December 21, 2021
By Jeannette Ng.
The light novel series The Combat Baker and the Automaton Waitress follows Lud “Silver Wolf” Langart, a former captain and mech-operator who retires after a long and bloody war between empires and starts a bakery. Given his scars, perpetual scowl and huge dough-punching arms, he scares the locals and struggles to sell anything until he hires an attractive young waitress with white hair and red eyes. What he does not know is that she is, in fact, the incarnation of the war machine he used to pilot.
Despite having been given the form of a young woman by a sorcerer, Sven — once known as L-Arms Type Cyclops — still very much thinks in terms of battles, targets and threat elimination. She is blunt to the point of rudeness, oblivious to her own inhuman strength and singular in her focus and devotion to Lud. He was the one who named her and sparked her awakening from AI into something rather more human. For all that she may solve the problem of him needing an approachable face for the bakery’s storefront, she brings many of her own.
The cast is rounded out by Jacob, a blunt business-savvy teen; Marlene, a busty, kind-hearted nun with a secret; and Milly, a prickly young orphan. They all live in the aftermath of a messy war that has left a tangle of frustrated allegiances and thwarted nationalism. The fantastical names come thick and fast, as do the justifications for empire. The technicalities of annexation and colonialism come up more than once, as do accusations of terrorism and imperialism. Feelings run hot and fast as the characters flounder in conspiracies and war crimes.
Though the title may promise a gentle story of healing through the art of baking, “Violet Evergarden but with baking instead of letters”, if you will, the larger plot goes far stranger and wider in scope, dabbling with the founding myths of empires and the divine right of kings. I’m reminded rather more of CLAMP’s Chobits, where the romantic choices made by a mechanical girl are given near world-shaking significance. The plot strains to keep Lud ignorant of both his waitress’s true identity and the sheer depth of her affection for him, piling on quasi-comedic misunderstandings. In its quieter moments when it reaches for low-key shenanigans about bread-scorning orphans and xenophobic miners, The Combat Baker and Automaton Waitress flounders. Not because comedy is anathema to more serious themes so much as this feels like it is faintly uninterested in the particulars of yeast and bakery logistics, just buying time before it can reach those grand, mythic beats of cosmic significance.
Jeannette Ng is the author of Under the Pendulum Sun. The Combat Baker and Automaton Waitress is published by J-Novel Club.