Yakitate!! Japan follows the trials of Azuma Kazuma, a young boy who dreams of making a uniquely Japanese bread and putting his country on the baking world's map. Along the way he lands a job in one of Japan's foremost bakeries and has to endure all manner of, somewhat unique, baking tournaments. While not the brightest spark, Azuma does have a natural talent for breadmaking that puts him a cut above his many rivals, and with the help of a slightly crazed selection of colleagues and friends he continues to reach for his dream of creating Ja-Pan.
If you've come to this series in search of a serious storyline, plot twists, or character development then it's probably best if you turn around right now and start looking elsewhere. This series is utterly ridiculous through and through, and it's the story that takes the biggest hit because of this. However, it's important to realise that in the context of the series this doesn't matter. When you've watched all 69 episodes you won't be looking back on the intricacies of the plot. Instead you'll be recalling some of the great comedy moments that this series provides. The show sets out to mock the more standard 'tournament' series, and it does so with such a brilliantly knowing flair. The soap-opera tendencies of what little plot there is only serves to heighten this. Everything is completely over the top and this suits the shows comedic nature perfectly.
The show's weakest point by far is in it's visuals which, outside of the mostly excellent reaction sequences and ridiculous comedy moments, never really strive to be anything more than average. The character designs vary from the normal to the Pierrot, and it's the gap in between the two extremes that can sometimes make the visuals quite jarring. Much like the plot, when they're over the top the visuals excel, helping the show's comedy shine through. Indeed, when the baking comes into play the show is entirely watchable if not striking, and the more ridiculous aspects of the show, like Kuroyanagi and Pierrot's bread-tasting, are always entertaining. It is in the quieter moments however that they become plain, with pastel colours and forgettable backdrops becoming the standard rather than doing the series' few dramatic moments justice.
In the sound department the show fares much better however. Voice work is excellent throughout, with Azuma and Kawachi standing out in particular. The seiyuu involved clearly took the show's ridiculous nature and ran with it, which is exactly what this show needed. The voices really take the comedy to another level, while at the same time keeping the more dramatic moments believable. Azuma's naivety, for example, is captured brilliantly and provides some great laughs, but it never distracts from his drive to achieve his dream.
Indeed it is the characters that really provide the heart of this series. Maybe there's not much in the way of character development, but surprisingly for a 69 episode show this doesn't impact much in terms of quality. I never grew tired of watching the weird and wonderful exploits of the central characters and meeting the next bizarre addition to the cast of misfits. Pierrot and Kuroyanagi get a large share of the show's many hilarious moments and as such stand out amongst the collection of weird and wonderful freaks that make up the cast. But some of the secondary cast members, some of whom only appear once in a while, provide great laughs too. Azuma's grandfather in particular doesn't pop up very often but always steals the show when he does.
For me, this show proved to be so much greater than the sum of it's parts. It's the kind of series that will be a very pleasant surprise to those who come to it looking for nothing more than a bit of pointless fun. Anyone looking for more than that will probably find themselves disappointed. All I can recommend is that you switch your brain off, press play and prepare to laugh yourself silly.