As manga fans most readers will know how varied the medium can be. Despite this the prospect of an action manga based around baking bread would probably still take some people by surprise.
Kazuma Azuma is a young man with a dream. Countries like
England, France and Germany have their own unique types of bread, loaves that
are synonymous with a nation. Rice loving Japan doesn't have its own
unique bread, and Kazuma has made it his mission to create one! Inspired
by a local baker, Kazuma is trying to create 'Ja-Pan', a unique Japanese bread
that will catapult his home country into the same league as the leading European
bread nations. It may seem like a pipe dream, but Kazuma has more than
just innate bread making talent - he has 'the hands of the sun'. Yeast
needs heat to ferment and rise properly, but most people's hands are colder than
their normal body temperature which cools the dough too much when kneading.
Those with unusually warm hands are said to have the 'hands of the sun' and have
the ability to make unbelievably good bread. Kazuma knows nothing about
this, but spurred on by his dream he decides to go to Tokyo and try to get a job
at Japan's leading bakery - Pantasia. However, it isn't going to be easy,
his lack of experience and sheer naivety could cost him in an interview against
the best young bakers in Japan...
I know that sounds, ummm, a bit rubbish, but it surprisingly is good. In fact it's very good. The art is good and it balances the technical side of breadmaking with fun characters and strangely engrossing cooking action. Kazuma himself is the usual 'shonen' (boy's comic) hero - young, naive and good hearted but also prodigiously talented. Let's watch as his enthusiasm and goodness rubs off on all he meets and his talent leads him to his ultimate goal! Yep, typical shonen stuff, but despite this the story never really seems hackneyed. The reason for this is the sense of humour that runs through the whole book. Massive overreactions to the taste of food, bizarre visual explanations and tenuous links (croissant -> looks like a crescent
moon -> the moon landing) makes it great fun to read, and the artwork backs it up perfectly. The other characters aren't bad either, with the cynical wannabe baker Kyosuke Kawachi proving a good foil for Kazuma. There's also a bit of spice added by the cute Tsukino Azusagawa, another talented baker with an agenda of her own who could potentially become a love interest in future.
The only problem with it at the moment is that there has been no real challenge for Kazuma. So far everything has been within his abilities and he has yet to fail. At the moment the sheer enjoyment factor keeps it interesting, but if Kazuma doesn't have to face any hardship it may start to wear thin over future volumes. At the moment though it is still good fun and the story rumbles along nicely. The cooking scenes are great and quite engrossing, somehow being exciting (no, really) whilst also teaching you about bread and baking.
It's bizarre, but cookery manga is really good fun. You really get drawn into it and find that you can't wait to see what they are going to come up with next. The inventiveness of the recipes holds your interest whilst the engaging cast and great visuals provide the humour and action. In short Yakitate!! Japan vol 1 is a thoroughly enjoyable read and great for someone who wants to read a 'shonen' manga with a twist. Cooking makes a surprisingly good alternative to fighting, and I for one am interested to see where this one is going to go.
A bizarre voyeuristic bonus short featuring Tsukino, which is quite random, and an even more random info page about French bread. Other than that it's just the usual adverts, but overall it's not that bad.