Manga-ka: Takashi Hashiguchi
Publisher: Viz Media
Rating: Older Teen (16+)
Release Date: July 2010
Synopsis: “Young Yamatoya, a spoiled brat with a thing for bread, is back – and this time he’s trying to buy a job as a bread judge. But when master taster Kuro-san decides to teach him a lesson about hard work, Yamatoya realizes he may have bitten off more than he can chew. Later, Azuma’s team Pantasia is in a bind when their next opponent in the “Yakitate!! Japan” baking competition turns out to be an old rival who’s caught in the grip of a powerful mind-controlling substance: miso bread!”
Yakitate Japan offers some signature Shonen Sunday-brand humour, adding a dash of whimsical absurdity to the realm of cooking manga, with its strange yet involving tale of youths struggling to be the best bread-makers in all of Japan. This volume is well into the series, yet is quite accessible to new readers, piquing my curiosity to check out more of this offbeat bakery comic.
While I’m a fan of the cooking manga genre, it was Yakitate Japan’s odd sense of humour that drew me in. The comic offers some strange non-sequitors, from the Afro-wearing manager to the use of a friendly veterinarian to treat one of the casts injuries – it just rolls along with the oddity of its characters interactions. A particularly striking visual was one of the evil Kirasaki’s minions, who is apparently trapped in the form of a blow-up doll. It might sound offensive, but it is far more innocuous than it sounds, lending to some odd moments of comedy to some otherwise dramatic dialogue.
These moments are like a dash of Bobobobo Bobobo, breaking the fourth wall and keeping the series upbeat and entertaining when many current shonen manga prefer to up the angst levels. The opening chapter in particular is strange, as two of the characters apparently share a dream sequence of a world where no one tries or aspires to be anything. This bleak opposite of any shonen manga gently mocks the themes it tries to promote, while reassuring the readers that they too can achieve anything, using the bizarre career choice of a tasting judge. The use of Yamatoya in this story felt a little preachy as the rich child genius learns his lesson in patience after bribing his way into a contest win, but was evened out by the strangeness of his transportation to a homeless parallel world through fried chicken.
Even with its these surreal moments, the manga also pays attention to details, going into an in-depth explanation of how kneading affects the release and distribution of air and gases in bread, adding a touch of realism. Amazingly, this all occurs while some of the cast are being controlled by mind-altering, brain-shaped bread as they compete in a nationally celebrated bread baking competition, but one accepts the situation and appreciates the brief educational situation. Surely young Kazuma Azuma will find a way out of this bind and do so by baking some scrumptious bread, leading many a reader to ponder if its snack time.
The artwork is the sort you’ll see on any long-running Shonen Sunday manga, polished and professional, the result years of work on the title. With slick line work and a straightforward layout, it makes for well-paced storytelling. Hashiguchi is also skilled at drawing food, though the comedy moments overshadow that aspect of the art in this volume. While the visuals are often silly, the artwork itself isn‘t overly stylized, relying on its versatility to get us through both dramatic and humorous with the same flair.
VIZ’s presentation is their usual standard, with an appealing graphic design approach that reminds me a little of food packaging, and folds in some extra information on Japanese food with an entry on Miso. Sound effects are translated, and like several already long-running VIZ series, it has been re-branded with the new Shonen Sunday imprint. Those looking for a sample of the manga will be pleased to know VIZ has placed a sample chapter on their Sunday website, which also offers character profiles, helping to add to the series accessibility.
While not as insane as Iron-Wok Jan, this is nevertheless a great addition to your cooking manga collection, a pleasant, mindlessly light read to squeeze in-between your overdramatic shojo and formulaic shonen battle manga. Once you know that there is a) a character calling himself “Meister” and b) said character wears a cape and a feather covered mask, you accept these things and enjoy this quirk-ridden, pan-obsessed manga.