Reviewby Rebecca Silverman,
Sub.DVD - Part 2
The rivalry between Pantasia and St. Pierre continues, but Kanmuri has an idea – a team from Pantasia will enter the Monaco Cup international bread making competition in order to raise both prestige and money! But Kanmuri's plan has Team Japan pulling a very risky stunt, especially since they're up against top teams from France and America...and France isn't willing to just leave things to chance. Can Azuma, Kai, and Kawachi pull this off, or will they fail to rise to the occasion?
Bread may seem an unlikely topic for a shounen tournament show, given that it's a multi-hour process to prepare and bake it and that battles need to be fast-paced and exciting. And yet somehow Yakitate Japan manages to pull it off in a second set of twenty-seven episodes (28 – 52), proving that with the right treatment, anything can become a competitive sport in anime.
This set of five discs (DVD only) begins by finishing up the previous arc of basic rivalry storyline between Pantasia and St. Pierre that forms the backbone of the series, with the two bakeries competing for the teen girl after school crowd. As ever, Pantasia fights with innovation (such as indigestible flour for diet breads) while St. Pierre plays dirty, until finally Azuma's sheer skill at the art of baking makes the hired baker-thugs from St. Pierre realize that they've been working for the bad guys. There's no time to rest after that, however, as pink-haired financial whiz Kanmuri has big plans for a group of three Pantasia artisans to enter the Monaco Cup, an international bread making competition that comes with all the prestige and cash anyone could want. Of course, it won't be nearly as straightforward as that, because that would be boring; instead, Kanmuri essentially wants to pull off the plot of the Mel Brooks' film(s) The Producers, tricking those who wager on the competition into seriously underestimating Japan, thereby increasing his own profits when our heroes inevitably win. Meanwhile St. Pierre isn't going to just sit back and let Pantasia get all the glory, and they begin orchestrating their own sinister plot to foil Kanmuri's plans.
Thus begins the main storyline for these discs. Naturally the Monaco Cup is more than just an ordinary cook-off, with spectacular settings, ludicrous requirements, and over-the-top reactions to how the breads all taste. Much of this is provided by Pierrot Bolognese, a self-proclaimed world class clown who is judging the contest for no apparent reason. Unfortunately Pierrot is also a major detraction to this story arc simply because he is so incredibly annoying. While we do see that this is largely an act, his clown persona, his stunts and subplot about trying to find his parents is more irritating than amusing in most instances. In fact, even the characters get annoyed with him and fall asleep during his supposedly moving flashbacks. That's actually a nice touch, acknowledging that the character will not suit all senses of humor and giving those who dislike Pierrot something to enjoy about his presence. He does play an important role during one particularly sinister portion of the Monaco Cup, when St. Pierre's schemes attempt to take a deadly turn, so I can't say that he's an unnecessary character, but he does seem to get too much screen time in general, making portions of the arc drag.
The three competitors on Team Japan are Azuma (naturally), Kawachi, and Kai, all of whom have different styles and skills. All three do manage to blunder into trouble in different ways – Kai's “luck” in gambling is quite something – but by and large form a team we can get behind, and in fact one competition really feels as if Kai should have won rather than his opponent, although plot-wise it makes sense and certainly invests us more in the subsequent bread bake offs. Less wonderful are some of the depictions of other nationalities, with Russians all wearing Cossack hats, Germans being depicted as drunkards, and Team America's lone female sporting a red, white, and blue bikini like every other blond American character in anime. Conversely the story takes into account that creating an “American” bread would be difficult because of the multiple cultures that went into creating the country, making for an uneven feel in how characters other than Team Japan are depicted. Far more amusing from where we are now, albeit in a totally depressing way, is the show's statement about Libya, which dates this anime almost more than some of its pop culture references.
And there are a lot of pop culture references from 2004 and before, as well as many culturally-specific ingredients. Nozomi has accounted for this quite nicely by including a pdf file of notes on disc five. The eleven-page document is very detailed, going episode by episode, and presumably can be printed out if you don't want to watch with your computer. This doesn't stop the show from dating itself to '04 consistently, and really, if you compare Yakitate Japan to more recent series, it doesn't hold up especially well. The character designs are fairly ugly, the animation is cheap and limited, and the soundtrack tries just a little too hard, filling every moment with jingly-jangly sound that begins to grate. This arc's storyline certainly drags in places, which is interesting because it consistently skips over training sequences, getting right to the actual competitions themselves, which you would think would keep the pace up.
Yakitate Japan's second set is a little bit clumsy in its execution and certainly doesn't hold up when compared to more recent cooking shows like Food Wars: Shokugeki no Soma, or even in terms of its references and jokes. (What is with that Kid guy anyway?) But it is a fun take on the shounen tournament story, and we do get invested in Team Japan and want them to win the Monaco Cup, so it is successful in that regard. Mostly this is a very middle-of-the-road set of episodes from a show that isn't terrible but also isn't terrific – good enough to watch, but perhaps not worth seeking out.
Overall (sub) : C
Story : C-
Animation : C
Art : C-
Music : C
+ Some fun metafictional moments, Azuma is a fun character. We do get very invested in Team Japan's success. Nice liner notes.
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