I must say that bread making has never struck me as particularly interesting. I'm sure most people would feel the same way. So how could a show about making bread possibly be entertaining? I'm not certain but Yakitate!! Japan manages to pull it off.
The basic premise of the show is that a boy, Azuma Kazuma, wants to make a bread so good it can represent Japan as the nation's bread. You know, since France, Germany, England and so on all have their own types of bread. The bread is fittingly called "Japan", which is a pun stemming from the Japanese word for bread, pan, and using the English word for the country name. Azuma travels from his home town in the country to Tokyo where he finds work in a branch of the country's most famous bread shop.
One of the things going for Azuma in his pursuit of bread-making perfection is his "solar hands". Fabled things that are warmer than the average human hands and allow the bread dough to ferment faster, while being kneaded, which results in better breads. The show explains all this in some detail along with other bread-related concepts. In fact, I must admit that I'm enjoying learning about all the different techniques and ideas in the bakery world. Azuma himself is the vehicle used here since he's rather ignorant of these things himself (it seems he makes bread by instinct) and needs them explained to him.
Azuma's character is probably one of the main draws to the show. He is a typical anime mixture of ignorance, boyish charm, sincerity and sheer determination that reminds me strongly of Naruto Uzumaki. The other characters in the show are also interesting. There's the loud, obnoxious, selfish co-worker who will do almost anything for advancement but has the odd bout of conscience. The kind, young girl who is a "shadow manager" for the shop, yet is still in school. The "actual" manager who is a master bread maker and has an unusual appearance and personality. The boring co-worker who is only there to run the store when the others are out … and, it seems, to actually make most of the bread the shop sells.
In terms of plot most episodes revolve around some kind of bread making challenge for the main characters. And somehow this stays interesting! Perhaps it's because of all the things surrounding the actual bread making: the interplay between characters, the frantic rush to get a certain ingredient, a "bad guy" trying to sabotage the work, etc.
The show does contain plenty of wacky anime action such as ridiculous scenes describing the taste of various breads, slapstick comedy and the usual assortment of funny facial expressions. Also worth noting is the rather large amount of puns. I frequently have to pause an episode to read the translators notes. Some of the word plays used for "taste scenes" baffle even the characters on the show!
Overall, the show is very enjoyable and a good watch for anyone into shonen anime. If you need huge mechas, combat and the like though you'd best looks elsewhere as Yakitate!! Japan features none of these. You will, however, learn a lot more about making bread!