Disclaimer: This series is completely ridiculous, utterly ludicrous, and deliciously absurd. If you are a serious baker, patissier or have simply undergone a sense-of-humour bypass, then it’s probably best that you turn back now. If not, then leave your hat, coat and common sense at the door and prepare for some freshly baked fun!
Yakitate!! Japan follows young baking genius, Kazuma Azuma, on his quest to create the ideal ‘Ja-pan’ – a pun-a-licious bread that perfectly sums up the Japanese nation – in the same way that the French have the baguette and the Italians have the ciabatta. In order to further his mission, the dim-witted Kazuma begins working at the most revered chain bakery in Tokyo: Pantasia. The series’ sixty-nine (yes, sixty-nine) episodes consist of Kazuma and his new colleagues participating in one increasingly unbelievable tournament after another. Sounds pretty crappy right? Well, it is. Luckily though, the whole show is one massive parody, and Yakitate!! Japan’s inherently stupid nature becomes its greatest asset.
So much of Yakitate!! Japan‘s humour comes from how seriously the characters take each tournament, as if it were a serious battle to the death – and with katana-wielding samurai, Kai, getting riled up over his croissants, it occasionally seems like a bloodbath could follow. Fortunately, the series knows how completely rubbish its premise is and plays on it to great effect, most noticeably in the various characters’ reactions to the latest delicious loaf, which are, without a doubt, the series’ highlight. From a bizarre loquat-based parody of Lord of the Rings, bulldozers smashing holes in kitchen walls and a crazy clown that has mastered the multi-clone technique, to bread that makes judges strip down to their underwear, turns back time and literally sends you to heaven, Yakitate!! Japan defies expectations and pushes the boundaries of believability with each passing episode.
Like all longer series, Yakitate!! Japan has its flaws. Many plot elements are predictable, especially as Kazuma always seems to have the perfect bread for each occasion. Though part of its charm, the whole series seems like Pokemon with bread and I half expect Kazuma to whip out a small dough ball at any moment and yell: Ja-pan number 53, I choose YOU! Also, while it remains humorous throughout, the novelty does inevitably dissipate. Though the Monaco Cup arc revitalises the plot by continually going one step beyond with its lunacy, the following ‘Yakitate 9’ arc drags somewhat and despite managing to raise a smile, the jokes wear a bit thin. Also, the final episode is exceedingly rushed given its content, particularly when preceding this was an entire twenty-four minutes documenting a single bread reaction.
The bright and more simplistic visuals remain consistent throughout the show. Utilising standard anime trademarks to reiterate a character’s state of mind, such as dark wavy lines signalling depression, Yakitate Japan’s animation encapsulates its comedic tone. However, the anime’s most impressive imagery is the bread itself. Each unique creation, from Kazuma’s vibrant green turtle bread, to Kai’s ultimate 648 layer super vapour action croissant (don’t ask), looks wholly delicious and invokes a constant craving for a nice fresh loaf – just as well it wasn’t in smell-o-vision!
Yakitate!! Japan’s score encompasses all that the anime attempts to do. Suitably cheesy and dramatic music accompanies the series’ more ‘tense’ moments, while lighter and equally corny tracks enhance the light-hearted nature of the show. On a purely personal note, I love the second ending theme, 'To all tha dreamers' by SOUL'd OUT, if only for the disco dancing manager that accompanies it.
The anime’s seiyuu perform well and easily covey the nature of each character. Kazuma’s vocals are sufficiently naïve; Kawachi’s Kansai dialect works ideally with his rough-around-the-edges nature; and Kuroyanagi’s strong and confident inflections not only perfectly fit his serious side, but also provide extra humour when he descends into ‘reaction mode’.
As its weakest aspect, Yakitate Japan’s cast remains mostly undeveloped throughout. Kazuma is as dense and naïve at the series’ conclusion as at the beginning, Kawachi, despite many attempts otherwise, only provides comedy by being the show’s ‘whipping boy’, Tsukino is about as interesting as a block of yeast, and the biggest mystery of all: who the hell is Kid, and how many jobs does this guy have?! This lack of exploration of its characters is partly to blame for Yakitate!! Japan’s humour becoming a little stale after a while, and instead of developing with the cast, the jokes sit like day-old bread.
On the plus side, each character actively contributes to the series’ comedy. Kai and Kawachi’s mutual hatred makes their heated exchanges and jibes about hair loss highly amusing to watch, while Kuroyanagi’s short temper and his demure façade, which crumbles further with each extreme reaction, provides endless amusement. Throw into the mix a deranged Pierrot, feather-adorned Meister Kirisaki and the afro-sporting manager and it’s possible to forgive some of the protagonist’s deficiencies. Whether it’s their personality quirks or various interactions, Yakitate!! Japan wouldn’t work half as well as it does without its wacky cast.
I cannot stress enough how important it is to NOT TAKE THIS SHOW TOO SERIOUSLY; instead think of it as a harmless bit of fun. It’s the sort of silly comedy series that will make you giggle, but would have you peeing your pants with laughter if watched when drunk – or stoned. Sure it has its faults but, if you let it, Yakitate!! Japan will provide hours of easy-going entertainment.
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!
While I like a variety of different genres, if you give me comedy or slice of life, I'm bound to be happy – and if it's dark humour, all the better! I'll review whatever takes my fancy at the time, and whether you agree or disagree with my opinions, feel free to drop me a line.