And of course you want to keep up on the ongoing Arctic adventures of William Bazillion!
Right, Overlooked Manga Festival time.
I've said it before, and I'll say it again: cooking manga is awesome. I don't know why comics about cooking haven't caught on in other cultures. Who the hell doesn't like tasty food? Today's OMF selection has appeared in this blog once before, as a runner-up in the Great Manga Bake-Off, but I thought I'd buckle down and discuss it in a little more detail. Because it's hell of funny.
Yakitate! Japan is more than just a cooking manga: it's a comedy cooking manga. Except that, unlike 99% of comedy manga, it's actually funny. Occasionally laugh-out-loud funny, even. It's probably funnier if you're at least vaguely familiar with Shonen Jump-style tournament manga wherein purehearted tween heroes battle to become the best at something, all the while heralding the ethos of Friendship, Effort, and Victory...but even if you're not, you'll probably still laugh. It's got something for everyone, whether you enjoy women in dominatrix gear or in-depth discussions of modern yeast research.
The story is simple. Perpetually chipper Kazuma Azuma is really into bread, an odd passion in Japan, where bread is not a staple food. Conducting baking experiments on his own, Kazuma dreams of inventing "Ja-pan," the national bread of Japan, which will take its place aside great national breads like Italian bread and French bread. (Pan is Japanese for "bread," so this is an hilarious pun. The Japanese love puns, apparently just because it makes English translators cry.)
In pursuit of his dream, Kazuma wins a job at a small branch of the huge, elite bakery chain Pantasia. There, he and his fellow bakers compete with rival bakeries to produce the finest bread in Japan. That's right, it's a manga about baking bread. With thrilling bread-baking battles. If you think that's weird, you haven't read enough manga. Among the untranslated manga I've flipped through recently are a manga about the role of bacteria in the food service industry and a manga about the real-life adventures of a train otaku (that is, a guy who's a hardcore geek about trains, like the British trainspotters). They are both AWESOME.
Also, if it helps, Yakitate! Japan is fully aware that it's insane. Check out this dude's martial-arts bread training:
But the bread really is tasty-looking, and the battles are at least sort of plausibly based on the principles of real baking. There are even recipes you can try yourself!
And in time you can work your way up to THE GREATEST CROISSANT IN THE UNIVERSE.
Everything in Yakitate! Japan is decided in high-stakes competitions, which actually isn't entirely unlike the reality of Japanese professional cooking. Cooking is one of a handful of careers in Japan that still follows the traditional system of apprenticeship, so if you want to become a chef you have to start at the bottom and work your way up via tests of cookery against other apprentice chefs. This is part of the reason for the mystique surrounding chefs of all varieties in Japanese pop culture. Admittedly, in reality there's slightly less chance that one of your competitors will be an enormous man in a smiling koala mask, but them's the breaks.
The competitions keep getting crazier and the baking stakes just keep rising, and, by Volume 6 or so, people are literally dying from the tastiness of the breads.
It's all done with tongue firmly in cheek, and with a lot of fourth-wall-breaking humor in which the characters themselves comment on the absurdity of their situation and suggest plot developments.
The manga even provides its own American adaptation, the story of an American boy obsessed with cooking the ultimate rice.
Artist "Dave Hashiguchi" shows up later in Yakitate! as the famous creator of many popular cooking manga, but the years, I fear, have not been kind.
Yakitate! Japan isn't by any means the insanest cooking manga. That might just be the great Iron Wok Jan. Yakitate! is more self-aware, more deliberately parodying its source material and poking fun at itself. It's surprisingly smart, but also bright and cheerful. And the bread looks damn good. Cooking manga rules.
Previous Overlooked Manga Festivities:
Please Save My Earth
From Eroica with Love
Even a Monkey Can Draw Manga
Your and My Secret
Knights of the Zodiac
The Drifting Classroom
OMF Special Event: Manga Editors Recommend Manga, Part 1
OMF Special Event: Manga Editors Recommend Manga, Part 2
OMF Special Event: Manga Editors Recommend Manga, Part 3
OMF Special Event: Great Moments in Manga Baking
Shout Out Loud
Warren Buffett: An Illustrated Biography of the World's Most Successful Investor
Sexy Voice and Robo
OMF Special Event: 2006 Overlooked Manga Update
The Four Immigrants Manga
Gerard and Jacques
Ode To Kirihito
Bringing Home the Sushi
OMF Special Event: The Greatest Manga Magazine in American History
Anywhere But Here
Town of Evening Calm, Country of Cherry Blossoms
The Walking Man
Sugar Sugar Rune
Japan as Viewed by 17 Creators
Ricca 'tte Kanji!?
OMF Special Event: My Legacy
OMF Special Event: An All-Star Tribute to Carl Gustav Horn
Guest OMF by Jason Thompson: 888
JoJo's Bizarre Adventure