Yakitate!! Japan (”Baked Fresh!! Ja-pan”) is a manga serialised in Shogakukan’s Shonen Sunday, by Takashi Hashiguchi. 21 graphic novels have been released as of January 2006, and has been licensed for English distribution by Viz. The series won the 2004 Shogakukan Manga Prize for best Shounen Manga.
The story focuses on Kazuma Azuma, a boy on his quest to create Ja-pan, a national bread for Japan itself. He initially heads to Tokyo to expand his bread-making horizons at the bread-making chain Pantasia; the story continues with Azuma’s exploits with his other coworkers.
The title of this series itself is a play on words; Yakitate translates to “freshly baked”, but Japan has a double meaning. Besides referring to the country of Japan, “pan” is the Japanese word for “bread” (a borrowed word stemming from Portuguese “pão”). Ja-pan is a pun for this series. This mimics the style of the names of other varieties of bread in Japanese, such as “furansupan” (French Bread), “doitsupan” (German rye-based bread), “itariapan” (Italian bread), etc..
Besides the desire to create his Ja-pan, Kazuma also possesses the legendary Solar Hands. These hands are warmer than normal human hand temperature, and allow the dough to ferment faster. This gives him some advantage at the beginning of the series, but his innovation and many Ja-pans are what really shine through.
Although the story has baking as its main theme, the parts that generate the most interest are the outrageous puns in the story. Especially notable are the “reaction” based puns made by the judges, who go to great lengths to prove a single point about the bread that they tasted. The series in general also pokes fun at the shounen genre’s tendency to be melodramatic over mundane tasks.
A 69-episode anime was produced by Sunrise, and was broadcast on TV Tokyo and other local stations from October 2004 through March 2006.