This anime has convinced me to set up a new genre, "burning spirit" about someone so dedicated to... something, it really could be anything, that nothing will stop them from their goal. Mind you, I never expected the topic of this title to be one of the possible targets.
The great nations of Europe have a long history that has shaped the ways in which their people live. Clothes, politics, culture, food... even such humble things as their daily bread. Japan has its own cultural heritage, of course, with every bit as much depth and effect. Although one thing it doesn't have is a tradition of "daily bread", as befits a cuisine in which rice is the foundation. Of course this is just one of the things that make the world such a diverse place, and not something someone's going to get too worried over.
... or so you might think. Meet Azuma Kazuma, a hard core baking fanatic. He is driven by the joy of bread and is determined to make a Japan (pan is bread in Japanese) that will be able to compete with rice on the nations tables in addition to becoming recognized as the official bread of the Japanese people. His experiments to this end, and his natural talent, have made him a bread genius with a large repertoire of unusual recipes pushing the boundaries of baking. He's going to need those skills however, because he is starting his climb to mastery by applying to Pantasia, Japan's leading bakery and a place dominated by ruthless competition between rival bakers.
Yes... that's right, bread. And yes, they are serious. This anime focuses on a youths fight to the top of the baking heap. Along the way he'll make friends, enemies, taste defeat and know the sweetness of victory as his skills grow. It really is rather formulaic, and familiar, which is a large part of why this series encouraged me to initiate a new genre for such things. Examples of this genre normally focus on sports, or martial arts, but Hikaru no Go showed it could be applied to something as sedate as a board game. And this show, if nothing else, proves the formula can work for trade-skills such as baking.
Of course the practice of baking is a relatively solitary and silent practice so the show relies on a a number of other characters to provide a social environment. This part of the show works rather well, even if it has to be a bit exotic to push up the interest level. It turns out that Azuma, his experimental breads a bit too wild for the main store, is rescued by the small south Tokyo branch. This place is very weird with the Afro'd manager whose combined macho, martial arts and baking master in one odd package (he's a superb source of comedy too). The young female manager is cute, but on the political defensive within the pantasia family, and there's another young male determined not to be shadowed by Azuma's skills. These guys are pretty likeable, work well together, and cover all the positions needed for the various stories.
There's also one more guy, but he's just a nobody who actually does all the work. One of the actual problems with the show is that baking is a production trade, not an artform. However getting up damn early to make the same bread you made the day before rather lacks story interest. Thus there is one "bread challenge" or "bread deathmatch" after another in which Azuma must seize victory with his mastery of baking techniques or amazing improvisational skills. This is fun to watch... but it's not really baking, thus this extra guy does the "real" baking so the entire rest of the store can whip up exotic oddities elsewhere.
It runs into a similar problem with the actual depiction of both baking and tasting. Someone eating a piece of bread, looking sort of happy, and saying it is good rather lacks on-screen drama. Thus the show amplifies everything above and beyond any sort of logic. Baking is dramatic and someone tasting one of Azuma's creations is often swept away by powerful hallucinations that express the astounding sensations they are experiencing. It's rather over the top, and is also used when discussing obscure elements of baking technology. For example a discussion of the benefits of a particular yeast is done as if it was a martial arts technique. The disposable opponents he faces are also very loud with strongly defined personality traits that are also expressed in their baking. And, finally, there's also a good serve of humor. There's a lot of puns, most of which sail over the head of the English speaking fans despite some heroic efforts from the fan-subbers, but also lots of other jokes and wordplay which are actually quite decent. There's also lots of pop culture references which are even more obscure, although seeing Dr. Hattori (from the Iron Chef) brought a smile to my face (I love that show).
So, in summary, it actually is quite entertaining. The strength of these shows is watching the growth and development of the main characters and this is well brought out. There's always an interest in seeing what will happen next, or what technique Azuma will use to escape whatever baking predicament he finds himself in. However it is not without weaknesses. It has to constantly struggle to make baking seem exciting and dramatic which reduces the intensity of the actual subject. In addition I have to say that Azuma is hopelessly simplistic with no depth of character which further reduces the power of the actual drama. It's a damn fine thing the young manager to starts to pick up the dramatic lead because I was honestly getting annoyed at Azuma superficiality and almost total lack of self-reflection. Although this does come with a reduction in her role as an actual baker in her own right.
This form of anime really isn't too demanding on its production. There is rather a lot of standing around, the action is either very mundane or surreal and the environments tend to be fairly stable. And that's the case here, with the animation being more than sufficient. The characters look fine, get their personalities across, and it can handle the dramatics needed. It gets a little lose when doing the comedy stuff, but thats perfectly fitting. Azuma seems to only have a handful of visual moods, but I can't tell if that's an animation failing or due to the writing of his character. The voices are rather good, especially for some of the mature males, which is enhanced by the script containing a lot of active group dialogues. The music is pretty characterless, both the opening and the ambient.
This is fairly recent material, and rather specialised in its appeal, so I don't think my regular sources have this one reviewed yet.