At 16, Kazuma Azuma, the hero of the nutty series Yakitate!! Japan (2004), leaves high school to pursue his dream of becoming a
baker. And not just a baker, but the master of the culinary arts who will create
a uniquely Japanese bread that can rival the best from France, Italy and Germany.
Although it’s gained in popularity since the end of WW II, bread is not a
traditional Japanese food. Kazuma’s grandfather refuses to even consider toast
at breakfast until the boy whips up a loaf made with soy milk that somehow puts
it in harmony with natto (fermented
soy bean paste) and miso soup.
More energetic and good-hearted than bright, Kazuma is
fixated on creating the bread he calls “Ja-pan.” Puns and word play figure prominently
in Japanese humor. “Ja-pan” riffs on the foreign name for the country and pan, the Japanese word for bread. (It
comes from the Latin panis via the Portuguese
Kazuma wins an apprenticeship at Pantasia one best baking
companies in country. A typical come-from-behind anime hero—albeit in an odd milieu—he
runs into variety of characters who
become his friends, mentors and rivals.
Kawachi knows more about baking than Kazuma, and begins as a
sneaky rival, but over the course of the series, he become more of a fall guy.
Suwabara, another rival in the initial competition, hides a wakizashi (a short samurai sword) in his
rolling pin. He uses it to slash patterns into the crust. Tsukino, a
kind-hearted girl who appears fond of Kazuma, gives him what becomes his
signature hair band, to keep his shaggy locks out of his face (and the dough). Ken
Matsushiro, who sports an incongruous Afro, runs the South Tokyo branch of
Pantasia, which means he has the dubious pleasure of being Kazuma’s boss.
Kazuma has a special ability: the legendary “Hands of the Sun.”
His hands are several degrees warmer than normal, so when he kneads dough, the added
warmth accelerates the action of the yeast. That quirk and an unshakable,
optimistic determination are about all Kazuma has going for him. He’s not
exactly the hottest roll in the basket, and hasn’t really studied the art of bread
making. When the apprentices are assigned to make croissants, he doesn’t even recognize
word, and thinks a mysterious visitor, “Klaus Swann,” is coming to class.
The filmmakers haven’t done all their homework, either. In
one episode, Kazuma is assigned to bake a French baguette. He succeeds in
making an especially delicious loaf by kneading in butter made from the milk of
a special goat his family keeps on their
remote farm. Real French bread is made with four—and only four—ingredients: flour, yeast, salt and water. Add anything
else and it’s no longer the genuine article.
Takashi Hashiguchi initially planned the manga version of Yakitate!! to run only five weeks, but
it proved so popular, it was extended and extended. Twenty-six 200-page books
of Yakitate!! have been published and
the anime ran for 69 episodes. The story grew sillier and more gag-oriented as
it continued, and director Yasunao Aoki stresses slapstick silliness. As a
result Yakitate!! can be very funny,
but it gets wearying if a viewer watches more than one or two episodes at
sitting. The entire cast, from Kazuma to his grandfather, react to crises with the
same rubbery animation and exaggerated expressions.
In Japanese with English subtitles.