Yakitate!! Japan Part 1 Anime DVD Review

Yakitate!! Japan Part 1 Anime DVD Review The quest for the best in bread.

What They Say:
Kazuma Azuma wants to make bread. Not just any kind of bread, though. He wants to make a bread that represents Japan itself and can stand toe-to-toe with rice as a national food. Thanks to his legendary “Hands of the Sun,” unnaturally warm hands that allow dough to ferment faster, Kazuma’s bread is like a slice of Heaven.

And when the Pantasia Rookie Competition arrives, everyone will get a taste of his skill! Along with his friend Kawachi (who’s only in it for the dough), he’ll go up against koala karate masters, Harvard bread scientists, samurai with rolling-pin swords, and more! Can Kazuma create bread like naan other and bake his way to glory, or should he quit before he’s toast?

The Review:
Audio:
The audio presentation for this release brings us the original Japanese language only in stereo encoded at 192kbps. The series is one that plays up the audio side as you’d expect with some decent moments where it is big and loud but not because of the action but rather just because of the intensity of the moments, mostly where characters are overacting in a sense to really set the mood. For the most part, it works the stereo side fairly well when it’s necessary to make things come across from different points, which is usually just from dialogue or some ambient sounds, but overall it really does work a kind of full feeling about rather than defining things to a particular area. In the end, it all comes through cleanly and clearly throughout and we don’t have any issues with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.

Video:
Originally airing between 2004 and 2006, the transfer for this TV series is presented in its original full frame aspect ratio. The twenty-seven episodes for this set are spread across five discs here, giving it all plenty of space to work with since it is a full frame show. Animated by Sunrise, the show has a bright and colorful look about it with a decent bit of detail to it in some places, but its not a show that goes too simple or too complex. Some of the details are more involved in the food itself since they want to make things really look appealing there and to be accurate. The animation is pretty solid throughout and there’s some very fluid sequences to be had, but this is also a show that’s going for a very specific kind of feeling to it so that it can spread it out for a lengthy run. It comes across well here with the transfer in that it has a clean look free of problems such as cross coloration, banding or background noise.

Packaging:
The packaging for this release comes in a standard sized DVD keepcase where it has a couple of hinges inside to hold four of the five discs. The front cover for this gives us a few of the main characters with the kind of silly and awkward mix where there’s the younger set that are having fun while the “guns” are being flexed from Ken and his tough guy getup. it has a menu/restaurant kind of feeling to the background that works and the lighter colors certainly makes it all inviting and with a sense of fun, particularly with the logo along the upper right. It’s a little surprising that it’s not plugging the episode count more along the front cover. The back cover keeps to the same background design and we get some decent shots along the right along with the episode and disc count but also the DVD-ROM side with the liner notes. The left side has the premise that’s very clean and easy to read that covers the basics well without really revealing too much. The episode and extras are also laid out well and we get a solid technical grid along the bottom. No show related inserts are included nor is there a reversible cover.

Menu:
The menu design for this release works off of the cover design which works well to tie things together as we get the white background with the orange crosshatching that gives it a light bit of pop that defines it well. The white space is well used as we get the navigation along it and it’s balanced a bit by the brighter pop of the logo itself with its red and blue. The right side changes things out with artwork of different characters but it avoids doing shots from the show and instead uses some nicely colored and detailed pieces that definitely makes the show look a little more current than it is. Since it’s a monolingual release, there’s almost nothing here in terms of navigation besides playing it and checking out the episodes. We get the trailers and the extras, but for the most part it’s all about the play all feature.

Extras:
The only extras included in this release are the clean versions of the opening and closing sequences.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Based on the twenty-six volume manga series of the same name by Takashi Hashiguchi, Yakitate Japan is a sixty-nine episode series animated by Sunrise. While Sunrise is known mostly for its mecha shows, they’ve branched out from time to time over the years and applied some of their style and design to other kinds of properties. One of the things that they can generally do well is stretch a budget with a long show in order to give it a consistent look but also one that works for the style of the show itself. With this series, I ended up going into it cold, though I was a touch familiar with it simply by seeing the manga over the years as released by Viz Media. This set is the first of three and brings us twenty-seven episodes worth of material that works through the first two arcs of the manga.

The show revolves around Kazuma Azuma, a sixteen year old guy that has been in love with making bread since he was six years old. The first episodes goes into his history pretty well as we see how he was motivated into learning about bread and the fact that Japan has no bread of its own. That’s caused him to spend his years working towards making the bread of Japan, which he calls Ja-pan. Over those years he’s made a wide variety of different types of bread in his experimenting, numbering them along the way, but he has no formal training or understanding. There’s a natural aspect to his talent that comes from seeing what’s around him and working with that, which can at times help him a lot since he’s no restrained by “common knowledge” and the like. That lets him think and do things that others wouldn’t because of how they’ve been trained. For Azuma, he’s come to Tokyo in order to partake in the entrance exam at Pantasia, the best of the bread makers in Japan, in order to secure a spot at their main store in order to create the bread of Japan.

Azuma’s innocence is one of the driving factors here alongside his desire to create and his incredible natural talent, and it’s easy to imagine just how much it’s going to frustrate others. We see that early on in the entrance exam arc as there’s a lot of talent there that gets brushed aside and very frustrated by him and his naive aspects. None more so than the examiner, the highly talented Kuroyanagi, who grudgingly admits over the course of this set that the kid has got real talent and potential for what the company of Pantasia is after by expanding their goods into new markets and new ways of getting to younger consumers. Kuroyanagi gets a thrill in whittling away those involved in the various competitions as he has a very controlled superior attitude, but there’s a lot of fun in also seeing how he discovers some amazing bakers here with their creations, particularly with Azuma and his unusual approach to his creations from time to time.

What we get in that first arc are things that will stick with the show for awhile with those that he gets involved with. While Azuma gets pretty far, he falls short of his main goal and ends up at the small South Tokyo Store to work, which is good because he can hone his craft there. Not that he does as he ends up in all sorts of other competitive situations. He ends up at the store with a couple of other competitors as well, such as Kawachi and Tsukino. The place is managed by Ken, a very tough and experienced type who looks like a thug in a lot of ways which makes it fun since he has so much knowledge and so many connections from over the years that he provides the experienced side alongside Kuroyanagi’s appearances. He also gets to manage the youthful side of the show, since Kawachi is close to the same age and we get Tsukino the same. These two are pretty different and have their own complicated stories that come into play across it. It takes time to really get to know them throughout it and a lot of it isn’t really revealed until the end of the first arc for Tsukino and even later in some ways for Kawachi.

Kawachi’s the type that’s easily threatened by what Azuma represents, especially since Azuma has no knowledge and Kawachi has spent his years learning the craft. So he does a lot to thwart and screw up what Azuma is doing in the initial arc and really comes across as the bad guy for awhile. For better or worse, it’s really hard to shake this feeling with him even as you see him even out and become friends with Azuma. It’s easy to not like him when he starts off here with the sabotage and you keep waiting to see what he does next, even when Azuma helps him. That said, Kawachi has some good drive here with what motivates him in regards to his family and that helps to humanize him a bit as he struggles in some of the battles and puts in such effort to grow himself with his baking skills that you can appreciate him more. But even at the end of this set, I’m still wary of him.

Tsukino is more complicated in a way as it’s more of a long game with her. While she participates in the competition, she actually already works at the South Tokyo Store and is actually one of three granddaughters of owner. There’s different relationships that exist here with Tsukino considered the black sheep of the family due to her parents marriage, but she’s established herself here and is intent on running the company some day. What she has is a real eye for talent, which is why she sticks with this group with Ken, and she has some real challenges to face when it comes to the other half-sisters as they’re gunning for her for different reasons and one of them is plainly evil when you get down to it, even if it is with a comical slant half the time. Tsukino and Azuma are obviously paired up in some ways here, though Kawachi has a mild interest in her as well, but the show doesn’t push this hard at all which is nice to see. There’s a slow growth aspect here and if it knew its episode length from the start, it definitely manages it well.

Yakitate!! Japan may be a show about baking bread, but it follows the competition anime nature in a big way. That’s something that can be problematic in some shows because how competitive can you make baking, but it works here because it doesn’t go over the top with the actions of the characters and at least seems like it keeps things grounded in reality in terms of the baking itself. There are some larger than life characters, literally, but the fun comes in seeing the various ways the cast competes, the struggles that are thrown at them from various sources and the examiner side as well as Kuroyanagi really makes it fun. What really helps here is having as much of as we do with twenty-seven episodes. The two main arcs here and the smaller arcs within keep the show moving fast and it’s easy to get drawn in by Azuma’s positive energy and personality with how he operates. The battles are comical to be sure, but the heart is there in the right places and seeing him and the others compete, bond and progress makes it engaging on a few levels.

And boy does it make you want to try a lot of different breads.

In Summary:
I wasn’t too sure what to expect with Yakitate!! Japan going into it but what I found was a pretty fun and addictive show that works through the hyper competitive world of baking in Japan. The cast of characters are fairly basic overall, but it moves well to give us a look at their motivations, what drives them and how their personalities impacts so many things as they go up against a range of opponents. The main cast all have their own goals and it’s wrapped up in larger things as well, but it’s very easy to just connect with Azuma and his naive innocence and run with it in a big way. The show covers a lot of ground with the twenty-seven episodes here and I can imagine that in smaller chunks, or weekly, that I’d be drained by it all pretty fast. But in marathoning this over a couple of days, you see the threads of each arc pull together beer and tighter and that makes it a lot more enjoyable. This isn’t high art or complex, detailed storytelling, but it is a hell of a lot of fun and definitely easy to get caught up in and enjoy. Definitely recommended.

Features:
Japanese 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Clean Opening, Clean Closing, Liner Notes (DVD-ROM PDF)

Content Grade: B+
Audio Grade: B
Video Grade: B+
Packaging Grade: B
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: B-

Released By: Nozomi Entertainment
Release Date: March 3rd, 2015
MSRP: $49.99
Running Time: 675 Minutes
Video Encoding: 480i/p MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1

Review Equipment:
Sony KDL70R550A 70″ LED 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.

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