who constantly skips class.

So, it's understandable that Ichigo is rather depressed, as she is without the three people who supported her the most her first time at the Japan branch of St. Marie Academy. Going to the Salon de Marie, the small cake shop on campus, she decides to use some food therapy for her depression, but ends up ordering far too much. At this point, a strange blonde-haired boy shows up, speaking in an odd pastiche of Japanese with plenty of English phrases thrown in. As if it wasn't any more obvious, they have him prod Ichigo into trying a doughnut pastry that he made which brings up images of the Wild West in Ichigo's mind. The boy is ecstatic, saying that is exactly what he was going for, as he named the doughnut pastry "Cowboy." Johnny McBeal, I take it? In all of his stereotyped, wait, glory is not the word I am looking for here. I'll get back to you when I can come up a word that can be uttered in polite society.

But, there's no time to be depressed. Ichigo is suddenly summoned to a secret meeting with Henri Lucas somewhere in Japan. Once she arrives at the station (which is completely new, having been built during the two years she was away), she almost trips and falls as usual, only to be caught at the last second by Kashino, who has also apparently been summoned there. As they walk to their final destination, Kashino explains to Ichigo why none of the former Sweets Princes said a thing to her about their imminent break up: they did not want to tell her exactly that she was the reason why they had to each go their own ways. It was due to Ichigo that they won the World Cake Grand Prix and were able to study in Paris for the past two years. Therefore, Hanabusa and Andoh were spurred to even greater efforts just from being around Ichigo.

Once they reach the place they were asked to meet, which appears to be a quaint shopping mall modeled upon the Sweets Kingdom, they meet up with Johnny and Lemon, who also received invitations from Henri Lucas. As you might imagine, Kashino immediately takes a dislike to Johnny, who treats Ichigo in an overly familiar way, as most Japanese seem to assume all Americans act in that manner. At this point Sully, Henri's assistant, shows up and directs them to Henri. He is currently gazing over this vast shopping village and grandly announces that this place, called Marie's Garden, will be the home to a great number of new sweets shops. And the reason why he has called these four students here is to tell them that he wants the four of them to be involved in running all of the sweets shops on the main street. Quite a big vote of confidence in just a bunch of high school kids. Johnny, however, is not very happy about it, as he thought that originally he would be doing it all by himself, and prefers to work by himself.

So, it seems we have the explanation for the "professional" part of the title.

On balance, it appears that they have laid the groundwork for how the story will progress. Hanabusa and Andoh, so it appears, have served their usefulness to the story the anime writers (we need not concern ourselves with the manga any longer, as this is entirely anime original material) wanted to tell. Thus, they will likely be relegated to the occasional guest star appearance, perhaps when Ichigo is especially down for one reason or another. Johnny is brought in to be a very annoying love rival for Kashino in determining who gets Ichigo's heart. Ichigo herself is slightly clueless as usual, though the VERY BIG HINT dropped at the end of episode 50 of the first series, combined with a rather subtle hint dropped in this very episode (hands dangling, oh they do dangle...) seem to indicate where her ditzy, klutzy heart is currently pointing. Lemon will provide some of the friend support she's lost by not having the Sweets Princes around her to protect her both from enemies and from herself. Kashino himself seems to have had a slight change of heart, moving back to the Kashino from early in the first series: he sees Ichigo as a rival who must be defeated if he is to become the very best pâtissier in the world.

Since the characters have been aged upward by two years, it also appears that the writers are similarly aging the plot upwards slightly, setting out all of these obvious hints at love triangles and rivals for the affection of Ichigo and Kashino, who seem to be set to form the main leads of the show, though of course it remains to be seen if Kashino will be so prominent in this second series, though the opening animation and the fact that even though he is no longer in Ichigo's class but has been brought in deliberately by Henri Lucas to be near Ichigo again with his special project seems to point to his continuing importance to the writers' plans. The other obvious sign of the aging upward of the show is the new opening and ending themes, which have broken away from the childish cuteness of the first series (which were kind of fitting, however) and instead opted for a somewhat more mature sound, especially in the opening theme, which seems more suited to an older teen romance show and replaces the candy-colored dreams of the original with a song that is all about love.

It's pretty clear that the writers are trying to capture some of the magic of the original series, doing so largely through trying to keep Ichigo and Kashino's characters fairly consistent with the first series. They also want to appeal to a slightly older audience, or perhaps they want to retain the original audience, who, of course, are aging in real time and we are one year later. Thus, we have the new characters and the outlines of a somewhat older and more serious romance story than the childish playing with the idea at times in the original series.

In Summary:
Ichigo Amano is back in Japan and back to her old ways: eating too many sweets and falling down stairs as if she had never left. But the Japan she returns to is not the same as the one she left two years previously. And the St. Marie Academy there is also not the same as before for her. It's not just that she is now a high school student. Her old and familiar place of being with the Sweets Princes in class is gone: Hanabusa and Andoh have left St. Marie Academy to pursue their own pastry dreams more intensely. Kashino, whose grades were top in Paris, was allowed to skip and year and thus is a year ahead of Ichigo. While she is somewhat down (quite naturally) at losing her comfortable place, she has no time to wallow. Henri Lucas suddenly appears in Japan and invites Ichigo to a special meeting. There, along with Kashino, Lemon and new character Johnny, Henri tells the four students that he wants them to oversee a sweets shop in a new shopping village that he has built in Japan. New challenges obviously await in this sequel series to Yumeiro Pâtissière.

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