November 23, 2004

Freshly Baked Japan

I have a really hard time believing when people tell me that they don’t like anime. They may think that they don’t like anime, they may not have ever seen an anime that they like, they may only have ever been exposed to the dubbed, edited, and sanitized anime found on TV for children, but still, for them to say that they don’t like anime and just be done with it, never to give it a second look, is just ignorant.

Anime is not a genre. It’s just a medium, another way to tell a story. Any story. To say that you don’t like anime is like saying you don’t like movies or books or vegetables. There is such a wide variety of anime out there, encompassing all genres for all age groups, that I refuse to believe a person can’t at least find one that they enjoy. And once you find one and start to become accustomed to the culture behind it all, it’s really easy to get right into it and start widening your horizons. Soon you’ll be checking out all sorts of various shows based on topics that you’d probably never even think to watch and find yourself enjoying the hell out of them.

Case in point is the show I just started watching this past weekend. It’s called “Yakitate Japan” and it’s all about making bread. Yeah, that’s right, I said bread. Now, I’ve never once baked bread before, and I can’t say that I have much interest in the expansive universe of bread, but I’ve totally gotten into this show. Essentially it starts off with the typical anime cliche of a young boy who has a natural gift and a lot of potential, but is quite clueless of the details regarding the world he is about to enter. He has but one goal; to create a bread that will overtake rice in the hearts and minds of the Japanese people and become worthy of being known as Japan’s national bread. Sound exciting? Ok, no, not really. But in it’s execution is where it really shines. The animation, direction, characters, wild imagery, and storytelling take this topic that most would find boring and turn it into a very compelling series. Plus, the attention to detail is fascinating. All of the science and chemistry that’s involved with baking is in there, so even if you had no interest in the topic beforehand, it becomes a lot of fun to learn something new through watching a cartoon.

The other quality I like about this show is the cultural quirkiness about it. The Japanese language makes for a lot of potential puns, and this show is full of them. Even the name of the show itself is a play on words. “Yakitate Japan” essentially translates to “Freshly Baked Japan” or something along those lines. “Pan” is Japanese for bread, and thus the word “Japan” in this context is a clever way of saying “Japanese bread“. Luckily, the people responsible for the fansubs have taken it upon themselves to explain all the puns. Makes me feel somewhat cultured to learn about the subtleties of the language like this.

This is the kind of show that would never come out of the US animation industry. While the suits in LA are worried about key demographics and selling toys, shows like this are coming from Japan. It may seem strange at first to admit that you’re watching a cartoon about bread, but it’s so entertaining that you can’t help but to enjoy it. I’ll be watching this show for awhile. So for all you haters out there who refuse on whatever principals to watch any and all anime, I urge you to branch out a little and try something new. I guarantee that if you look hard enough, you’ll find a freshly baked series that you’ll enjoy.



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