Yakitate!! Japan

January 23, 2006 on 6:44 pm | In Yakitate!! Japan | 3 Comments

Covers episodes 1-51 for all your fresh baked needs!

There once was a boy with a dream … a dream to make a Japanese national bread. For the first 29 episodes of his journey, this boy starred in an entertaining character comedy drama. For a while his adventures grew progressively sillier, and his comrades undid their character development.
Then, he bounced back into quality! This is the miracle of japan.

Azuma Kazuma became, at age six, infused with the desire to make a bread to surpass rice as the staple food of the Japanese people. To pursue this dream, he has worked for ten years to join the Pantasia bakery. The series begins at his recruitment and, over fifty episodes sees Azuma fighting in the Pantasia Newcomers’ Battle and fighting for his life in the Monaco Cup.

Yakitate!! Japan is, at least initially, a work of genius. The initial reaction of almost everyone who has heard of the series is to dismiss it, as baking anime can’t possibly be good. This is absolutely incorrect, as creator Hashiguchi Takashi has infused the “sport” of bakery with shounen genre staples.
Reaction shots, fighting spirit and aiming for the top are all common in Yakitate!!, and it is frequently hilarious.

The largest draw, at least in the early episodes, is the “reactions” to bread. With each new bread that Azuma presents to his unsuspecting audience, ridiculous visual puns are spawned, transporting tasters to other worlds. While some of these reactions are general references to the breads themselves, others are insanely illogical parodies of such properties as Fist of the North Star and the works of Miyazawa Kenji.

As these things tend to go, the reactions become secondary to the developments of the major characters. Azuma is steadfast in his goal to create the ultimate japan, and acts to better himself as he progresses up the chain of bread command.
The other characters are more malleable than this steadfast hero: afro manager, Matsushiro Ken (commonly known as “manager”); estranged granddaughter of the Pantasia chain’s owner, Azusagawa Tsukino; angry yet lovable main office manager, Kuroyanagi Ryou (“Kuro-yan”); bread samurai Suwabara Kai; and, later, Kanmuri Shigeru, a bread baking genius beleagured by common sense. All of these characters feature prominently and change their attitudes over the course of the episodes.

The most important of the non-Azuma characters is Kawachi Kyousuke, another teenager chasing his own dream of becoming a successful baker as a means to support his family. In the first episodes, Kawachi acts as a mean, opportunistic fellow who is out to crush all who stand against him. When Azuma’s prodigious skill forces Kawachi to realise that he has hit a wall, his only choice is to improve as an “artisan”.
Thus begins Kawachi’s awesome character growth: over thirty episodes he becomes a creative force, willing to take risks for the sake of bread. Kawachi is one of those excellent characters who does not resemble his initial form at all after his moulding process is complete.
Sadly, with Monaco in sight, Kawachi loses almost all of his confidence and becomes a simple clown for the other characters to beat up. Even Kuro-yan, who had come to deeply respect Kawachi’s skill, turns his hand to cruelty.

The Monaco episodes of Yakitate!! Japan become tiring from the sheer amount of cheap jokes made at the expense of Kawachi. This is not, of course, the only reason for a downturn in interest. To keep the series running, Hashiguchi inserted a series of insanely outlandish events and concepts: desert island baking! A clown judge who can clone himself 150 times! Three Frenchmen in one suit!
The bizarre homicidal tendencies of the manager of Pantasia’s biggest rival, St. Pierre, are the icing on the cake of mayhem that is the Monaco Cup.

This is not to say that the Monaco Cup is a complete wash, although sometimes I long for the simple days of bakery match ups in normal rooms (albeit with judges so fat they have to get around on bulldozers, and managers who conceal peacocks behind their masks). The reactions are replaced with the life story of Pierrot, clown judge of the Monaco Cup. Just how or why a clown became a world-level bread judge is yet to be explained, but Pierrot’s story gives depth that is lacking elsewhere in the story; at episode 51, he has become an extremely vital part of the ensemble.

For the reason of Pierrot, and a much needed revitalisation of Kawachi, I can bear with the silliness. The first thirty episodes had a more balanced silliness, and more acceptable drama in the form of making your family proud or trying to find acceptance within a family that has shunned you. Pierrot has miraculously brought some of that gravity back to the story at hand.
I’ve never stopped enjoying Yakitate!! Japan, but the edge was definitely off for a while.

Yakitate!! Japan boasts not only one of the funkiest ED ever in the form of “To All Tha Dreamers”, but a fully formed cast with seiyuu of some finesse. Kobayashi Yumiko is the best I’ve seen her as Azuma, bringing her boundless enthusiasm to the role with slightly less of her manic energy than I am accustomed to. The second and third-tier character lots are filled out by such luminaries as Koyasu Takehito, Hayami Sho, Seki Tomokazu and my dearly beloved Genda Tessho. Less inveterate players are given command of important roles such as Kawachi, Tsukino and Ken, and they handle them more than adequately.
That said, long term fans of the manga found the casting completely against their expectations, so take my words with a grain of salt.

Yakitate!! Japan is a work of subversive genius that briefly loses itself in an insane pursuit of otherness, and the stakes are presently a little too high, but it gets the job done in a vastly entertaining way.


  1. Excellent post and covers all the aspects i enjoyed about the series. However, I didn’t lose steam upon the Monaco cup arc, as one of the biggest drawing points for me was the series never taking itself too seriously. The jokes do tend to get abit thin towards, the end, with some reactions simply getting a blank-eyed “WTF?” from me(read: mamadoko? reaction and Azuma turning out to be a genius at arithmetic)
    but in general I found all the characters endearing, as you apparently have.

    Comment by Ray — January 23, 2006 #

  2. I suppose it depends on one’s tolerance for shounen; up until Monaco, the series had been outlandish but in the realm of reality.

    Pierrot kind of throws reality out the window; especially when you have to watch him formulate a reaction for ten minutes and then grow effing gills.

    Comment by Alex — January 23, 2006 #

  3. I’ll never forget the first time I watched “To all the dreamers”. I laughed so hard I almost fainted. Where do they come up with these ideas?!

    You’re right about the reactions. Kuroyan’s reactions alone need a full catalogue. Extremely hilarious. Since I love bread so much, I found this show very entertaining at the start but the jokes started to get a bit old after some time and I must say that the introduction of the clown “Pierrot” has made the story less attractive (even if he acts mostly as comic relief). Maybe I should take this show less seriously to enjoy it more.

    Comment by Mohammad — January 24, 2006 #

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