Though only about three hours drive from both Dallas and Houston, cities with bustling Asian populations and excellent matching cuisine, it’s only been recently that Austin’s Asian food scene has grown in prominence. Restaurants and retail centers with Taiwanese, Japanese, and Korean roots are popping up, presenting a perfect opportunity for a couple of the city’s residents, anime and game voice actress Elizabeth Maxwell and myself, the director of this anime site, to explore some of the new Asian establishments around town.
I first met Elizabeth when she was a guest at the Wizard World Austin convention this year. Some of her noted voice roles are as Urbosa in Breath of the Wild, Bishamon in Noragami, and Ymir in Attack on Titan. While interviewing her, I also discovered that she’s a geek at heart, having grown up with a love for fantasy novels, horror movies, and anime.
So, what was the first stop for these couple of geeks? Kinokuniya, of course! Honestly, there was no other option than to begin at the Japanese book retailer, which opened its Austin location earlier this summer. I’d been to branches in the DFW area and Seattle, so I knew the magic that is Kinokuniya, but for Elizabeth, this was a brand new experience.
In the U.S., Kinokuniya is known for its anime-related goods. There are aisles full of manga, light novels (I was able to pick up volumes one and two of Oregairu in Japanese when this location first opened), and your usual anime fare (figures, POP Funko, trading cards, etc.). My favorite part of this store, however, is the immense number of manga-style artbooks, from those released by anime production companies themselves to the work of famed fanartists like Ilya Kuvshinov.
But that encompasses only a portion of the store. Kinokuniya features a litany of other items as well, including books of all sorts (cookbooks, novels, Japanese-language books, photo books, etc.), paper goods, stuffed animals, and gifts. Elizabeth took notice of the variety and was surprised to see fragrances and other items that she recognized. That variety helps to make shopping here a fun experience.
Similar to any good bookstore, you can lose yourself for hours wandering the aisles of Kinokuniya. As Elizabeth and I browsed, many of the goods helped spark conversation: a volume of the RWBY graphic novel led me to ask if her character, Winter Schnee, was featured in volume six (“You know I can’t answer that!”); bonsai plants led us both to share just how good we are at killing plants; and the wall of manga led to discussion about the differing experiences between light novel and manga reading.
Ultimately, we left the store with a kawaii USB cord holder, ideas of presents for this coming Christmas, and lots of photos. All the shopping also left us with the munchies. Thankfully, there are several desert options in the same shopping center, so we moseyed our way (we live in Texas, after all) over to 85C Bakery Cafe, which puts a Taiwanese twist on bread and other baked goods.
Our trip there wasn’t planned, but it provided for a perfect opportunity to sit down and evaluate our visit to Kinokuniya. While we pondered how to grade the store in the categories I developed for our scoring sheets (aesthetic/feel, stock/cool stuff, prices, customer service, and the what does this even mean “geek factor” category), Elizabeth sipped on a plain coffee and munched on treats both savory (cheese dog) and sweet (matcha choco bun). We were both surprised at the quality of the eats—everything was delicious, with the only drawback being that it took us so long to figure out which of the many pastries we wanted to try!
And so, what was the verdict on Kinokuniya, the original destination of this excursion? Well…we independently came up with very strong scores for the shop, which we evaluated highly for having wonderful goods in stock and an atmosphere that invites you in and doesn’t weigh you down with campiness or those feelings of “been there, done that” which too often accompany stores selling Japanese items.
And honestly, I’m not sure you can ask for more than that—an afternoon in good company to establishments that we both agreed we’d visit again (and soon). Our eyes brought us to Kinokuniya and our noses led us to 85C Bakery, but the substance within—that made fans out of the two of us.