So, since the final Volume of Yakitate!! Japan has been published in English. I thought I'd give a short review of the series and Viz's localization.
Here's the brief version: Yakitate Japan is great! Buy it and read it! At the very least, read the first volume and if you like it, read to the end of Volume 14.
Now for a slightly more formal review.
Yakitate!! Japan is an award winning manga about... making bread. At times it can be fairly technical, which is nice because you can actually learn something. This series blends a lot of genres, but technically, the series is a very Japanese comedy manga. (That's my way of saying there's a lot of wordplay humor. Still, there are lots of visual, sarcastic, over-the-top, and universal gags as well.) The reason I love this series, though, is because it cares a lot about its story and characters. It uses its theme and humor to flavor the story and characters, not the other way around. And that's something I really didn't expect out of a comedy cooking battle manga. The story is well done, the conflicts are exciting, and there's strong characterization. The subject matter is interesting, the art is good, and the humor is funny.
I originally read Yakitate!! Japan through scanlations from the site SnoopyCool. Scanlations don't tend to care much about localizing to demographics and generally try to keep the translation as close to the Japanese as possible. Also, it's easy to put very lengthy liner notes all over the place. Viz's translations generally try to avoid forcing their readers to have a strong background in the Japanese language or culture. Translation/Localization is very tricky business and I have no problem with Viz's approach to it, although sometimes I feel that approach comes at the cost of charm. I did not feel this way about Viz's Yakitate!! Japan translation. I thought they showed a lot of consideration in their translation and were able to keep the heart of the story and jokes.
For example... in the Viz translation one gag relies on a horse screaming out "Mag-Neigh-Ficent" after eating some bread (seriously, read this manga.) The original gag was the horse shouting "U~mai", which means delicious. However, the "u" sound is written with the character for horse instead of the homonym character that's supposed to be used. I feel this is a good example of keeping the heart of the joke, but making it easier for American culture to understand... which I think fits their goal for localization. Personally, I prefer more direct translations (like Snoopy Cool's), but I still really enjoyed Viz's localization.
(As the series goes on, the wordplay gets increasingly ridiculous to the point I think it barely makes sense in Japanese. For a lot of these jokes at the end, the Viz English Translation seems to give up trying to localize the joke and instead give a direct translation. I don't have any problem with this... as I said, those end jokes are a HUGE stretch even in Japanese.)
As for the cover art... I really hate Viz's cover art department. The spines for this series simply don't match, which really bugs me because it looks messy on a bookshelf (yes, I'm picky like that.) As you can see, after Volume 18 Viz switched from their Ugly "V" emblem to an uglier "S" logo.
Somewhat surprisingly, Viz does a thorough job of keeping the original Japanese book's special right cover insert bonus... the cosplay drawings of the main heroine Tsukino. They place these on the back cover. I guess this is really just an example of "sex sells" and not an example of Viz's cover art team having any attention to detail. (Heh heh... I speak harshly, but it's all in fun!)
That's all the non-spoiler stuff I want to say. The rest of this "review" contain light spoilers for the second half of the series. I don't give any details, but I discuss my opinion on the direction the story takes.
SPOILER WARNING ALERT: Contains Spoilers for Yakitate!! Japan
I just kind of want to vent a bit. The second half of the series is much, much weaker than the first part. First off, the art is less detailed. Second, most of the jokes stop making sense and the originally creative reactions become ridiculous. The reactions go from skirting the edge of reality to full blown deep end impossible. Third, the story changes from an interesting mashup of genres to a very straightforward battle manga. And finally, the characters end up becoming one-dimensional caricatures of their former selves. I don't think the series becomes bad... it just isn't as good as in the first half. In short, Yakitate!! Japan 1-14 is like Dragonball whereas Yakitate!! Japan 15-26 is like Dragonball Z.
I do have one huge problem with the second half. That's the treatment of Kawachi. He turns into a pure gag character with no redeeming qualities or cool moments. As ridiculous as the final boss turns out to be and as heartless as I feel the author ultimately treats Azuma's opponents, nothing is more disappointing than the character Kawachi became.
I'd understand stopping after Volume 14 if you're not a huge fan of the series by then. The events ending that volume are as good as the series gets. But even with the decline in quality, I still mostly enjoyed the final arc. Yakitate!! Japan is a great series and is worth attention.