Yakitate! Japan

February 9, 2008

Based on my past experiences in watching animes which are food themed (well, actually as far as I can remember, Chuuka Ichiban was the other food themed anime), initially I was particularly interested in watching Yakitate! Japan too. But because it spanned 69 episodes (in which I consider it to be long), I was hesitant at first.
 
It was a good thing that I eventually decide to see the whole anime. Yeah, why must I rush and finish watching a series. I should take my time and enjoy them. Besides, it’s not like it has over a hundred episodes. And enjoy did I because it’s funny all the way (okay, most of the time) and it’s sure to tickle one’s bones.
 
The food theme here is mainly bread, and anything associated with it. So bakers wanna be, watch this series for inspiration on how to become one. However, I just need to inform those who intend to watch this series, that one needs to be quite knowledgeable and well-read not only in terms of Japanese culture but other bread making cultures like France and Germany as well. That’s because most of the jokes and puns are based on this. In each episode, there’ll be tons of such jokes and if you’re not ‘up to standard’, you might not get the joke. But don’t despair, the fansubbers who subbed the series did a very very good job in providing extra notes and information in addition to the subs. So hats off to those guys.
 
Besides that, the producers and writers of the series are a creative bunch of guys. That’s because they could come up with ideas and stuffs to make jokes or puns sound very closely to the name of the bread the characters make. Yup, another main core of the comedy comes from the exaggerated reaction just right after they put the bread into their mouths. Woah man! If the bread is so darn good, I wanna have a taste of it too! However, even if the bread do taste that good, somewhere in the series, they did mention that such reactions are only capable of being done by professionals. Which means, amateurs like you and me won’t have any reactions. Haha. Good also, because I’d like to save myself from all those embarrassing display of it.
 
I’m not sure how far fetched the producers and writers went in terms of creating such breads and I wonder if they really do exist at all (based on wikipedia, I read some really do exists) and the method of creating such breads. Though they are thoroughly explained from how they’re produced to the ingredients used, I could never understand in the end. Sorry guys. Looks like I only know how to eat bread. Hehehe. Yeah, sometimes I find these bread maestros so terror that before the baker could start, they don’t have a clue what he/she is doing, but after watching their initial moves, the ‘armchair critic-cum-commentator’ suddenly knows what he/she is doing and proceeds to explain it all like a pro. Of course this is to tell viewers what’s going on lah. If not, I’d be really lost beyond help. As if now I’m also lost but it’s not that bad. You should hear me say "Huh? What’s that again" and "Repeat that once again" or even "????!!!!!" most of the time. Uh huh. I really only know how to eat bread.
 
So the basic storyline is this young and talented kid Kazuma Azuma (are they playing with his name? Besides, he looks a bit like Kouda from Girl’s High) who is the grandson of Japan’s rice farmer. So how in the world did this kid ended up being a baker? Well, the rest of his darn family, especially his sister, Inaho, is bored with eating rice every day as their breakfast and wants a change. But that time, Azuma’s a rice supporter and backs up grandpa. So much so, Inaho couldn’t stand it anymore and forcefully drags Azuma to the town’s bakery and stuff the whole loaf of bread down his throat! After that, it’s like a miracle. Azuma suddenly becomes interested in bread and soon made friends with that particular shop’s baker.
 
That baker saw a hidden potential in him. Azuma has something important and essential in which most bakers would die to have for. He has Solar Hands (Taiyou No Te). I’m not sure of the detailed explanations but as far as I remember, because his hands are constantly in some warm temperature, it allows the dough to be fermented and kept in the right temperature without having to go through all that hassle. As time passes, that baker teaches Azuma the basics of bread but he eventually has to leave due to some reason. So Azuma made some promise with him that 10 years time he’s gonna be a famous baker.
 
Thus over time, Azuma’s family eventually gets to have experience the freshness and goodness of Azuma’s bread and creativity. Yeah, why even need to go to a bread shop when you have 1 who makes them right back at home. Even grandpa has become more receptive after Azuma manages to create a bread which mixes with grandpa’s favourite natou ingredients. So if you’re wondering why does the anime title have the word ‘Japan’, it’s because it’s part of Azuma’s plan to create a bread associated with and for the Japanese people. Like croissant to France and scones to England, etc. Thus the Japanese word for bread is ‘pan’. It would sound weird to say Japan pan (Japan bread) so it’s shortened to Ja-pan. You could say it’s like a pan pun with double meaning. And boy, does Azuma has so many different versions of Japan.
 
Before I go on, I need to mention to you that this Azuma boy isn’t the brightest kid in town. I mean, if you notice, he doesn’t really know the theoretical basics of bread (meaning he makes his own terms or just knows it’s like that) and because he seems to be having fun in making his bread (with that kid-like laughter), people thinks he’s not serious and is just playing around. Plus, Azuma isn’t good in Japanese language and often misinterprets lines, which gives rise and excuse to make lots of creative puns as jokes. Ironically, Azuma is bloody good in maths. A genius. I suppose this is the other thing other than baking, which Azuma is good at.
 
So 10 years have flown by quickly and Azuma is taking his first step to become a world class Japan baker by taking an entrance exam of Pantasia’s main branch. This company is supposedly one the most famous bread company in Japan and has been around for quite some time, thus establishing itself as one of the core bread specialties of Japan. We’re introduced to several characters who’ll be part of Azuma’s journey. Firstly, there’s this ‘clown’ (AKA comic relief guy)Kyousuke Kawachi (looks like Onizuka of GTO) whose favourite line is "Nanyate?!" (What?!). Though he has good knowledge and theoretical background in bread making, Azuma is always superior to him. It shows that hands on experience is better, huh? You’ll also notice Kawachi goes through various hairstyle changes throughout the anime, which are of course, beyond his control. Though initially, doesn’t like Azuma, but the 2 just get along fine. Because Kawachi doesn’t have Solar Hands, he does some training do get Solar Gauntlets, which is close the former. Not sure how, but something to do with focusing body heat to one’s hands. I think. Plus, Kawachi is the unfortunate victim of embarrassing reactions.
 
Then there’s Kai Suwabara. Looks like your typical serious no nonsense character. You might be forgiven if you think he’s in the wrong anime. That’s because he’s got a samurai background. So what’s a swordsman gotta do with bread making? I’m not sure and don’t remember his back story but it seems he wants to make the world a better place through bread instead of his sword. Thus he wants to be a baker. Doesn’t really quite fit it. Though he looks up to Azuma, he doesn’t get along well with Kawachi. Then there’s this cutie girl Tsukino Azusagawa, who has a dreamy voice (love her voice. Could just hear her talk all day). She has a knack to spot those with talent, and soon recognizes Azuma and Kawachi. I guess that’s 1 reason why she gave her hairband to Azuma (besides to remind him a baker most always be hygienic). This was also a reason why I initially thought Azuma’s a girl! Yes, the headband had made me thought of him as a her.
 
Then we have the head of Pantasia main branch, Ryou Kuroyanagi, who is a strict person and doesn’t like anybody who cuts in while he’s talking. Don’t play play with this guy. He actually has a Harvard degree in Food Science. His role in the earlier episodes is seen as the judge of the Pantasia entrance examination and you’ll guess that this guy will be a ‘victim’ of all those exaggerated reactions, especially Azuma’s. After tasting Azuma’s work, he gets worried the next time he has to taste Azuma’s next one and even prepares for the worst! Over time, Kuroyanagi will come to love Azuma’s bread and even go to great lengths and gives excuses just to taste them. So get ready for some serious laughs.
 
In this Pantasia entrance exam, only 1 of the many candidates will be qualified to get the job at the main store. Azuma barely makes it everytime (he got points deducted for being late. What a way to make a bad start) and it makes you wonder whether he’ll make it or not (of course he will. He’s the series’ hero). Yeah, a hero’s comeback, I’d say. Azuma manages to go to the final stage with his Indian Naan-like Japan. But it’s not only him who made it there. Kai and Kawachi too has made it. What about Tsukino? It’s revealed that she’s the granddaughter of Pantasia chain’s owner and her part was to scout for new talents and won’t be taking part in the finals. Because Kawachi knew that he won’t stand a chance against Kai, he teams up with Azuma by telling him some sob story of his like how his dad died and his siblings are in poverty so he needs this job badly to feed them. As mentioned, Azuma isn’t the brightest guy so he believes his story ‘bulat-bulat’. They make some 100 over layer croissant but Azuma decides to pull out last minute so Kawachi could have a chance of winning. Indeed, their croissant is out of this world (Houstan! Houstan! We have a problem. Haha!). Even Kai acknowledges defeat after tasting it while his own hasn’t even being tasted yet. Since Kawachi is overcome with guilt, he opts out and goes after Azuma. Which means, Kai wins by default. However, Tsukino isn’t gonna let those 2 talented guys slip away like that and invites them to come work at her Southern Tokyo branch.
 
Here they meet the loudmouth store manager, Ken Matsushiro, who spots an afro and always wear sunglasses. Not to mention he’s quite muscular and macho too. He’s also Kuroyanagi’s former teacher and is currently Tsukino’s mentor. Ken loves teasing and pissing off Kawachi and his sometimes his fooling around side makes you wonder he’s really serious. Even so, he’s got the knowledge of a word class baker. Don’t play play with him too. You’ll notice Ken’s role as the commentator to tell viewers what’s going on with the bread making and such. Then there’s another guy who works at the Southern Tokyo branch, whom everyone seems never to remember his name or even know when he’s a around. He’s Kageto Kinoshita. His existence is pitiful in the sense that while everyone else is busy preoccupying themselves with upcoming tournaments and such, Kageto is always left behind and has to do all the work himself so much so he has that ability to clone himself to do multi-tasking. Even Ken later said because of this skill he has 95% ability to copy other baker’s ability, though not perfect. And with this, Ken quips to leave him do all the jobs! They just get lazier and lazier, do they?
 
However a great store like Pantasia must have a rival store, right? Yup, it’s St Pierre and there’s 1 just situated diagonally across the Southern Minami branch. They’ve always engaged in price wars and such. Who says the bread industry isn’t a tough and vicious one. A particular baker of this St Pierre branch is Tsuyoshi Mokoyama, dubbed the king of sweet breads. I think this guy is gay because he seems to say ahem ahem hints to his ex-buddy, Ken. He likes to spend time beautifying himself but he still looks like an imp (really). It won’t take long before Mokoyama and Azuma engaged in a battle which will be featured on national tv. So much so, the Pantasia guys have to come and ‘take over’ because their reputation is at stake. However, the manager of Panatasia main branch, Meister Kirisaki (I wonder why he always wear a face mask and a cape) decides to have Azuma do his battle. At first I thought he was a bad guy but then came to know he’s on Azuma’s side. Since Meister (the title, not his first name) doesn’t make many public appearance, this competition must be big enough for him to do so. Yeah, not to mention he’s got a bunch of fangirls too.
 
I’m not sure what Meister meant when he went to meet Azuma and asks him what price would he put on the bread that he’s suppose to make in that tournament. So during the tournament it’s a closely fought battle and both Mokoyama and Azuma went on to score a full 10 points. Thus a draw. I can’t believe the spectators are so ‘follow the herd’ mentality. After the judges give 1 negative comment, it’s like they’re going "Yeah, how can it be like that. Boo…". What the? Then they changed their mind when it’s countered with a positive one. "Hey, if it’s like this, it’s true too". Fickle minded people. Anyway, Azuma uses some recycled bread and tells the judges his bread is supposed to be free (Meister comes in just in time to ask him this question), which is something I still don’t get.
 
The next story arc is the 39th Newcomers Battle, in which all first time employees of Pantasia come together in this annual event to promote new talents and creativity. Not only that, the winner gets 10 million Yen! Who says you can’t become a millionaire by being a baker. But this huge prize money reflects the change in times and prosperity of the Pantasia because during Tsukino’s time, that poor girl only got a backpack as the 1 of the main prize back then. Such huge difference. As this particular year has hundreds of newcomers, the tournament goes through several stages. I’m not sure how the preliminaries went, but as far as I remember, the candidates need to send over some table bread they made and shortlisted candidates qualify for the next round at the main branch. As expected, Azuma and Kawachi made it, though the latter renewed their rivalry. As for Kai, he’s being exempted because he’s the main branch’s rep. But Kai isn’t happy because he wants to get a revenge match for that loss during the entrance exam.
 
Because there’re many candidates who qualify, the next round is to pick out some butter to make some high quality bread. Azuma chose 1 without thinking and those loser bakers thinks if they follow him, they’ll be guaranteed passage into the next round. Unfortunately, Kuroyanagi mentions the butter which Azuma and the likes choose, is actually margarine, thus failing them immediately. Oh no. Is this the end for Azuma? However, Kai tells Kuroyanagi that he didn’t ‘see that’. Because of that, Kuroyanagi gives Azuma a chance and leave it to Azuma to turn something of inferior quality to superior. Yup, Azuma makes it to the next round. Since the first 64 candidates qualify, those who followed Azuma is not happy because they weren’t given a second chance. Since Kuroyanagi has no time to deal with such petty issue, he told them to do rock-scissors-papers to see which 1 of them will qualify. Haha. It’s between the devil or the deep blue sea, because the 1 who win will have to face Kai in the first phase of the knock-out round. Now he’s really scared. Well, Kai gets a walkover because that guy chickens out before the match starts. Seems like Kai’s got an easy path. But he doesn’t like it as it’s ‘too easy’.
 
Azuma’s first opponent in this round is Tsukino’s younger tomboy sister, Mizuno. I somehow find her voice is unique and ‘muffled’. Mizuno doesn’t like Tsukino very much and she plans to steal Azuma away to her store if Azuma loses to her. Of course Azuma proclaims his loyalty to Southern Tokyo branch and won’t lose. He also tells Mizuno that if he wins, she must go back on good terms with Tsukino. In the end, Azuma wins with his melon sushi bread. Yeah, if I wanted to eat a Mizuno’s 100% melon bread, might as well buy a melon and eat it. But Mizuno isn’t done yet. She says she has a secret weapon waiting for Azuma.
 
In the last 16, Azuma faces off with a guy of Italian-American heritage named Sachihoko. Since the theme here is yakisoba bread and Azuma has no idea how to make it, he and Kawachi underwent some training under Ken’s ex-comrade, Ryu. Er… This guy’s a Chinese hitman and has no qualms about ‘taking out’ his victims if requested. After much training, Azuma gets another 1 of his creative inspirations by just hearing some random word. With that, he gets to beat Sachihoko flat (literally Azuma beats the bread to grill it) on match day. Holy crap! The bread Sachihoko made tastes so good that Kuroyanagi can’t control himself and starts stripping! Only to be held back by his men-in-black. But it wasn’t enough to beat Azuma’s sandwich-like yakisoba bread. Kawachi also beats his unknown opponent with his hot dog like yakisoba bread.
 
So Azuma’s next opponent is some large guy called Koala. Actually he’s wearing a koala mask. To cut things short, this Koala is actually Mokoyama! Ever since that draw with Pantasia, he has been fired because the owner of St Pierre, Yuichi Kirisaki, couldn’t accept such results. Since then, Mokoyama has been living in the streets and that’s when Mizuno picked him up. To show his gratitude, he dons a koala mask, calls her boss and does whatever she tells him to do. By this time, Kuroyanagi has enlisted the help of another bread maestro as a judge. He is the overly fat Dave (another guy who likes to say ‘isogashi isogashi’ meaning busy busy) and his tiny little maid assistant Heidi. This Dave guy is so fat that he needs an excavator to bring him up to the tournament place. Not to mention crashing through the wall. Dave judges by ‘screaming waves of love’ which detects sound decibels. The higher the decibels, the higher the love. So basically this battle is between Azuma’s green turtle bread and Koala’s dragon bread. I love Kuroyanagi’s reaction whereby he turned into Bruce Lee and made his trademark sounds. Azuma triumphs in the end, which made Mizuno mad as she fires Koala. Though Koala accepts it, eventually some sweet drama talk eventually brought them back together again. Though Mizuno doesn’t hate Tsukino that bad, but at least they’re on better terms now.
 
Kawachi’s quarter final match is with a guy who looks like a pig, Umino Katsuo. Kawachi made some crab-like bread but he wins by default because this Umino guy is being lovey-dovey with his young wife, pissing off Kuroyanagi. Haha. The much anticipated semi final match is between Azuma and Kai. Azuma creates some bread with his petalite board so much so it sent Kuroyanagi and Dave to heaven! OMG! Azuma killed them! It’s really a bread enough to die for! We see Kuroyanagi at some heaven cabaret as his reaction but initially has to return. He and Dave immediately declared Azuma the winner without even tasting Kai’s! That’s the 2nd time. Kai is furious and demands that he try his but Kuroyanagi says that if he can’t make him go to heaven, don’t bother even giving it to him. Too bad. This really sucks. By the way, Dave has run away with Kazuma’s bread, much to Kuroyanagi’s dismay because he wants to have a 2nd bite. That’ll be the last you’ll see of Dave. Note that Azuma won’t be using this ultimate Japan of his each time it’s because of the rationale that once you’ve tasted something that good the first time, no matter how much you eat it after that, you’ll get bored and tired of it and the effects won’t be there anymore. How true. Variety is the spice of life. By the way, Kuroyanagi’s reaction was so good that he’s seen trying to kiss Meister! OMG! Must be the aftermath of being in heaven. Lucky Meister has that mask to protect himself. So that’s what his mask is for. Must be real embarrassing once Kuroyanagi realizes what he’s doing. I’m sure all the fangirls wanna try this method out too.
 
How Kawachi wished for it to be an all Southern Tokyo branch final. But it wasn’t going to be the case because he lost to Shigeru Kanmuri, a junior of Kuroyanagi at Harvard and working under Tsukino’s elder sister, Yukino. Now, Yukino is the most vile and despicable woman whom everyone loves to hate. She may be goody goody up front but is dark and sinister behind. She even has that evil sinister laughter (her face will turn into that idiotic mad look whenever she does this) and her lighter has really big flames. She hates this whole Pantasia thing (he calls Azuma and co cockroaches) and is waiting for a chance to kick Meister out and take over Pantasia. Furthermore, she hates Tsukino as the latter’s an illegitimate child of their father. And when Tsukino’s mom passed away, Yukino mocks her and scatters her mom’s ashes on a nearby tree. I know we all feel like killing this woman. She’s really evil to the core. So why is Kanmuri working for an evil b*tch like her? Yukino’s funding his research of some yeast and Kanmuri doesn’t mind it all as long as he can get to money for his research. Oh yeah, I thought this Kanmuri’s a girl too because of his looks and voice. Later I found out he’s a boy, because he took his shirt off. Poor Kawachi fainted during the match because his dough wouldn’t ferment and it’s getting hot, so the spectators too becomes unruly. Yeah, leave it to Yukino to sabotage. She even destroyed Azuma’s petalite board after the match.
 
Thus it’s Azuma-Kanmuri final and each has their own reasons to win. Meister becomes the judge for the final, pushing Kuroyanagi to a ‘look only’ judge. Eventually Azuma triumphs as we see Meister’s reaction of a peacock coming out from his mask?! How does he keep a live bird in there? Because Shigeru lost, Yukino bombs his lab and destroys all his hard work. Bomb Voyage? I feel sorry for the guy. I don’t know why because after the finals, it’s the 3rd placing match between Kawachi and Kai. By right, 3rd placing matches should be before the finals, right? Before the match, Kawachi underwent some training as recommended by Ken at a church by a fake nun (haha. Her mocking line to Kawachi: "You’re only a side character who can say ‘Nanyate!"). Get ready for lots of ‘Nanyate’ punch lines. That word is so natural to Kawachi. Yeah, Kawachi even gets an afro. So in the battle of the French bread, both breads were so good that it earned them a draw. From time to time, you’ll see this Brad Kidd through Kuroyanagi’s reaction or flashback. He looks like Bill Clinton, only he’s got blonde hair and makes appearances in such parodies or jokes. Love that Double Classmate = Double Crust reaction.
 
With the newcomer battle settled. Kawachi may leave Southern Tokyo to pursue his dreams to work at the main branch (as part of 1 of the conditions of being in the top 3, since the pay is much more higher) though he often ‘visits’ Southern Tokyo branch. Also, Kanmuri decides to work at Southern Tokyo since there’s 1 seat vacant as part of his revenge to get back at Yukino. Though Meister had conducted some investigation to see whether Kawachi’s dough was manipulated, there wasn’t enough evidence and Yukino escapes scot free. We also learn that Meister is the son of St Pierre’s Yuichi, and it’s look like the father and son don’t look eye to eye. Yukino seems to discreetly team herself up with Yuichi to bring down Pantasia. She sends some St Pierre bakers to sabotage them (lying and telling them her being victimized sob story just to get them on her side) but after another battle, they realize Yukino’s a b*tch and turn against her.
 
The next story arc is the Monaco’s Cup at France. It’s a prestigious competition for young bakers all over the world and you could say this is equivalent to football’s World Cup. This is also a way for Kanmuri to get back at Yukino, win the prize money for their store branch (couldn’t remember the amount but I’m sure it’s worth millions). Since Japan had a dismal showing last year, they’re not regarded as favourites and it’s perfect for them to place bets as dark horses to win. The team who’ll be heading there consists of Azuma, Kawachi, Kai and Kuroyanagi as Japan’s rep. The rest of the gang stays back to watch the match via internet. When the gang arrives, they’re being greeted by a girl named Sophie, Meister’s sister who stayed back in France to be a baker. At first she gives insights to the team on how different breads are in the European side and gives them some lessons. Other than that, I find Sophie just to be a spectator along with Kuroyanagi during the matches. It’s like the series could go on without her. Before the real match begins, there’s somewhat an exhibition match whereby contestants from several countries exhibit their bread making skills even though it won’t have any impact on the real match. Kanmuri tells Kawachi that he’s role as the 10 Billion Yen clown is vital to increase Japan’s odds to win the overall. So Kawachi had the rest convinced to make him some Rodin sculpture in which Kawachi is inside the bread mould. Some queen of a fictional bread-sounding kingdom visits the exhibition. But Kawachi can’t hold much longer after sitting in that pose for 3 straight hours and needs to go to the toilet! He finally breaks which causes havoc, and even embarrassing that queen. So much so, Japan’s odds to win the cup is so low that even a chance for a comet to strike Earth seems more probable. Yeah, but if they win, they’ll get 15 Billion Yen. Wow!
 
The judge for this Monaco Cup tournament is a clown named Pierrot Bolneze. He looks, sounds and acts like a typical clown. He’s got lots of skill so much so if people asks how does he know or does it, he’ll always start off with "Once you’re a high level world class clown, you’ll be able to tell/do…". Don’t worry, Pierrot is a fair guy, though I kinda notice he seems to stick or be close to the Japanese reps. The main antagonist for this arc is the French reps, the Kaysers. There is such a bakery in France and is supposedly the largest bread outlet there. Funny thing is, they always wear a bird mask and you’ll never see their real faces, even during flashbacks. An excuse not to draw their faces? Another weird thing is that they seem to stack on top of each other like a totem pole! Though 2 of them initially are stacked and their younger brother, Edward, is on his own, later on, they decided to merge against the latter’s will as punishment. There’s one time where they show what’s underneath their cape on how they stacked. OMG! They’re like macho men wearing nothing but trunks. It’s so hilarious yet disgusting! The elder brother, Gran, has hands longer than his feet because of some weird rigourous training when he was young (hands being embedded in cement and has to move around or break out from it?). Plus they have some Goddess Hands in which all their fingers are really flexible. Much to their surprise, Azuma and Kai also possess this skill. By the way, since we’ve never seen their faces before, I’m wondering how those fangirls really fall for these guys. It’s quite a huge fanbase. Bird lovers?
 
The first round sees contestants making bread out of the ingredients they get through a roulette table and the fastest 16 will advance to the next round. You know what? Azuma and co got all eggs! What luck. Anyway with Azuma’s creativity, the gang makes it. Yeah, Pierrot clones himself so that he could save time tasting all those breads. Azuma’s bread was so good that it made Pierrot tell his flashback story. Over this arc, Pierrot takes over that reaction thingy from Kuroyanagi and will tell his sad clown story of how he’s being abandoned by his parents and raised in a circus in hopes his real parents will notice him. More fun pan puns. Hehehe. I can’t believe Pierrot’s being a long guest telling his flashback story way past midnight. And to hear hundred of his clones telling it, it must be deafening. Though the next round is still a team match, Kai wants to do this on his own after he receives a challenge from Edward. This time, contestants get their ingredients through a slot machine coins and Kai has got lots of them. Only to his horror to find out that each ingredient represented coin must be used to make a bread. Any wastage will result in auto disqualification. If Azuma’s got his Japan, then Kai has got his Lupan! Yeah, named after that famous anime thief. That’s because in order for Kai to beat Azuma, he has studied and stolen other bread techniques worldwide. As expected, Kai makes it in time and the Japs advances to the next round.
 
It seems Yuichi is plotting the downfall of Azuma and co and flies to France. He even tells the tournament manager to come up with plans to sabotage them. Yuichi isn’t your typical average baddie as he’s always 1 step ahead. So the next battle takes place on a deserted island and the remaining countries have to make a sweet fruit bread with the resources they have. Yeah, Japan’s in a disadvantage as they’re being placed in some isolated spot. It’s like survivor. Azuma got separated from Kai and Kawachi and was even feared dead! Furthermore, France’s Kaysers have been given a relatively easy spot where all the fruits are and they even have time to go tan in the sun and surf (so funny to see the totem pole surfing). As the match comes to a close, they plan to set the only forest with fruits with fire. Kai and Kawachi were saved from the Egypt team from the flames (the duo did some Matrix dodge in the forest) and it seems that this team is actually Monaco’s Secret Police and they’re investigating if there’re any irregularities in the tournament. One of the Egypt guy look like a pyramid with 2 legs sticking out! What the? What kind of costume is that? But in the end, leave it to Azuma to come up with ideas by using some underground potatos to make another bread. However, results of that match was void and another match is being scheduled as the tournament manager is on the run. Uh huh, this time they have to dive down from an airplane so that they could reach their battle place near some Mexican stream. But this is another plan to sabotage the Japanese reps as their team is the only one which seems to have parachuted into the world’s deepest cave along with Pierrot. Hey, Kai’s pretty afraid of heights. So the trio along with the clown had to find a way out and it’s pretty interesting to see Pierrot coming up with excuses not to swim to get help (earlier on the rest was counting on him to swim to get help but Pierrot is deadweight underwater). Azuma comes up with a bread which has a pun sounded like gills to make Pierrot swim and get help. If solving problems was only this easy.
 
I’m not sure how this match went that’s because soon as the gang gets back to Monaco, the countries who advanced to the semi finals are Japan, France, America and China. We also see the King Of Monaco, Leonhart XIV, to have a lion’s head! I thought it was a head mask. Is it really for real? Erm… it gets a little complicated because Leonhart is a good friend of Yuichi, though the king doesn’t know of his bad intentions. Also a flashback on how cruel Yuichi is to his children back then when he asks who’s the first person one should give bread to, as he eats it himself right in front of his starving kids. No wonder they hate their father. Also the semi finals see the Japanese being pitted against France. Surprisingly, I thought this was gonna be in the finals. Since the Formula 1 race is being held at Monaco, the theme is for each member (though it’s still a team event) to create a bread suitable for F1 racers. On match day, Kai and Kawachi along with the Kaysers are on site but Azuma is a habitual late offender has his reasons. He was with Leonhart and there was a traffic jam (yeah, the limo has some real sophisticated kitchen equipment and Azuma made his bread there). Erm… all those Kayser supporters are wearing bird masks! Time is nearly up so Pierrot starts judging. I don’t remember but Kai’s bread was a flop. Azuma arrives in time and lets Pierrot tastes his black tyre-like bread against Kayser’s Blue Lagoon. In the end, Japan won as they beat the home crowd favourites. However, though the Kayser supporters aren’t happy, Gran is gracious in defeat and leaves. That’s the last you’ll see of this bird people.
 
Their next opponent is the American team, led by Yuichi. However, I find this American team to be rather multi-racial. That’s because Sachihoko is in this team. The others are the German pastry queen Monica and an Eastern European mime-cum-imitator Shadow White. Funny thing is this parodied F1 racer, Mikail Schukappa! He looks and sounds like a total sissy! I was laughing all the way whenever he talked! Because Shadow’s exhibition bread was so damn good (since he copied Yuichi’s trademark Gopan. And if you’re wondering why Monica doesn’t have any speech lines until much later was because she was afraid that Shadow dude would copy everything she said), it made this Schukappa guy told his embarrassing Initial D parody past! Because of that, Azuma is spacing out. The finals is gonna be a 1-on-1 match and the bread themes will be clothing, food and shelter, which is a bread equivalent to beautiful bread, a bread suitable for everyday meal, and a bread that expresses one’s homeland’s taste respectively. The American team has already decided on their line up, starting with Monica, Sachihoko and finally Shadow. As for the Japs, it’ll be Kai, Kawachi and then Azuma. However, if they lose 2 straight matches, the 3rd match won’t even take place. Also the Southern Tokyo gang has arrived in Japan (Kageto came along or else he would’ve been forgotten anyway) to watch Azuma and co. I like the part where Azuma went to have a little chat with Shadow only to be annoyed that the latter copied his every moves so much so, Azuma did silly stuffs and Shadow could even copy them! Wow. Speechless.
 
So the first match… Kai lost to Monica (Yeah, Pierrot went to jail for abusing Chinese cabbages as part of his weird reaction) in the battle of semi nakedness! However after this, those 2 are like lovebirds, which pisses of Kawachi. The burden is now on Kawachi. We see a little of his flashback like how his dad died before realizing his dream as a baker so Kawachi is determined to win and surpass him. Is it me or is it Kawachi looks so ‘ripped’. With all that determination, Kawachi shows he’s not just a useless side character who only knows how to say nanyate and beats Sachihoko. So the final showdown between Azuma and Shadow. Actually more like Azuma vs Yuichi because Shadow has mastered Yuichi’s Gopan. Before that, because the previous match made a life threatening situation on Pierrot, Leonhart decides to transfuse his Bombay blood type to save him. We see that Pierrot is indeed Leonhart’s long lost son. Uh huh, they both went to that cabaret club in heaven and it didn’t take long before Pierrot realizes everything. But too late, Leonhart passes away to save him.
 
It’s gonna be a tough decision because Azuma promises his bread will take Pierrot to see his father in heaven again while Shadow also guarantees that his gopan will make Pierrot see his late mom too. In the end Azuma wins. Not only his bread sends Pierrot back in time, it also changes history! Holy crap! So has everything up till now changed? Dunno. Because we see Leonheart and his wife Maetal alive and scolding Pierrot to hurry up with his decision. Did he regret having strict parents now? Besides the Japs winning the Monaco Cup, Azuma also wins the MVP in which Pierrot gives him a ring in which if there’s any trouble, some legendary hero will come to the rescue if one calls upon the ring. Since Azuma thinks the ring will interfere with his bread making, he gives it to Tsukino. Also, Yuichi isn’t done yet. Instead of being viewed as the bad guy, he tries to shake hands with Azuma but the latter refused. While the Japs are celebrating, they got news that St Pierre and Pantasia has merged and Yuichi is the new MD. Yukino is made St Pierre president while Tsukino as Pantasia’s.
 
So the final story arc sees Yuichi throwing the gang a challenge whereby if they win, all the shares of Pantasia will go to Tsukino. Azuma and the rests accepts the challenge without thinking. Well, that 15 Billion Yen they won will be used as expenses for their upcoming challenge. Bummer. See, you shouldn’t be so rash. So the next battle is called Yakitate 9 and is televised over tv. They have to battle in 9 cities and in the end, the team with the most wins win. Another development is that, Yuichi requests Kuroyanagi to be a food critic because of his genuine impartial reactions and quit his Pantasia baker job. At first Kuroyanagi refuses saying that he might side Pantasia but after hearing some story how Ken actually abused him because he thought he’d leave baking and be a food judge, Kuroyanagi accepts it. I like that Takitate Gohan parody complete with even next episode preview! Yeah, some guy named Tom Crusoe with North Pole Hands!
 
Anyway the Pantasia team consists of Azuma, Kawachi and Kanmuri. I wonder where Kai went and I was hoping that he’d join in the gang. Since the battles take place in different cities, taking advantage of each city’s unique ingredients, somehow Kanmuri chooses to stay in inns with ominous sounding names like Nakisou (seem to cry) and Hakisou (seem to vomit). Even though St Pierre team are spending Pantasia’s Monaco win’s money like water, I suppose that leaves our heroes poor. So Pantasia’s 1st match is with St Pierre’s Tsubodzuka from CMAP (Cooking Meal Assemble People, which is some cooking reality series). I also notice that Kawachi doesn’t really help as he’s been sidelined by the other 2 so much so he goes and joins the spectator with Ken and Tsukino. In the end, Pantasia notch up their first win. Note Kuroyanagi’s Dragonball parody reaction.
 
The 2nd match pits them against Ryu. Yeah, that Chinese mafia guy doesn’t care and joins in for the money. It’s been a long time since we’ve seen him. Here, Kuroyanagi lost his taste buds but regains them again after Azuma’s dumpling themed bread. Another win for Pantasia. Isn’t that One Piece reaction from Kuroyanagi. The 3rd match sees the remaining CMAP members Kaname (the brains among them), Narumi (favourite quote "I want you to die") and Chimatsuri (special technique: Flaming Arm which allows him not to sweat in high temperatures…?!) decides to join forces against Pantasia. I don’t know why but Kuroyanagi even brought a tapir for his reaction. In the end, CMAP is still no match for Azuma’s Haniwa (some stone statue)-like bread and turned into Haniwa statues themselves. The 4th match is between a pair of ninjas. Why, it’s actually Kai and Monica! Why is he on St Pierre’s side? Something about how Kai needs to go all out and beat Azuma and be better than him (some Naruto parody here). In the end, Kai’s body twisting Lupan is no match for Azuma’s bone breaking one. Kai already knew he’d lost even before Kuroyanagi tastes it. That guy is like a monster zombie and doesn’t care if all his bones break or dies because he wanna taste Azuma’s bread. The problem with Kai is that he thinks too much about Azuma’s bread so much so he decides to kill himself! Monica asks the others to stop Kai. Ken then says how Kai isn’t a guy because he’ll leave a pregnant Monica fatherless. Actually he’s just bluffing but Monica had to play along since Ken gave her that look. In order not to repeat the past mistake like how Kai’s dad left him and never returned, he decides to go on leaving but wonders how come hugging a woman can just make them pregnant.
 
By the 5th match, Azuma has fallen ill and this is Kanmuri’s turn to shine. This time their opponent is Kanmuri’s half brother Tsutsumi, a fine Austrian chef who hates to be compared with Kanmuri. Also, we see Kanmuri’s dad is from the yakuza and this battle is important because the loser will become heir to the gang. In this jam making battle (no bread here because they want some variety to attract viewers) whereby Kuroyanagi does dangerous reaction stuff (kids, don’t try this anywhere), the match ended in a draw. So Kanmuri’s dad decides that both of them should follow their own destiny and chooses Ken as his next successor. Well, that guy has the body and attitude for it. Of course, Ken is reluctant. I don’t know how such Japanese game show works. It seems because of the draw, if St Pierre wins the next match, they can steal up to several spots Pantasia has won. So the 6th match is with some cartoonish seaweed character called Norihei. Because of his trademark "Desu yo" lines, did you notice the opening title has become ‘Yakitate! Japan Desu Yo"? Surprisingly, Norihei wins this seaweed bread battle! Can’t believe Azuma lost. Heroes don’t lose, right? But Norihei is glad that he fought with Azuma and gives him a book with his experiences in it. I kinda notice that during the Yakitate 9 matches, there’s a high probability that the 1st side who give their bread to Kuroyanagi to taste, will lose. Isn’t that the case? Does this give a whole new meaning to save the best for last? Yeah, just take note on this.
 
The 7th match is with Panda. Who? It’s that Koala guy, Mokoyama. It’s been a long time too. Now he’s wearing a panda mask because he’s been working too hard to beat Azuma so much so he neglects his skin care and can’t show his face. Haha. I wonder his face is ‘viewable’ in the first place. I guess that’s the reason why he’s on St Pierre’s side. Though Mizuno is mad at Yukino for the sudden change, it can’t be help since it’s what Panda wants. With Azuma cured from his illness, he defeats Panda with another sweet cake themed bread. Yeah, get the pun. It’s bread as in ‘Pan da’. Panda admits defeat and he actually turned into a real panda in the end. That’s the last you’ll see of this duo. By the way, Kuroyanagi’s reaction for Azuma’s bread here causes him to bleed profusely. Hahah. Now he realizes that he wants to live so that he could taste more delicious breads. Also, Kuroyanagi has been over doing his reactions so much so he even employed special effects like exploding himself into many chibi versions, when the actual fact he’s just put a decoy of himself and went somewhere else. Just like how magicians do their escape trick.
 
With Pantasia back to their winning ways, their 8th opponent is… Yukino! Oh no! That b*tch is back (not that Elton John song, okay) and it’s a battle of tarts. This match is to Yukino’s advantage because she has Blizzard Hands, which is suitable to make cold tarts. However, since both sides finished making their tarts, and wants Kuroyanagi to eat it fresh, they both stuff it down his throat at the same time. Unfortunately, he can’t handle it and it seems a disaster is gonna happen as everyone is being pulled into his stormy reaction.
 
Yeah, his reaction is Lord Of The Rings parody! Azuma and Kawachi are the Hobbits and they have to get rid of the loquat ring (Kuroyanagi) into the burnable garbage which only comes once a year. Tsukino is the queen and she sends Meister (Gandalf), Kanmuri (Legolas) and Ken (either Aragorn or Gimli) as part of the fellowship of the ring. If that loquat uncle looks like Golem previously, that’s because he plays 1 here. My Precious… As they face the dark forces of Yukino, is the ring gonna corrupt Azuma? I mean he doesn’t want to throw it because he wants to make a good tart out of it first. But the ring sees the warm side of Azuma and sacrifices itself. With that reaction over, back in reality, Kuroyanagi declares Azuma the winner. Yay! That b*tch lost because she doesn’t put her heart and soul in making them. Remember how funny Japanese game show works? Even though Pantasia is trailing 3-5, if they win the last one, they’ll steal an additional spot because it’s sandwiched between 2 Pantasia spots. Huh?
 
However the last episode and the last match starts off differently as we see the final minutes of Azuma alone taking on Meister! Wait a minute? He’s on St Pierre’s side? But I think it’s because he decides to go up against a talented baker rather than go with his dad. Yeah, lots of last episode parodies and punch lines. Because Kuroyanagi went ‘missing’ after tasting Meister’s bread, Yuichi decides to step in and judge. Though Pantasia protests, there isn’t any other choice. Okay, so he went missing too. With no judge left, Tsukino uses that ring to call forth Pierrot! Yeah, he comes flying down from the sky. I guess this is so that viewers won’t forget him. Uh huh. Also Inaho, Azuma’s 4 grandpas (this kid has got really lots of grandpas), Kai, Monica, Sophie and Sachihoko are there.
 
We see Azuma’s revolutionary character changing bread because it changed a rude Kuroyanagi into a gentle one, a funny Pierrot into a serious one, and an evil Yuichi into a kind hearted one! Plus if you notice, Azuma hasn’t mentioned his Japan ## anymore because Ken thinks all those were his experimental breads and that Azuma has perfected his Japan! We find out that Yuichi is that person back in episode 1 who taught a young Azuma about bread. So how did he turn out this way? Kuroyanagi and Pierrot is unable to give a definite winner and calls a draw but surprisingly, Yuichi gives the win to Azuma! Pantasia makes a comeback to win 5-4. Pierrot mentions that Yuichi may be playing the bad guy for the sake of Japan’s bread industry. I guess it makes sense. Without any baddies, Azuma and co won’t push their limits or creativity. Before Yuichi can reveal, the effects wear off and he’s back to his evil side. Then there’s the question of who should one give the bread to besides oneself. I don’t remember but the answer seem something like it should be the person who loves bread. So Azuma gives his to Tsukino. Sorry pals, no chemistry here. Meister and Sophie doesn’t hate Yuichi that much too. Though Yuichi says it isn’t the end yet, because he only lost Pantasia’s share, he renewed his challenge to Azuma saying that the battle has only begun, in which Azuma accepts and will give him everything he’s got.
 
Overall, I’m quite satisfied and enjoyed every single moment of this series, though the end wasn’t really much of an ending. You’ll even enjoy it more if you’re quite knowledgeable about stuffs as each episode is filled with tons of trivia, parodies and rip-offs. Besides the in-anime information, at the end of most episodes, there’s a segment called Yakitate Seeds Of Knowledge whereby there’ll be additional details of the food, ingredients, or even historical and cultural info associated with that particular episode. Of course, I still blur case lah. Depending on the story arc, there’re several mid-intermissions, each of them has a hint of afro. The later ones have the characters in chibi form which reminded me of South Park.
 
I like the voice acting of the characters. There are several star-studded casts. Azuma is voiced by Yumiko Kobayashi (Sarah of Love Hina, Ogata of Shakugan No Shana), Kawachi by Shuuhei Sakaguchi (Kakouton of Ikkitousen: Dragon Destiny), Ken by Hiroki Touchi (Abel of Trinity Blood, Seishirou of Tsubasa Chronicle), Kanmuri by Marina Inoue (Mutsuki of Manabi Straight, Wataru of Hayate No Gotoku), Kuroyanagi by Takehito Koyasu (Ilpalazzo of Excel Saga, Hotohori of Fushigi Yuugi, Ryosuke of Initial D, Faust 8th of Shaman King, Johan of Mamoru-kun Ni Megami No Sukufuku Wo), Meister by Sho Hayami (Wolfwood of Trigun, Karina of Inukami), Pierrot by Tomokazu Seki (Kyo of Fruits Basket, Sagara of Full Metal Panic), Yuichi by Fumihiko Tachiki (Zaraki of Bleach) and Yukino by Atsuko Yuya (Angelica of Coyote Ragtime Show). Even Rie Kugimiya who’s famous for Shana in Shakugan No Shana is the voice of Monica. I find that the voice actor/actress for the rest of the main characters like Kai and Tsukino are really unknowns. Probably why I never heard them anywhere (not that I’ve watched every single anime).
 
Besides, the anime has lots of background music ranging from slow piano pieces to faster and lively beats. But I find that most of them sounded like the French fanfare with all those trumpets and horns to give a French-like atmosphere. Probably because of the Monaco Cup arc and maybe French bakers are considered tp be world class. Of all the opening and ending themes, my favourite one is still the 1st opening theme, Houkigumo, by RHYTEM. Others which sounded okay are the rap-like 1st ending theme, Sunday, by The Babystars, and the slow ballad 5th ending theme, Merry Go Round, by Mai Hoshimura. The 2nd ending theme, To All The Dreamers has Ken doing his Saturday Night Live Fever disco dance. The worst of the songs to me is the 6th ending theme by RYTHEM, Kokoro Biidama. It sounds so ‘sissy’ and doesn’t fit the series.
 
Aside Kai-Monica’s romance, there isn’t any others though viewers keep hoping there’d be some between Azuma and Tsukino. But that kid’s first love and passion comes in the form of baking. I’m sure he has a clear decision if he has to choose which one. Although there are times when Azuma did say some ambiguous statements to Tsukino like asking her to go out with him and making her blush, but it’s all related to baking and bread. Should he see a love consultant? I guess he’s better off with a dream job rather than a dream gal.
 
It also goes to show that you don’t have to sit around and think real hard for an idea to surface. Perhaps Azuma is just an extraordinary kid and it’s pretty amazing how he gets his ideas by just witnessing random events. Uh huh. You don’t need a degree to be a genius. You just need the passion and love in whatever you’re doing and you’ll just do fine.
 
Once again I’d like to praise the producers and writers for coming up with all the jokes and creativity. It’s been a wonderful ride and the series is more than just making bread with all the drama and adventure. How I wish I could get a taste of Azuma’s different varieties of Japan. Each time he comes up with a new bread, it nearly made my mouth water. It doesn’t matter which country the bread comes from, as long as it tastes good. I’m so like a glutton. Yeah well, like I’ve always said, I only know how to eat bread.
 
Yakitate! Japan