Azuma Kazuma is a young man with a dream- he wants to create “Japan”, a bread that can stand alongside the likes of French bread, German bread and English loaves as a national icon. To that end, he enrols as an employee of the famous bakery chain Pantasia, but will his creativity, imagination and sheer love of bread be enough to make up for his lack of formal training when it comes to squaring off against the foremost artisans of the bread making industry?
When it comes to selecting anime from brief synopses, it has to be admitted that a shounen series that centred on the process of making bread didn’t really sound like something that would ever be a priority. Nonetheless, on the strength of several positive recommendations and a natural feeling of curiosity, the time inevitably came when all 69 episodes of Yakitate!! Japan were to be devoured as if they were the very delicious loaves of bread they featured.
As you might imagine, YJ follows a pretty standard ‘Breadmasters’ formula, with our heroes competing in various tournaments and trying to outdo the competition with increasingly wild and wonderful styles of bread. From trying to make a bread which a horse will eat (and in all honesty, our horses are happy with regular bread) to having to make bread with compulsory ingredients, every sort of challenge is on the table, and the combination of standard shounen and novelty baking somehow comes together to make the whole series both entertaining and addictive. It will certainly take a particularly cold and detached heart not to come away from the series desperate to get stuck into some baking of your own.
In case this is all beginning to sound a bit sedate, however, fear not, for YJ is one of the more energetic series out there- never taking itself too seriously, it is replete with comedy and parody in the form of ‘taste reactions’. Almost every time a character samples a new type of bread, the exquisite taste sends them into a fantasy world, starting as a simple sequence of images and becoming gradually more elaborate as the series progresses. Over the course of the series, we see bread capable of sending people to Heaven (for fifteen minutes), changing history and even trapping the entire cast in a Lord of the Rings parody for an episode. Although the increasing craziness of these reactions won’t sit well with everyone, if you can just sit back and accept the sheer insanity of it all, you’ll certainly have plenty of fun in the process. In fact, the only real disappointment is when you finally reach the abrupt ending, with the series coming to a halt at episode 69 without covering the entirety of the manga.
When it comes to characters, YJ has a selection as varied as the types of bread seen in the series- everything from shounen series regulars like the plucky and amazingly talented lead, the hot-headed best friends and the stoic anti-hero to more outlandish types such as Pierrot, a “world-level” clown with numerous skills and an almost disturbingly over-the-top manner. Although character development is limited to the usual “levelling up” of ally characters, the series’ main accomplishment in this department is that it manages to make its protagonists likable personalities that you want to support instead of merely being irritating clichéd stereotypes.
Visually, YJ is solid in all departments, with animation and character designs all being ‘decent enough’ if not particularly spectacular. Background music ranges from the inoffensive to the catchy (including a cha cha-style theme), whilst the OP and ED are generic Sunrise fare.
Although it may not be top tier stuff, Yakitate!! Japan is nonetheless a fun outing that proves that, given the right blend of comedy, likable characters and an original premise, there’s life in the shounen genre yet. Put aside any worries about the length of the series or its unusual focus on bread and give it a try- it deserves at least that much.