Invitation of Bread

I moved to Philadelphia during the pandemic. My building had recently been renovated, and my husband and I were the first people to occupy our apartment. Unfortunately, an internet cable hadn’t been installed before we moved in. Since we’re on the top floor, the Comcast technicians would have had to go through everyone’s apartment under ours to run the line, which wasn’t going to happen during the lockdown.

Now that Philadelphia has gotten people vaccinated and lifted its pandemic restrictions, we were able to get Comcast to run a cable up to our apartment, and we finally have internet. Hooray!

During the lockdown, my husband and I watched a lot of old DVDs, and all of the DVDs I own are anime. I have a list of horror movies that I want to check out, but the habit of watching anime has become so ingrained that I turned on my newly online PS4 and went straight to Crunchyroll. Most of what’s currently streaming is the usual shōnen and isekai nonsense, but there’s also a cute slice-of-life series with 15-minute episodes called Let’s Make a Mug Too about an all-female high school pottery club. This anime features the antics of cute girls doing cute things in between sessions of talking about their feelings, and it was clearly financed by the regional tourism promotion board of the city of Tajimi in Gifu prefecture. My husband, who is the director of an internationally prestigious graduate program, unironically loves every character in this show and watches an episode every evening.

In fact, he loves it so much that he’s started writing (in his head) his own anime. It’s called “Invitation of Bread,” and it’s about three thirty-something women who open a bakery in west Tokyo. Given that my husband never watched anime before we moved to Philadelphia last June, the premise is surprisingly solid, and I’d like to share it.

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Yumi is a 35-year-old housewife who decides to open a small bakery in Jiyugaoka, an upscale neighborhood to the west of Tokyo. Her architect husband leaves his firm and starts working from home so that he can help take care of their ten-year-old son, Haruki.

Yumi’s cheerful and energetic best friend from high school, Chie, is an accounts manager for a restaurant supply company, where she is constantly harassed by gross older men. When Yumi goes to Chie to inquire about outfitting the bakery, she listens to Chie’s tales of woe and invites her to become her partner in the business.

Chie happily accepts the invitation, and she and Yumi open a bakery together. They decide to call their new business Pan no Kangei, which means something like “the warm sense of welcome you feel when a restaurant offers you freshly baked bread” but is officially translated as “Invitation of Bread.”

An upperclassman whom Yumi and Chie admired in high school, Sakamoto-san, works in the editorial department of a lifestyle magazine, and she visits the bakery to write an article. Sakamoto-san is beautiful and intelligent, but she is unhappy at her job because she feels as though the long hours she puts into writing for the magazine don’t leave her time for the creative work she always dreamed of doing. Yumi and Chie invite her to be the third partner in the business, so she leaves her corporate job and takes on the task of managing the bakery’s branding and social media accounts while working out her surprisingly violent frustrations on the bread dough every morning.

In every episode, Yumi and her friends try their hand at creating a new menu item, but they sometimes have trouble getting it right. They’re aided by a German sports reporter named Lars who lives in the neighborhood. While taking his Golden Retriever Lola out on walks, Lars visits the bakery and encourages the three women by telling them stories about the origins of various European pastries.

In the second half of the season, the bakery takes on a high school student named Momoka as a part-time worker. Momoka is the older sister of one of Hakuri’s friends, and she’s a video game otaku who has trouble talking with people. Yumi was also shy as a teenager, so she sympathizes. She invites Momoka to spend a few afternoons helping out at the bakery after school, and Momoka’s fantasies of heroes and monsters serve as the inspirations for several new confections.

Although the Pan no Kangei bakery gets off to a somewhat rocky start, by the end of the season it has become a neighborhood favorite, as well as a space for Yumi, Chie, and Sakamoto-san to reignite their high school friendship and rediscover the joy of the dreams they had when they were younger.

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You know, it’s funny. I remember when I first learned that the target audience of anime about cute girls doing cute things is white-collar professional men in their thirties and forties. I didn’t believe it then, but I totally get it now. Many people (including myself) watch violent sci-fi anime as a form of escapism, but there’s also a definite appeal in a more low-key and relaxing fantasy of good-natured young women who don’t have anything to worry about save for what sort of delicious snack they’re going to eat while enjoying each other’s company. If nothing else, this sort of thing kept me sane during the pandemic, so I’m disinclined to judge its inanity too harshly.

By the way, if you’re interested, these are my husband’s top five favorite anime:

1. Weathering With You
2. Whisper of the Heart
3. From Up on Poppy Hill
4. Penguin Highway
5. Azumanga Daioh