Before Food Wars!, another shonen series had readers’ mouths watering. Yakitate!! Japan follows warm-handed baking prodigy Kazuma Azumi as he tries to great the most Japanese bread ever!
This series is streaming on RetroCrush and Crunchyroll,
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Spoiler Warning for discussion of the series ahead.
Nicky, we are waist deep in a new season of anime premieres, and I am absolutely not prepared. Like 3 of the shows I was watching LAST season are still airing too! If i’m gonna survive this week, I’m gonna have to carboload like crazy.
As for me, I’m trying to lose some weight so I’m on a low-carb diet and this anime all about baking and eating bread is making my mouth extra watery. Though, I will say anime is a great way to pass the time while exercising. Especially if you have a stationary bicycle at home!
Or if you have a small child you need to torture!
Anyways, if you haven’t already guessed, today we’ll be discussing the bread-centric anime Yakitate!! Japan
(lit. translated Freshly Baked! Japan) a series guaranteed to spike your glucose levels by just looking at it. It’s also a total classic from the digipaint era.
See you kids these days are spoiled with your Food Wars
and whatnot. Back in the day your food porn was restricted to a single type of foodstuff, and only available in 480p. And you had to walk uphill both ways to watch it! In the snow! So appreciate what you have now, whippersnappers.
Also as with most older properties, we’re only going to be covering the first six episodes out of this 69 (nice) episode series. Currently, all episodes are available for streaming on various platforms.
Though be warned that Food Wars
comparison is mostly just because of the food. The perverts in the audience will be sadly let down that the breadgasms here are decidedly goofy rather than horny.
Well, enjoying bread so much you turn into a trendy Parisian gal is still kinda horny, but Yakitake!
does tend to lean more on just being over-the-top in a way that isn’t too uncomfortable whenever your mom walks in. (Thanks, Mom)
It’s also notable that many of the bread reactions have existed out of context via YouTube and the like for well over a decade now and may still be there long after this column is written.
People make a funny face while eating something is basically an entire genre of YouTube
, so that makes sense. But this show does actually have characters and narrative, though it’s one anybody familiar with shōnen anime will recognize immediately. For instance, here’s our short, loud, stupid but purehearted protagonist with a special power that makes him just super good at making bread.
This is Kazuma Azuma, a 16 year old boy who sets off to a bakery in Tokyo in order to make a bread worthy of being called characteristically Japanese. Or “Ja-pan” as everyone calls it. For those that don’t have sharp ears, “pan” is the Japanese word for bread, a loanword taken from the Portuguese word for bread, “pão”, after traders came in the 16th century. And as there’s no dub
for this show, you’ll be hearing it a lot.
Boy howdy are you. I think you could stitch together every sentence Azuma says that DOESN’T feature the word “Ja-Pan” and it’d turn out less than a full minute.
I also love that his special talent is…abnormally warm hands!! Better than mine. My palms are clammier than a corpse on a good day.
2000s shōnen protagonists are famous for being single-minded but this boy could very well just have a loaf of bread where his brain should be.
I guess you can say he’s a real bread-head, huh? Ha ha!
The thing about Azuma is that he’s basically self-taught. As a kid he fell in love with breadmaking after getting to know a local baker and discovering his talent, and then spent the next 10 years experimenting. And wouldn’t you know it during that time he accidentally reinvented a bunch of techniques from around the world!
But can any of them truly be worth of being the so-called “Ja-pan”?! That is something we’ll still have to see. Japan has a bit of history with carbs, mainly the more widely available rice. With the two carbs competing, you have to work extra hard to knead bread’s way into the heart (and bellies) of a rice-loving nation. They even bring up that after the war the staple bread introduced was quite hard and tasteless due to having to be shelf stable.
That’s actually one of my favorite details. Food is inextricable from human history, and that means it’s simultaneously taken for granted in a lot of developed places but also deeply affected by the geography and politics of the people who prepare it. That’s something a lot of food-based entertainment ignores, so it was cool seeing Yakitate!! bring it up right away.
And Japan being fairly isolated for centuries and lacking in wide access to wheat meant that the culture of breadmaking is something greatly foreign and had to be imported. Yakitate!!
delivers this info in a way that’s got an edutainment spin. The over-the-top quality mentioned earlier keeps it from feeling stale, despite it’s age. On top of this, it also recognizes that food, like bread, is both a process and an artform. It’s something meant to be consumed and enjoyed by humans. It’s full of passion for pan!
Thought Kazuma’s mentor definitely takes it overboard. All of this will be stale in like 12 hours:
At least it’s not covered in gross fondant like specialty cakes are. I love it when my cake tastes like Playdoh.
But anyway, after a decade of isolation Kazuma finally decides to travel to Tokyo and vie for a spot at one of the city’s top bakeries. Said bakery of course has a tournament arc based hiring process, because who the hell needs resumes and references?
At first this seems like it could be a big disadvantage to him having no real professional training or experience but none of them have the power of the “Hands of the Sun” aka the extra hot hands that promote the fermentation of yeast. Those years of experimentation also mean he’s got a keen intuition and creative thinking to boost him in a bind compared to someone shackled with a more traditional background. All of this comes much to the shock of the other bakers.
Which is good because the proctor in this test is a real hard-ass voiced by Takehito Koyasu
just totally chewing the scenery.
Though honestly this guy just seems like a dick. There’s having no patience for bullshit, and then there’s this:
Some real “you can’t arrest me, I’m the cake boss!” energy right there.
The proctor immediately docks points from Azuma simply for being late or dressing sloppy and not for judging his real skill. It gives the idea that the bakery biz is truly a bread-eat-bread world. But then we also see him do crazy shit like punch the hell out of a whole loaf before it bounces right back so as a viewer, I can’t complain.
Just saying, maybe this dude needs to stop inhaling so much yeast before it really goes to his head.
We also meet a few other bakers there, first off is Kawachi, who’s a bit smarter than Kazuma but a lot shittier. He knows he doesn’t have the talent of the sun hands but he does dole out the regular knowhow for the viewer while also trying to either sabotage Kazuma or fool him for whatever suits his own gains. He sucks!! I really like him.
He gets off to a rough start, but yeah he’s probably my favorite of our main cast so far. Mostly because Kazuma’s pure of heart, dumb of ass shtick gets tiresome after a bit and I relate to Kawachi being exhausted by it.
He’s probably the closest the show has to an everyman and he really does know his stuff when it comes to breadmaking even if he isn’t as top-tier as some of the other competitors. Besides, he’s got a great Kansai
dialect and his delivery helps sell some of the show’s greatest reaction moments.
Mostly I just like that he’s clearly done a lot of learning about breadmaking that’s actually accessible to the audience. The show kind of has to keep Kazuma’s unique genius an enigma so he can surprise us with new recipes or methods, so it’s nice to have a secondary character where we’re allowed to see inside his head.
Especially since some of the other characters who know about as much as him can be umm…intimidating…
Gotta hand it to this show. It took Food Wars
like three seasons to get to a guy preparing food via katana. They clear that bar in episode 2:
Sadly sword guy doesn’t get much to do besides be a rival during the test. Most of that storyline is instead taken up by teaching our dumbass hero the actual names for bread.
The other notable baker would be Tsukino, who actually turns out to not be a tester at all but the granddaughter of Pantasia’s founder. She recognizes Kazuma’s talent immediately and sets her sights to scout him for her own branch.
She figures out his special power in the creepiest way possible, btw.
“This is the taste of a baker, Azuma Kazuma!”
Yeah, she uhh comes on a little strong. She seems ambitious in her own right. Also, she’s got the best eyecatch. Remember those?
Hey they still happen sometimes! Though my personal favorite eyecatch is the one involving their manager Matsushiro. Because everything involving Matsushiro is gold.
Heck yeah, Tsukino is still a bit too young to be the manager of the store where Kawachi and Kazuma work after somewhat cheating on the test for the main branch. So this afro’d gentlemen is the actual manager. He loves horse races and feeding bread to his favorite horse. AND EVEN THE HORSE REACTS TO THE BREAD! He seems like the exact kind of eccentric, hardened, and experienced mentor the show needs.
I do wish he was interested in some other kind of animal that wasn’t horrifying when it eats.
Like I always say: Horses are god’s most useful mistakes.
It’s amazing. This isn’t even somebody eating his bread. It’s him explaining how he makes his bread taste so good, and it’s cool enough to make Kawachi imagine being murdered.
The lengths this show goes even just for normal explanation sequences like this puts it above a lot of similar fair for me. I’m so used to shōnen anime just showing me a bunch of graphs now. Presentation is key!
It’s both incredibly hilarious and also actually sad? I felt like cry-laughing. Food allergies really aren’t a joke! And anyone who makes food has to consider that. Fortunately, his sister isn’t actually dead. But that’s part of why he’s so obsessed with horses. As they don’t really consume diary products.
Hey, I respect anybody in food service who takes potential dietary restrictions in mind when doing their job. Though making your new hires bake bread for a horse to keep their jobs is probably against some kind of labor law.
Ridiculous, dehumanizing, and slightly unethical? The kind of test of merit perfect for shōnen anime. The additives and fats in dairy products like milk make bread super soft and cakelike though so it’s challenging to make something that’s both nutritious with a good mouthfeel without it. Kazuma, distressed at the thought of his sister dying, rushes to call her, and she grants him an idea.
His older sister is also very cool and rides a motorcycle, I’m glad she’s not entirely out of the show after her introduction.
She delivers his ace in the hole: goat milk! But it turns out horses still don’t like milk no matter the udder it came out of so he fails. The end.
I assume the rest of the series is just episodes of Matsushiro day drinking and betting on horse races until Uma Musume
makes him go bankrupt.
Well the horse didn’t buy it, but the humans like it. Goat’s milk doesn’t trigger the same allergic reaction as cow’s milk so he gets a pass and bonus points for being inventive to boot.
Also, it’s hard to bring up in text but I think the show’s soundtrack is top-notch. It’s got lots of great strings, light jazz notes, and even the occasional funk.
Just saying, I wouldn’t pass my driver’s exam by emergency landing a plane. They should at least make him redo it so he knows how to make hypoallergenic bread without a goat on tap.
Kawachi passes by doing it the proper way, using oats. But his bread isn’t as flavorful and he gets labeled a copycat. He really can’t win, can he?
Sorry guy, you weren’t born with Hot Hands inside your palms so you get to be the eternal punching bag.
Like that’s the thing that gets me. Kawachi doesn’t even slack off or cheat or anything on this test. He does his homework, figures out an effective solution using proven nutrition and dietary study, but because he’s not a wunderkind with God-given baking powers he’s passive-aggressively admonished.
To reference another big tournament-style shōnen anime of my childhood, I consider Kawachi to be the Joey Wheeler to Kazuma’s Yugi. He’s got a bit of an underdog quality. He’s not as out-of-the-box as Kazuma but he’s not uninspired either. In the competition he put a spin on a Chinese-style bread while baking it that was only ever slightly [Paul Hollywood Voice] overbaked. But the fact that he’s less than perfect now means there’s a lot of motivation to see him succeed eventually too.
Maybe it’s just that Kazama was really grating on me by this time. He just so LOUD and every third line out of his mouth is about JA-PAN, that I enjoyed the show the most when he wasn’t on screen.
Kawachi still gets plenty of screentime, actually more than Kazuma sometimes, but he’s not exactly the kind of guy you root for in these things. He’s not quite a Kaiji
or a Great Teacher Onizuka
. Also I don’t think the show would be just quite as weird without Kazuma and his crazy way of thinking, even if he is a dumbass.
Like making upside down naan for curry is still pretty impressive for a novice.
Maybe I was just in a contrarian sort of mood, since the show also wants us to dislike its best character in episode 6:
I have mixed feelings about more gay stereotypes in my shōnen anime as they don’t have a good track record. I agree that Mokoyama is extra, but not in a way that’s out-of-place for this already weird show.
Though, I can’t forgive his stance on puns.
He calls out Kazama’s stupid JA-PAN thing so I immediately love and support him. Live your best life, King.
Most importantly, he’s extremely competent. And that means the South Branch of Pantasia is in some deep do-do water financially, having a competing bakery right across from them.
Which means it’s time for COMPETING HOT DOG STANDS BREAD RECIPES. We don’t actually see the conclusion in these episodes, but I’m gonna guess that Kazama wins because I’ve seen an anime before.
So the whole bakery and the franchise name is gonna hinge on whether Kazuma can bake a brand-new bread well enough to impress everyone, on live TV!
I tell ya, THIS time he’s gonna fail, and we’ll spend the rest of this show watching Mokoyama making sweetrolls and putting on fashion shows like the icon he is. It’s gonna happen.
Well speaking of fashion shows. There’s also THIS man. Introduced at the last minute. He’s from Pantasia’s main branch and the only person to have ever earned the title of “Meister”, Meister Kirisaki.
Again, this is a point where the different genres of music totally sells some of the better moments, this guy steps out a limo and doves pop out. It’s played with a classical affair like we’ve gone from bakery to ballroom.
Dude just waltzes in from Gundam Wing
, says ‘hi’ for a second, then leaves. I’m sure he’ll be important later but right now all I can think of how much bird shit must be inside his limo.
Probably a lot if they’re eating a ton of bread.
God it must look like the Birdman of Alcatraz in there.
Anyways, he wears a mask because he hates appearing in public. Though you’d think that you’d go for something more inconspicuous if that was a case. His appearance is the last major thing introduced before the competition itself, but then the episode cuts there.
Well we also meet Kawachi and Kazama’s other coworker. He doesn’t get a name and this is his most important line so far.
His actual name is Kageto Kinoshita, because his hair is shaped like a mushroom. He doesn’t do much except give a bit more for the other characters to play off of him.
I hope it’s revealed his special skill is making mushroom bread.
He also seems like the only regular employee considering the manager is always off duty, and the deputy manager, Tsukino, is actually still in high school and has to attend classes. Unlike Kazuma, where no amount of schooling could fix his dough-y thoughts.
Between a day drinking boss, two teenage employees, and a shift manager who has homework, my man is the only thread keeping Pantasia South Branch from going under.
But yeah, that’s the first couple stories or so of Yakitate!! Japan
and it’s…alright? Like it has its charm, there are moments and elements I enjoy, but I can’t say this sampling left me dying to bite into the whole loaf.
I wouldn’t call it a “must watch” but I could see it be good for small bites of casual viewing, since it’s entertaining and it goes down pretty smoothly. I could see myself watching an episode before bed (bread) or in the background. It was really nice to revisit an older show for once though, even the digipaint era feels like it has very different sensibilities compared to a modern shōnen adaption. The slower pace included. A newer show would’ve crammed this stuff into 12 episodes and called it a day. I appreciate the more time spent on making sure the jokes land.
I’ll TOAST to that!
Even the horse can agree!