The premise for Yakitate!! Japan - Azuma Kazuma, a Japanese boy who aspires to create a bread which will be forever associated with the nation of Japan - is actually quite promising. All the elements are present for plenty of character growth, difficult trials, and exciting twists and turns in the plot. Unfortunately, the creators of Yakitate!! Japan fail to make use of this potential, and instead disappoint with a plot which is increasingly repetitive and unimaginative.
The anime follows the same formula from episode to episode, essentially without variation. There is some sort of bread-making competition in which Azuma is pitted against an opponent whose skills are perfectly suited for the type of bread being judged. Everything looks hopeless for Azuma until he comes up with a last-minute trump card to gain an edge on his opponent. The episode then concludes with a disproportionately large amount of time dedicated to the judging of the bread. This is usually a very involved procedure, as the judge(s) in question will display "reactions" to the bread they have sampled. Usually, the more delicious the bread, the more absurd and lengthy their reactions can be. One memorable episode actually consisted of nothing else but a judge's reaction.
I believe it would be perfectly valid for anyone above preschool age to feel insulted by this plot. After all, one of the joys of finding a new story is being surprised by the unexpected. It seems that the creators of Yakitate!! Japan have forgotten this basic element in storytelling, because after the first few episodes, almost everything is predictable with a high degree of accuracy.
The animators of Yakitate!! Japan deserve credit on three fronts. Firstly, the main characters maintain a relatively consistent look throughout the 69 episodes. Given the lack of internal consistency that pervades the other aspects of the series, I was extremely surprised not to find a single episode where Azuma or some other main character is drawn so poorly as to be unrecognisable. Secondly, as the reactions to the bread created in the anime grow increasingly preposterous and incongruous, the animators actually manage to keep up with their own dose of visual insanity. (Whether this is truly a good thing is questionable, but I shall give the benefit of the doubt.) Finally, some of the food really does look quite delicious, and since Yakitate!! Japan is mainly about food, there are quite a few opportunities for the animators to show off their bread-drawing skills.
Neither the soundtrack nor the seiyuu performances are particularly memorable. Perhaps this results from the frequent use of noise sound effects or music containing similar sounds, which may be entertaining to a toddler, but is certainly not appropriate for more mature audiences. The voice acting seems less geared towards bringing a character to life as it is focused on puerile humour and getting easy laughs from small children. The intro and outro music are average.
There are several feeble attempts at character development in Yakitate!! Japan, but given its 69 episode length, these efforts are woefully inadequate. This is further worsened by the fact that the main protagonist is portrayed as a bread-making genius. It is therefore all too tempting to resolve all seemingly insurmountable difficulties encountered by Azuma through some arcane stroke of brilliance which no other person could possibly have imagined, as opposed to forcing Azuma to grow as a person and a baker. This formula is so often repeated that by the middle of the series, I could already predict how any given episode would end.
Most other characters are relegated to the static role of being springboards for the same repetitive jokes which continue throughout the series. In one severe case, a character which begins the series with a great deal of potential is utterly destroyed and reduced to playing the part of a pathetic and useless tag-along in the story. This might be excusable if this gives rise to quality humour, but the audience is instead treated to banal and inane buffoonery.
There is quite possibly a demand for a show like Yakitate!! Japan among gluttonous Japanese preschoolers or bakers desperately in need of culinary inspiration. Apart from this rather narrow audience, I would venture that few other viewers would derive much entertainment or satisfaction from watching more than the first few episodes.
Yakitate!! Japan is an excellent example of what can happen to an anime if the writer and producers get too comfortable with a well-received formula. By milking it for all it is worth, without ever gathering the courage to steer the show in a new and refreshing direction, the creators of an anime can drain it of any enjoyment that may come from viewing it.
If you absolutely feel compelled to try out this anime, I would suggest watching it until boredom sets in. After that, stop. It is downhill from there.
Dimwitted Azuma Kazuma is a young man with a dream -- to create a bread worthy of the name "Japan", made by the Japanese people, for the Japanese people! With hefty bread-making skills, hands that have an uncanny warmth to help dough ferment, and will power like no other, Kazuma must put his delicious creations to the test as he struggles to become employed at the prestigious Pantasia bakery, for fame and glory! Yeast, beware... Kazuma is in the kitchen!