OHBA Tsugumi (story), OBATA Takeshi (art)
Shounen – Comedy, drama, romance, slice-of-life
20 Volumes (complete)
Moritaka has a talent for drawing, but he plans on getting a normal job. His life takes a turn when a classmate, Akito, asks him to team up to create manga. Moritaka is reluctant until he learns Miho, his crush, wants to be a voice actress. Moritaka and Akito work towards getting an anime green-lit so that Moritaka and Miho can get married.
I ignored this series for the longest time. I am not really a huge fan of Death Note, so I wasn’t really drawn to Bakuman.
So, what do I think now?
Let’s start with the good. Moritaka and Akito decide to team up to draw manga under the name Ashirogi. The two middle schoolers take their work to Weekly Shonen Jump and manage to impress an editor named Hattori. The pair aim to get their work animated, but Moritaka and Akito find out it’s hard to not only create a good story, but one that’s accepted by readers and editors alike. (Duh.) To add to their frustration, a guy their age, Nizuma, manages to get the top prize in contests and gets serialized before they do. Over the years, the duo known as Ashirogi meet a range of other manga creators and editors, and plus they deal with their own personal lives. (This latter part creeps into the not-so-good category.)
While Bakuman. is a manga about manga, this is not really a “how-to” or an introduction to manga creation. If you want to know what a manga name is or the different types of pens and screentones, look elsewhere. A good portion of this series is about Akito (with some input from Moritaka and their editors) coming up with a good plot, but it’s done in a more “we’ll create something amazing and be number one!” way rather than a “this is how a manga is created” way. Being a mangaka isn’t just a simple two step process of a) draw a series, b) get famous. Even if they create a popular series, creators are still competing against many other creators for attention and revenue. The steady income also doesn’t mean an easy life.
If anything, Bakuman. offers more of a glimpse into the editorial side of manga publishing rather than the creative side. I personally liked learning about Weekly Shonen Jump‘s captains and their serialization meetings. Many of the manga editors are not only recurring characters but main characters, and I learned a lot of luck is involved in teaming up. It’s a bit different than titles like Manga Dogs or Monthly Girls’ Nozaki-kun where editors basically just give their charges a call and come pick up the manuscript, often rejecting things (or adding tanuki).
While the series may be informative, Bakuman. is undoubtedly a shounen manga. Every chapter is a battle against time and rankings. The boys each have girlfriends, and Ashirogi forms many rivalries and comraderies in their goal of being the best. And they do form quite a few personal and professional relationships. Ashirogi’s biggest rival, Nizuma, is also Ashirogi’s biggest fan. Another author, Fukuda, often seems like quite the jerk but will defend those he respects. My personal favorite is the lazeabout Hiramaru; he is always being
blackmailed “encouraged” by his editor. The cast is quite large: authors, writers, editors, assistants, and even family members. Thank goodness the manga included a key character lineup at the beginning of each volume! Any confusion is lessened by the fact most of the cast appears fairly regularly. Weekly Shonen Jump is… well, weekly, so the authors and artists are constantly struggling to keep their works going while the editors contemplate which works deserve to be published.
The only true antagonist appears late in Bakuman., and this is were I felt the manga was weakest. A new character tries to override Ashirogi’s hard work, but the manga already had a character who was acting like quite a jerk in recent chapters. The “legendary” battle ends predictably, and the Ashirogi duo has quite a few pieces fall perfectly in place in the end. These aspects crowd out the regular characters’ appearances and distract from the approaching climax between Ashirogi and Nizuma.
The manga is often wordy, but it also causes the manga to feel longer. I don’t mean this in a negative way. Some series you retail for $10, $13 a volume and can be rushed through in about half an hour. The abundance of dialogue means each volume takes a bit longer than usual to read through. Some people may dislike how much the manga tends to blather on, but it also feels like you got more than a few seconds’ worth of entertainment for each volume. The reliance on text may be a plus or a minus depending on your view.
Let’s move on to something I really disliked: the romances. Wait, let me correct that: the “romances”. One of the Ashirogi pair’s biggest motivations is Miho. They hope Miho can someday voice the heroine of their manga… and then Moritaka can marry her. Sounds romantic? Well, Moritaka and Miho agree not to see each other until their dreams come true. And they decided this during their first real conversation. Somehow Bakuman. makes all those shoujo manga childhood promises to get married seem realistic. At least most shoujo “marry me” exchanges involve close friends, not almost strangers! As for Akito, he ends up dating a girl after a misunderstanding, but we don’t really get any deep insight into his feelings. I wasn’t sure if he was seriously dating Kaya or not. The answer is revealed later, but it still doesn’t feel like a deep connection. Personally, I would have liked to see more about how manga artists often struggle to find a life partner. Drawing a series — especially a weekly series — doesn’t leave a lot of playtime, and many mangaka often admit they often spend their free time just relaxing. Instead, we get flat, underdeveloped romances.
On a side note, I was surprised Bakuman. used real names of people and manga. Most Japanese series end up just saying “that one manga” or something like “One Pi•ce” to avoid copyright infringement. It really adds realism when Moritaka and Akito don’t submit stories to Weekly Shonen Leap. Akito even picks up Naruto, One Piece, and Bleach on the second volume’s cover. Most (all?) the editors in the series are based on real people. Ashirogi and most of their cohorts’ names — perhaps even their personalities — are based on various Jump authors.
Drawing manga in a manga has got to be very difficult. An artist can’t make their characters’ artstyles look too similar to their own. A lot of manga-in-manga just look like generic retro manga, which is fine in many cases. In a series like Bakuman. where there is a whole slew of manga, this doesn’t work. Fortunately, Obata is both experienced and talented. Even with the wide cast, all the characters are distinguishable from each other and from the ones in Obata’s other series. Bakuman.‘s cast features a nice mix of the sharp-eyed characters of Death Note and the younger characters of Hikaru no Go and Gakkyu Hotei. Most of the characters’ manga aren’t given a whole lot of closeups or mini-mangas, so that works to Obata’s advantage. For better or for worse, Ohba and Obata pack as much as they can into each chapter, and the chapters tend to end abruptly. Years pass in this series, so lots of narration is included to try to keep the panels from becoming too overcrowded. Humorous faces for the main characters are done in an ugly newbie style, contrasting against Obata’s usual pretty-boy looks. However, it is a little hard to look at the characters and realize this manga takes place over many years. Middle school Akito and Moritaka really don’t look much different from their adult selves. Bakuman. is definitely a very nice looking manga, but it can be crowded out by the dialogue sometimes.
Most honorifics are not used. “Sensei” and “senpai” are. Other honorifics are dropped except in cases like “Lady/Miss Aoki” and “Master Nezuma”. The manga fortunately does keep the characters’ mostly referring to each using last names, so it makes scenes like Akito switching from “Miyoshi” to “Kaya” sweet.
Surprisingly, not a lot of translation notes are included. I thought this manga would have a page or two of notes at the end of each volume talking about all the series referenced in Bakuman. Only the more obscure titles to Western fans are given a footnote. I mean, I”s was published in English, but I wonder how many fans know of it. Seriously, most of the notes could have been one long Viz Media advertisement.
Otherwise, I didn’t really notice much. One English introduction is changed to Japanese instead. Terms like “anime” and “manga” are kept. Ohba’s and Obata’s storyboards and rough drafts are left untouched with a note that they’re written in Japanese every time. I guess in case you thought they suddenly were writing in Greek? All fictional manga titles are translated.
I don’t have much else to add.
All in all, this series has some of the usual shounen marks, but Bakuman. isn’t stuck in a “Ashirogi versus the world” format. The creators may try to outdo each other and butt heads with their editors, but victory isn’t as simple as defeating the evil warlord who wants to take over the world. There’s no absolute right or wrong with something as subjective as creating and reviewing literature. However, reading Bakuman. would absolutely be the right choice… as long as you skip over the lame romances.
Media Blasters released the first DVD set, but they halted distribution. The series is available for streaming from Neon Alley.
Ohba and Obata are better known for teaming up to create Death Note. Their current serialization, Platina End, is being simu-pubbed. Obata also did the art for Hikaru no Go, Ral Grad, Gakkyu Hotei: School Judgment, and the manga adaptation of All You Need is Kill. All of these are available from Viz Media.