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Yakitate!! Japan, Volume 1 Paperback – September 12, 2006
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From Publishers Weekly
Kazuma Azuma is an enthusiastic, slightly gullible young baker who dreams of creating Ja-pan: a nationally recognized bread of Japan equal to the great breads of Germany, France and other countries. Aiding Kazuma in his baking quest are his legendary "Hands of the Sun," exceptionally warm hands that speed the fermentation of yeast. For years Kazuma works to bake Ja-pan, mastering 56 different styles before traveling to Tokyo in hopes of furthering his studies at the famous bakery chain Pantasia. But before he is guaranteed employment at Pantasia, Kazuma must submit to a rigorous employment exam. He faces both the cunning Kyousuke Kawachi, who seeks to knock him out of the running, and Tsukino Azusagawa, a mysterious young woman with a vested interest in seeing him advance. The three soon find their lives are hopelessly intertwined, and together they struggle to make their marks in the world of dough. Indeed, all of Hashiguchi's characters are a clever mix of fierce pride and youthful optimism. He chooses to play it safe with his art, using a style very typical of manga, yet the book's whimsical nature shines through. Fans of the over the top Iron Wok Jan will enjoy this shonen manga of competitive baking. (Sept.)
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Kazuma leaves his family and hometown to apprentice at a “super-famous” Tokyo bakery. It’s been an uphill battle for him. Grandpa was proud of their history as rice farmers and rice’s place in the Japanese diet. As a child, Kazuma hated bread, and it was only because of his sister’s desire to be modern that he even tried it. A kindly neighborhood baker instructed him that great bread came from ideas and love, firing his imagination.
As typical of these types of stories, it turns out that Kazuma has an unusual ability. His rare “magic hands” are naturally warm and thus aid in the yeast’s fermentation. He’s also been experimenting for years, trying different combinations of ingredients and techniques to create a ja-pan.
The comedy is over-the-top, supported by exaggerated caricatures. Grandpa at times looks like a demented coot with a dislocated jaw, and Sis drags Kazuma to the bakery by tying him up and dragging him via rope behind her bike. Every emotion leaps off the page with tears and speed lines and giant eyes. A successful tasting of a slice of bread is accompanied by sunbeams casting light on the previously ignorant.
After heading off the big city, Kazuma’s talent overcomes his initial disabilities of appearance, lack of formal knowledge, and clumsiness. He participates in a bake-off to earn his spot at the bakery, quickly making friends and enemies. As with Iron Wok Jan, the owner’s granddaughter works beside him, making decisions and helping him along.
There’s lots of information about different types of bread. Every time Kazuma is introduced to a new type (because he knows little about other country’s breads), it turns out to resemble one of his experiments. This quickly becomes amusing, that he has supposedly independently invented all of these types of baking. Co-worker Kawachi’s naked ambition is also funny, that he’s so obviously an Eddie Haskell.
With more than 20 volumes in the series, I suspect Kazuma has quite a long struggle in front of him before he learns to become a professional baker and perfects his bread. Whether or not you’ll enjoy his journey depends on how much you appreciate slapstick fish-out-of-water comedy leavened with bread-making lessons. For now, I’ll keep reading… but not when I’m hungry. (Review originally posted at ComicsWorthReading.com.)
So he does all these bread experiments and names them Ja-Pan (it's a play/pun on the word pan which is a Japanese word for bread). So with each Ja-Pan # experiment, he gets closer to creating that national bread.
I like the play on words and seeing all the interesting bread combinations that Azuma makes. What is REALLY funny is when someone tastes one of his breads. They're whisked off to other worlds in their minds, other places. It's funny to see their reactions. If you have a chance to watch the anime series, it's even funnier.
This first manga seems to cover quite a few of the anime episodes. The cartoons keep quite in line with the manga, but expand a bit on it - so when I read the manga I noticed really that nothing was missing that was in the anime episodes.
Quite enjoyable stuff, and I'd be interested in finding more anime/manga that run along these lines. There's no violence and no romance from what I've seen, just a really great story.
Yakitate!! Japan tells the humorous story Kazuma Azuma and his quest to find (and bake) the ultimate bread of Japan, a bread all Japanese can love and enjoy and that the world will take notice of.
Volume one introduces that basic characters as well as giving Azuma his backstory (something very rare in modern storytelling, where backstories are often the stuff of glazed over flashbacks to keep the mystery). We meet Azuma as a bread-hating/rice-loving child whose sister forces him to discover the delciousness of well made bread. Thus begins his quest and the action proper...
Fast foward a few years and Azuma has been invited to tryout at Japan's foremost bakery, Pantasia. There he meets and competes with several members of his future bread making team... the ambitious Kawachi, the stern Kai Suwabara, and cute Tsukino.
While techniques are presented as hooks in this volume, actual bread recipes (unless I missed one) will have to wait until volume 2. Still, it's nice to know the author actually did some homework about baking before diving headfirst into the series.
The art is typcial shonen with recognizable archetypes in basic character design, with a few catchy stretches here and there (such as in the much be-Afro'd manager of the Southern Branch, Ken Matsushiro).
If you're looking for a fun little series with a theme, this is a good title to get. It's light and airy, with some great humor and a few subtle touches to keep the mature reader interested.