Pros: hilarious; you learn how to make interesting bread without having to watch the Food Network; the second ending theme; you get a whole new appreciation for bread (or food in general)
Cons: relies too much on Japanese puns; becomes predictable; not for those with a bad attention span; inconclusive ending
When I first saw the title, I thought this would be an interesting anime. That is, until I learned that it was a show about making bread. Well, I didn't give it a second thought and didn't watch it. But when I ran out of anime to watch, I finally decided to sit down and view this anime. After all, bread-baking isn't exactly the oddest concept for an anime. Yu-Gi-Oh! is about playing card games, and it has its fair share of fans. Anyway, after watching the entire series, Yakitate!! Japan is similar to Yu-Gi-Oh!: it has a stupid concept that could be a turn-off to its potential fans, but it's one wild ride.
Yakitate!! Japan is about a boy with the silliest name I've ever heard of, Azuma Kazuma, a not-too-bright and up-and-coming bread artisan with the "Solar Hands" who wants to create a bread, cleverly named Japan ("pan" = bread in Japanese), that the nation of Japan can proudly call its own. Along with this plucky Azuma are a cast of colorful characters: his Kansai friend/rival Kawachi, the swordsman Suwabara, the guy-who-I-first-mistook-as-a-girl-because-of-his-pink-hair-and-feminine-voice Kanmuri, the afroed Matsushiro (who dances to the disco tune of the second ending theme... in 3-D!), the kind and beautiful Tsukino (now one of my top 20 of my fave anime girls), and many more.
The main thing that attracts you to this anime is the comedy. The reactions for whenever someone eats or explains about a certain bread are over the top with lots of visual gags, and they're full of useful information to any bread artisans or cooks out there. But the problem with the comedy is that it relies a lot on (sometimes bad) Japanese puns, especially the Monaco Cup arc. Sometimes, the reactions relate the name of the bread to something completely different (e.g. - Thai-shiki ("shiki" = stlye) becomes Taiyaki (fish-shaped cake, which Azuma makes into a bread of his). Not being fluent in the Japanese language, I found myself constantly pausing to read the footnotes that appear in the fansubs so I can understand the joke.
Another problem is that the story becomes really predictable. The fact that the story consists of tournaments practically means that the main character Azuma will win all of them (with a couple of losses and draws sprinkled here and there). Also, since there's a lot of terms related to bread-baking thrown around, unless you actually do have some knowledge of bread-baking beforehand, you'll most likely be lost if you don't pay attention. The last problem is that the last arc of the story, the "Yakitate!! 25" arc, had been cut short to becoming the "Yakitate!! 9" arc in the anime.
Nonetheless, Yakitate!! Japan is a different approach in the shounen category, and a good one at that. It even won the 2004's Shogakukan Manga Prize for best shounen manga (I know. I couldn't believe it either when I first read it on Wikipedia). After viewing the entire series, I now have a whole new appreciation for the bread industry and am interested in learning how to make some of Azuma's Japan. So if you're tired of watching your everyday shounen anime, check out this light-hearted, bread-baking show.