What They Say:
After toasting his rivals in the Pantasia Rookie Competition, what’s next on the menu for bread-baking prodigy Kazuma Azuma? With the villainous Pantaisa heiress Yukino trying to close the South Tokyo branch, Kazuma and the others will need some serious dough to keep their bakery afloat.
So now they must represent Japan in the Monaco Cup, a high-stakes competition against the best of the best from around the world, and it won’t be easy! Their judge is a narcissistic clown (literally), and the dastardly Kayser Brothers from France are out to get them at every turn. Can Kazuma and his friends rise to the challenge?
Contains episodes 28-52.
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.
Originally airing between 2004 and 2006, the transfer for this TV series is presented in its original full frame aspect ratio. The twenty-five 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.
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 a good look about them as it shows them as they are during the Monaco arc and some of the changes that they went through there. 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.
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.
The only extras included in this release are the clean versions of the opening and closing sequences for on disc extras.
The fifth disc in the set contains the liner notes for the series, which I didn’t get a chance to look at closely the last time around since I didn’t have a DVD-ROM drive handy as I made the shift to cloud computing for a lot of my writing in the last few years. The liner note PDF is a fantastic eleven page piece that breaks things down episode by episode with a ton of great little nods that have a lot of really surprising and obscure references and gags included. I got a number of these along the way, but the fun of liner notes is discovering all the things I didn’t get, and there’s a lot of them here, especially when it comes to the cooking side of it itself. I do wish this had made it to print, even as an end-book with the third set, but having liner notes like this at all these days is rare and it’s wholly worthwhile to spend time going through. Print ’em out while watching and enhance your experience.
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. This block of episodes brings us another twenty-five episodes of it and it’s a block that focuses largely on one of the major arcs from the manga. Breaking it up this way certainly works well and there’s definitely a plus to being able to watch this set and have it be complete, but still part of the larger ongoing storyline. There’s a lot going on in this set as well, but the dynamic of the series has changed along the way too, which is a bit disconcerting at times. Part of the appeal with the first set was that it was mostly grounded, even if it went for wild takes and unusual elements, but it didn’t stray too far, too often for the most part. Here, it takes some really odd twists as it ramps up its goofiness.
The main thrust of this set is a growing realization that Yukino is orchestrating things to take over the company and align it under St. Pierre. That has those at the South Tokyo Branch coming up with a crafty way to deal with it because when Tsukino took over the branch, it ended up being disconnected from the main stores as she had to prove herself. So that means even if the main company goes under, it won’t. But knowing what’s coming and that they need to stay afloat financially, Kanmaru comes up with a plan to enter the international baking competition where they can win ten billion yen should they take home the main prize. And that will give them the funding they need to fight back against St. Pierre. Naturally, it takes place overseas, first in Paris and then in Monaco, so it has a larger scope to things and more varied characters participating. But we also get some familiar characters back as Kawachi, now a bit more humbled, joins the team with Kai and Azuma, all while chaperoned by Ryo. Suffice to say, it makes for a manly team as Kanmaru, Ken and Tsukino remain in Japan and just get a few scenes here and there until they reconnect towards the end of the season.
A series like this is based in competition to be sure, but competition can be done in good and bad ways. This series starts to take on more of the goofy aspects of more traditional shonen shows in a way. The opponents get bigger and stranger, the layer of competition gets more intense and comical and some of the grounding slips away due to the realm of the fantastic. At first, it manages to hold on well with their arrival in Paris and as they deal with the exhibition, meeting the other teams and having Kawachi going through with Kanmaru’s plan to raise the odds on the team by doing a lot of goofy and weird things so that they aren’t taken seriously. When they get 300 to 1 odds and Kanmaru invests the bulk of the money that the South Tokyo Branch has, it’s a huge risk, but one that pays off if Kawachi can play his role right. And naturally he’s able to, since there’s a kind of natural element to him with that, but also the feeling from him that he knows is an important job as he strains by wanting to do well at the same time.
A lot of what made the first set work for me is still here to be sure. Kai and Azuma definitely bring some flair to their challenges as they go against the competition and have to push themselves and what their capable of in order to win. They don’t always win and some of what’s thrown at them is pretty out there, but for the most part they do remain the grounded characters as they try and grow their skills and abilities. Kai in particular comes across well during this because he finds himself given the right kinds of opponents and challenges, and even seemingly gets a bit of a girlfriend out of it along the way. Azuma, for his part, really doesn’t feel like he’s any different than the first set. He’s doing well, he has creative approaches based on his non-standard upbringing, and he thinks outside of the box in a way that makes his creations interesting from start to finish. Of course, because of the heightened competition and the larger number of people involved, he gets less time overall compared to the first set, and that is a bit of a weakness for the season as he’s definitely who I’m interested in following. But as we see, others fall off a lot during the Monaco arc as well to a far greater degree, so it’s hard to complain.
What does work for me are two main aspects of the Monaco competition itself. The first is that as it progresses and we see that the man behind St. Pierre has influence on it, we get taken to absurd locations to do bake-offs in a way that’s just a poor mans reality show that actually threatens the lives of the participants. Or at least that of the Japanese team. There are some outlandish pieces to this overall as it progresses and doing parachuting in gigs and an island adventure among other pieces is just plain poorly done. It’s mostly done to change the location a bi as there’s only so many places you can bake, but it just felt so out of place that it was comically bad. It also didn’t help that you had some outlandish competitors, such as the French team with their full cover cloaks and masks and all their bluntly done evil aspects to ensure that they win.
The other piece that made this harder to get through is that of the emcee/judge, Pierrot. At twenty-three, he’s a hugely complicated character with his past as he was lost by his parents while a baby at a circus that then ended up raising him as they traveled around the world. Over the course of the arc, we learn a lot about the character because each tasting/judging reminds him of things that brings out these scenes from the past. This can be done well, but most of the time it truly doesn’t offer much in the way of context to the present, or it’s so flimsy that when you look back on it, it feels like it’s just padding. Naturally, he wears a colorful clown costume from his time in the circus, one that he took over after the ringmaster retired after a successful performance in Japan, which was also difficult for Pierrot because he fell in love there and ended up losing that love. There’s a lot of time spent with this character and it is truly, truly hard to care about it with the way it’s presented.
But if that’s not bad enough, they go to such a ridiculous length with his antics throughout, where he’s able to stop time and come up with other gimmicks that breaks the reality barrier in a huge way, but they also go and make him related to someone in a position of power through a secret that the audience can figure out early. That brings a sudden death to the show towards the end and a zigzag of weird ways he copes with it until the final competition where Azuma bakes him a doughnut that will allow him to speak to his father in the afterlife. Now, you can imagine that in a kind of dream sequence way, which I’d be fine with. But instead, it’s a doughnut that makes such an impact on Pierrot that he travels back in time, saves his mother and influences events so that she doesn’t die and he stays with the family for many years, resulting in changing the present in a huge way – to the point that nobody remembers why they were in such fierce competition to please him since those he wanted to see are now alive. It’s like the show made Toriko seem like a reasonable work. It’s elements like this that took me out of the fun if somewhat fantastic first set and just saw it go all over the map.
Shifting into international competition mode, Yakitate!! Japan goes in a lot of expected areas because it can play “realistic” for only so long before it just goes beyond. A lot of the appeal for me is Azuma, but he gets second stringed here for a lot of it since there’s so many competitors and events going on with a wide ranging cast from both sides. Seeing this trio now working together does introduce its own challenges, but they’re fun to watch overcome them either together or apart. The shift to Monaco brings in a lot of new players and shifts others to the background, but it’s all in favor of the main arc that’s to come in regards to the challenge of ownership of Pantasia. The series is a whole lot of fun overall, but it definitely takes a shift in tone with this set that may be off-putting at first, especially if you liked the supporting characters and the time spent in Tokyo itself. It’s a solid set with a lot to offer and it definitely makes out well by having so much available at one time.
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: May 5th, 2015
Running Time: 625 Minutes
Video Encoding: 480i/p MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
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.