Yakitate!! Japan 23

June 7, 2010

Takashi Hashiguchi – Viz – 2010 – 26 volumes

I feel like I’m missing some story between this volume and the last, but that might just be because it opens with a bizarre nonsequitor story focusing on a side character from an earlier point in the series, then starts fresh with a new “worst scenario” conflict in the Yakitate 25 that I’m missing out on a little by not having read earlier volumes.

The story in the first chapter really is a gem, though.  It’s about a little kid that won a “Shounen Monday” contest (apparently a spoiled rich brat that has appeared before) learning from Kuroyanagi how to be a taster.  Kuroyanagi goes into great detail about the tests one must take to be a taster, which is actually pretty fascinating.  The kid wants to give up since he thought being a taster was going to be easy, which triggers a dream sequence where the kid inhabits the land of quitters.  In this land, the “What do you mean!?” kid is king.  Then he snaps back to reality and decides to be a taster.

The above has nothing to do with the plot of the series, really, and is beautiful.  The fact that I learned about those taster tests is just a bonus.

This round of the Yakitate 25, the opponent is Meister, Azuma’s mentor from Pantasia.  Meister’s evil father is the one behind the contest, and apparently he is evil because he made himself bread that changed his personality.  So both Meister and Azuma are attempting to make a bread that turns a bad person into a good one.  The fight against Meister is a brutal blow, though.

The father’s dirty tactics include making a bread that is so delicious, you are forced to obey the person that made it.  He gains control of the “What do you mean?!” kid this way.  Why anybody would eat a loaf of bread that looks so much like a brain is beyond me, but there you go.

This volume is relatively serious and pun-free (compared to others), but still sneaks humor in wherever it can.  When they learn the devastating secret behind the delicious mind control bread, it’s from a veterinarian they’ve taken the “What do you mean?!” kid to.  Later, their manager shows up late to the tournament because “there was a misunderstanding” and he had to go to prison for a little bit.  No futher explanation or comment is offered.  Also, the other Yakitate 26 organizer is still a blow-up doll.

I’m just… I love this series.  There are no words to describe its weirdness.  There was more than I knew what to do with when I first started reading it, but now I find that I’m addicted to its “special” brand of humor.  I need bad jokes and constant puns.  I need the characters commenting on how crazy everythign is.  I need bread that looks like a brain because the Japanese name is a bad pun.  I need all this, and I’m going to go back and begin from the beginning.  The thing is, I’m also only a few volumes from the end here, so I know things are way crazier and more insane in the earlier volumes.  I know it’s way better, and I’ll be laughing myself silly if I do go back.  I think I need a little of that right now, honestly.

This was a review copy provided by Viz.

Yakitate!! Japan 22

February 26, 2010

Takashi Hashiguchi – Viz – 2010 – 26 volumes

In case I had forgotten, this volume opens with Kuroyanagi’s bad pun judging.  Had I jumped into the series here, I would have been very puzzled as to why he was first a little chick, then a bird.  Since I have read a few other volumes, I was merely pleased.  I must say, though, I was pretty bummed by the tease of him turning into an… Inca or something.  I was very curious about that.

Since I missed a couple volumes, I couldn’t tell you what happened immediately before this, but it looks like Pantasia had a couple losses.  That’s a shame, and I’ll have to go back and read those volumes.  I’m always borderline disturbed by the weirdness of this series, but I really do love it.  It’s a unique kind of disturbed, I suppose, and it is pretty funny in addition to being educational, what with all the commentary about bread and baking.  And it would be unfair to say that I couldn’t deal with the weirdness in this when I loved the absolute over-the-top absurdity of Iron Wok Jan.  I probably will have to go back to the beginning and start this series for real.  It’s something special.

I also still love the puns.  I’m sad I missed out on whatever turned the lame kid into a knee, but I enjoyed Kuro-yan’s later reactions to the leg of the race held during this volume.  They weren’t puns, as far as I could tell, they were just downright disturbing.  I did think it was a shame what happened with the score, though.  That was a pretty cruel way to extend the length of the manga.  I assume this contest will run for the four volumes until the end.

The author actually mentions in the back that he’s had some thoughts about his next series, and this comment is followed with about four pages of really funny ideas for terrible manga, including a series for people who love rice and one about the most common name in Japan.

The contest itself in this volume was about the same as always, a tart contest with the head of St. Pierre herself.  She is, of course, a master tart maker, and Azuma has to overcome the severe handicap of her “blizzard hands.”  The ingredient of choice this time around is loquat, a fruit I haven’t tried or given much thought to before reading this volume.

On one hand, it is a bit disappointing that the bulk of such a great series is the same tournament.  On the other hand, this series is so funny that I don’t really care that all they are doing is repeating the same process over and over again.  Plus, the format for the tournament is such that they are making a completely different kind of dish every time, so it’s not really that boring.  Honestly, there’s probably not that many forms a series about baking bread can take that shows off all the aspects of baking, so I can’t say I mind the tournament too much.  I’m well and truly convinced of the awesomeness of this series now.  There’s a Viz sale this week at the Right Stuf, so I think I’m going to pick up the volumes I missed along with a couple that move backwards from where I started.  That’ll be nice.

This was a review copy provided by Viz.

Takashi Hashiguchi – Viz – 2009 – 26 volumes

I’m just saying.  That’s what the volume is called.

Anyway, I continue to be addicted to and mildly put off by the weirdness in this series.  Again, I have to tip my hat to the “reactions” when people eat something they like, which somehow get better and better and have even spread to other characters in this volume.  They’re easily the best part of this series, and go to such great lengths to come 100% out of left field.  For instance, here the best reaction was a gigantic two-page spread of a crowd scene containing a number of Kosaku Shima with different titles.  Other reactions drastically change the art, the names, and one was a gag I thoroughly loved where Kuroyanagi plunged his face into burning jam to make it swell up and look like Jam Ojisan from Anpanman (I have no idea how I remembered that Anpanman existed just now, but whatever).

On the other hand, the humor is heavily based on Japanese culture, and I always feel like I’m missing out on something with the jokes.  The two examples above are great, because the jokes both hinge on really famous manga series that I’ve barely heard of.  There’s an excellent joke with a turtle, but I suspect it’s parodying a Japanese cola ad.  The opponent at the end of the volume is a Japanese celebrity… who passed away and whose likeness is still used for selling nori?  He’s drawn in an exaggerated caricature, which is awesome, but again, a joke I’m sure I’m not getting the full impact of.  A lot of the humor is based on puns, too, which… is just hard to pull off in translation.  When they do work, they’re brilliant, but for the most part, you have to kind of scratch your head and wonder at a few of the jokes.  Of course, there’s also the possibility that the jokes are just weird in Japanese, too.  I didn’t make the Anpanman connection until I was writing this review, but even knowing what the characters were talking about, the joke still doesn’t make much sense aside from the weirdness/hilarity factor in Kuroyanagi’s face.  And the weirdness/hilarity factor was high indeed with that joke.

Some of the humor isn’t based so much on culture.  There’s a great gag about Matsushiro becoming a Yakuza boss, and that works fine because that’s just what he is, and it’s even better that nobody seems to care but him.  The joke where the drawing style shifts at the end of the volume is good (though the reason/pun doesn’t make much sense), as is the gag that ties in to the changed title for this volume.  The turtle joke is also good, if only because one character says something along the lines of “Why am I supposed to be surprised by this turtle walking by?  Actually, now I’m more interested since he’s standing bipedally…” and then everyone strikes a pose for a full-page ad-looking illustration.  For no real reason.  Awesome, but weird.

There’s plenty to like, and I’m definitely going to keep reading.  It’s funny, and the humor goes to greater lengths than any other manga series I’ve seen, even from my beloved Ai Morinaga.  I respect it for that, and I love that these energies are being used in a manga about baking bread rather than anything normal.  The weirdness factor is a little high, and like I said, I’m pretty sure the original has its share of unattributed weirdness, but I suspect that goes through the roof when the cultural contexts for the jokes are missing.  It still works, but it’s just… really, really weird.

This was a review copy provided by Viz.

Yakitate!! Japan 14

April 27, 2009

I didn’t realize I had an older volume of this, so I thought I’d try it out.  Now, I like this series, but sometimes it’s a little more weird than I know what to do with.  The first chapter here is a good example.  We get the life story of a boy who is naturally gifted at mimicking people.  He tries to become a baseball superstar, but finds that, while he looks awesome, he can’t hit the ball.  So then he decides to become a mime, and dedicates his life to imitating Marcel Marceau.  After years of practice, he is hailed as the greatest miming sensation since Marceau, but his contract isn’t renewed because… his performance lacks soul, being an imitation and all (bonus: he performs on a vaudeville circuit).

Also, he has to roll his eyes back in his head after this, because looking at someone means he will unconsciously mime everything they do.

So some famous bread chef hires him to learn to mimic his style in order to beat Azuma.

That’s just the first chapter.  This is a lot of work to put into someone that will probably be beaten down by the main character in less than a volume.  A lot of… bizarre work.

That’s not even the weirdest thing that happens in this volume.  There’s a chapter called “Galaxy Express.”  I was expecting a reference, of course, and figured it was just the fact that Pierrot’s mother looked like Maetel.  This series takes it several steps farther, though.  Pierrot bites into some bread, and then is transformed into Tetsuro and rides the train out to a planet made out of Maetel’s face.  The homage is… rather long, and drawn to look something like Matsumoto’s loopy style.  Not even Bobobo could have pulled something from as far from left field as this chapter.

Keep in mind, this is in the middle of a competition about baking bread.

Anyway.  It does make the best use of puns of any series I’ve ever seen, and I love puns.  I also liked seeing a little bit more of Kuroyanagi in a non-Judge context.  Of all the characters, I like him the best, but that’s probably only because I’ve seen his puns in the volumes after this one.

It’s a really, really good series, but it is also one of the weirdest series I think I’ve read.  That’s probably some sort of high compliment.  Take it as you will.

This was a review copy provided by Viz.

Yakitate!! Japan 17

March 31, 2009

I’m still getting used to the weird sense of humor this series has.  Something tells me that when the characters are yelling and over-exaggerating things, the speech may have involved a pun in a few cases that just couldn’t be carried over.  Or, at least, that makes more sense than what’s going on in some cases.  There are also weird things like characters posing in the shapes of letters and things that don’t make much sense.

The curved scallions bread battle was interesting because both teams made the exact same bread.  I was wondering where the battle was going, since the opponent swore to commit ritual suicide if he lost.  He seemed pretty serious about it, and given the fact he had an expert on his side, I kind of figured the battle would go to the opponent.  Things aren’t that simple, and I’m not sure if I liked the weird place things went at the end, but… it was not what I expected, and that’s a good thing.

The visual gag from the judge wasn’t quite as excellent as the tapir-mounted haniwa pose from the last match, but his relentless pursuit of what he wanted sort of made up for it.

The next battle is a little different.  The opponent is an extremely famous and well-certified European Chef, and not only are the terms of the match in the competition completely different, the outcome of the match has a direct bearing on Kanmuri, one of the Pantasia teammates.  I actually thought he was a girl until the second half of this volume.  I’m not particularly sure why, since he’s sort of genderless.  I guess I just figured it made sense there was a really smart girl working for the good guys.

I like it okay, but it’s not quite as addictive as the better shounen series are.  Again, this may just be because the sense of humor just isn’t falling into place for me, because it’s certainly very quirky and unique, and it definitely stands out in the crowd of shounen series for its premise alone.  I suspect if I read it from the beginning, I would enjoy it much more.

This was a review copy provided by Viz.

Yakitate!! Japan 16

March 30, 2009

The sense of humor in this series is… weird.  Very weird.  I think a lot of it might be puns and jokes that don’t translate well, or I may just not get it, but there is some bizarre stuff going on in this series.  Notably though, it went through all the trouble of finally explaining that the visual gag that has driven me crazy all these years (the gag where people have three holes on their face instead of features and have their arms positioned as if in a run… or the gyroids in the Animal Crossing games) is an allusion to haniwa statues, and it even talks about the area that’s famous for them and everything.  I had a haniwa joke overload in the first half of the book.

It appears that the characters are embroiled in a bread baking competition where they need to make breads to bring out the flavor of localities chosen at random.  The first area in this book is famous for mangoes and haniwa, and the second area is famous for… curves, I think.  Most of the story in this book deals with the first city, though.  There’s a chapter or so of aftermath from the last battle to build up the opponents, then a couple chapters where the bread is researched and strengths and weaknesses are discussed, a couple chapters dealing with the competition and its aftermath, a chapter about Kazuma’s grandpa and the flour he’s excited about sending Kazuma, and a couple chapters at the end about the preliminaries about the next battle.

Apparently every stage of the competition is judged by the same person, and his reactions are all conveyed in puns.  The actual pun reaction in this volume isn’t a bad English pun (the bread is more than it “Tapirs” to be, where he’s riding a tapir around… hats off for coming up with a good pun for a tapir), but his second reaction is less a pun and more of a visual gag.  There are a lot of visual gags in this series.  Thinking about it, it’s not so much that the puns don’t translate, because great lengths are gone to in order to make the puns work in English, which is impressive… I think it’s just that I didn’t get the sense of humor.  And there’s a TON of humor, to the point where if it’s not something you’re into, it’s not likely you’ll enjoy the series.  A lot of extreme character reactions, weird faces, things going on that are opposite what you would expect… stuff like that.  None of it falls flat, exactly, it’s just kind of quirky, and you’re not sure if they’re making a joke or not.  It’s just kind of weird.

I do have another volume of this, so I plan to read a little more, if only to see that judge react with puns again.  I have to admit that’s kind of cool.  The rest of the series is just weirdness though, and I have to see if it’s something I can get used to.

This was a review copy provided by Viz.