I honestly can’t remember what made me pick up my first copy of Yakitate!! Japan. It’s got two of the things I generally can’t stand in manga: a specialized story and gags. Tons of gags. Puns and extreme reactions everywhere. In fact, that’s one of the hallmarks of YJ.
By specialized story, I mean that it’s all about one thing. There are plenty of manga like that in Japan, too, and they’re mostly sports manga. Shounen manga has Prince of Tennis, shoujo manga has Crimson Hero. Meanwhile, I prefer seinen titles like Afterschool Charisma and sweet josei ones like Bunny Drop. And if none of those words make sense to you, don’t worry. The gist of it is that I like stories that are character-driven, and YJ is about one thing: bread.
The story is fairly simple. Kazuma Azuma is a 16 year old kid (they’re always sixteen years old) who wants to make a bread that Japanese people like better than rice, and that can be seen as Japan’s national bread. To do that, he goes to Tokyo to gets himself a job at Pantasia, the biggest bakery chain in Japan. Starting with his very first day, he ends up in bread-making contest after bread-making contest in an attempt to create the ultimate bread and save Pantasia from the rival bakery St. Pierre. He’s also got the “Hands of the Sun,” warm hands that are ideal for baking and that are often responsible for his ability to create amazing breads.
There’s a lot of information about bread in this manga. Not just passing facts, either, there are detailed explanations of methods of baking right down to the temperature of the oven. Of course there are also all manner of wacky, strange breads being made by Azuma and his rivals, which often leads to the outrageous reactions and puns.
Let me just say that the localization team really knocked it out of the park with this one. I’ve watched some of the anime (of course there’s an anime. And it’s hilarious.) and hearing the original lines to compare them with the ones in the translation it’s obvious that they worked their butts off to make it work. Example: in the original they use the word umai, which means “delicious.” But they use uma, the character for horse, as the base because he’s talking about making a bread that a horse would eat. The translated version goes with “mare-velous,” which keeps the spirit of the joke.
Yakitate!! Japan isn’t for everyone. Mister E took one look at the back of it and said “Yeah, I’m never reading this.” But if you like goofy shounen manga with genuinely likeable characters, you could do a lot worse. As for me, I’m totally trying the recipe for making bread in a rice cooker that’s at the end of volume 2. Fermentation, here I come!