Saturday, July 26, 2008

Yakitate!! Japan (manga, vol. 11) by Takashi Hashiguchi

The Japanese representatives continue the Monaco Cup semifinals (in bread-making). In this volume, the Japanese representatives, Azuma, Kawachi, and Suwabara, tackle their next task: baking a sports bread for the drivers of the F1 Grand Prix that is easy to digest and provides stamina. Each of the three agonize over their bread, even Azuma, who says he has already created such a bread and can't think of how to improve upon it. Meanwhile, Sophie reveals her tragic past and the reason why she hates her father so much - it also seems as though the King of Monaco might know her father. When the volume finally gets to the showdown between the sports breads created by the Japanese representatives and the sports bread created by the French representatives, the Japanese representatives (minus Azuma) finally discover the freakish break-making horror that lies underneath the cloak the French representatives wear. What they learn shakes their confidence, but the Japanese representatives must still try their best. Unfortunately, Azuma may show up to the competition too late to bake his bread.

I enjoyed this series a little more in the earlier volumes, when it felt like the breads being produced were actually somewhat possible. However, I still had a lot of fun with this volume. I had a little trouble following the storyline involving Sophie's father, which may be due to the fact that it's been a month or two since I read the previous volume. This wasn't too much of a problem, since the majority of the volume was taken up by the Japanese representatives' quests to come up with and then explain their breads. The explanations were interesting, but I wasn't really sure how plausible they were. I also wasn't entirely sure how tasty any of these breads might be. The characters claim that certain individual ingredients are delicious, but how would they taste when combined in one bread? Also, would certain ingredients still be as nutritious after having been combined with other ingredients and then baked? There are no notes at the end of this volume explaining any of this.

Nearly everyone's bread was worth reading to the end for. I think the only bread I found kind of disappointing was Kawachi's. He didn't really think his ingredients through very well, and even he was so lacking in confidence in his own bread that he told the judge not to even bother trying it. Kawachi's basically comic dead-weight in this volume.

Overall, though, I liked this volume. Even after 11 volumes, this is still an enjoyable series. This particular volume is a little less weird and wacky than some of the previous volumes, but it's definitely not lacking in strangeness. For one thing, this is a manga about competitive bread-making - how can that not be weird? For another, there's the bit about the freakishness of the French representatives. That part has to be seen to be believed. Seriously.

As far as extras go, there are three bonus funny comics at the end (a single page for each comic) and a note with information about the hydrangea plant chosen as one of the ingredients in this volume.

Read-alikes and Watch-alikes:
  • Hikaru no Go (manga) by Yumi Hotta (story) and Takeshi Obata (art); Hikaru no Go (anime TV series) - Twelve-year-old Hikaru is looking through his grandfather's things for something he can sell when he comes across a haunted Go board. Sai, the ghost of a long-dead Go instructor, is delighted that Hikaru can see him and basically forces him to give him opportunities to play Go. Hikaru is reluctant, at first, but he gradually learns to love the game and starts on the path to becoming a professional Go player. I'm sure that Japanese readers don't consider the premise of this manga (focusing on a board game and professional Go playing) to be nearly as odd as Yakitate!! Japan's professional bread-making competitions, and it's really not. However, Western readers unfamiliar with Go may find a manga about a board game just odd enough to be interesting. Those who'd like a manga series with exciting one-on-one competition might like this manga. Yes, I did say that a manga about a board game has exciting competition - Hotta and Obata do an excellent job of making the Go matches both exciting and believable.
  • Gin Tama (manga) by Hideaki Sorachi - Gintoki is a broke samurai in a world that no longer needs samurai. His life gets a little more complicated when he starts living with Kagura (a super-strong alien girl who looks tiny and cute) and Shinpachi. The group takes odd jobs, trying to save people and earn enough to eat and pay the rent. Those who'd like another manga series with weird and sometimes crass humor might like this series.
  • Eyeshield 21 (manga) by Riichirou Inagaki (story) and Yuusuke Murata (art) - Sena, a freshman in high school, has been bullied for years and, as a result, has learned to run really fast. His talent is spotted by Hiruma, the hilariously sadistic president of the American Football Club, who forces Sena to join the club as the mysterious "Eyeshield 21." Those who'd like another manga series with weird humor that focuses on competition might enjoy this series. Even if you don't like football, I'd still suggest this series - Inagaki, aware that many Japanese readers might not know how football works, explains many of the rules (so even American readers who don't know the rules can follow along) and keeps things fun, even for non-football lovers, by cranking up the wild and weird humor.

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