Manga Marvels: Bakuman

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Today, I begin with yet another of my personal new years resolutions. When last we left on Authentically Awesome Anime, Chris had given us a passionate recollection of his history with Death Note, the breakthrough hit series that jump-started the careers of writer and artist duo Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata. As of this point, I have passed Death Note many times on my Netflix Instant Stream, but have yet to find the heart or mood to really give the series my full attention. [Pranger’s Note: I’ve watched Avatar and Gurren Lagann, it’s your turn to take my advice on a show.] Now now, before my editor gets all upset and writes down a clever idea to get me killed, or worse expelled, permit me to proclaim that not all is lost. Very recently have I been partaking in another series that, quite coincidentally, happens to be created by the same two guys. Without further ado, I present a brand new segment here at Toy-TMA, Manga Marvels, and our very first topic, Bakuman. The Manga about creating Manga.

Is becoming a successful manga artist an achievable dream, or just one big gamble?

 

Our story begins introducing us to Moritaka Mashiro, an average middle school student who has essentially coasted his way through life with very little motivation to achieve anything greater than his current status. He loves to draw, but considers it nothing more than a hobby. That is until, by complete accident, his overachieving classmate, Akito Takagi, discovers his artistic talent. Takagi, who himself happens to be an aspiring writer, corners Mashiro with a proposition. A proposition that would change the course of his life in an instant.

It sounded like such a cute little dream back then.

 

From the beginning, Bakuman touts revealing the mysteries of the manga making business, and over the progression of the series it does not disappoint. After the first several chapters expose the set up, introduce our heroes, give them back stories, motivations, strengths and weaknesses and all that jazz, the story delves behind the scenes of Shonen Jump’s Editorial offices, painting us a genuine, accurate (if not understandably dramatized), step by step process of what all actually does take place before you get to see your work published and serialized.

All the while, our two leads are at the dead center as we watch their partnership grow and take shape. Mashiro the artist is the more quiet and calculating of the two, yet his drive and desire to succeed, with the slightest push, becomes an unstoppable force. Takagi the writer is the conceited outspoken one, yet he’s still got the rational and mental chops to back up his wit. Together, we have two young gentlemen who have all the talent and perseverance it takes to succeed in this business. Unfortunately, on their quest to be manga legend, every outward conflict, every hurdle, and every obstacle that can possibly get in their way does.

Said conflicts include everything from the little things like balancing work with school, harsh deadlines, and writers block, all the way to major game changers like altering their entire art/writing styles to fit the manga style, editors that vary in quality and occasionally try to push their own agenda onto their work, even getting severely ill to the point of being hospitalized and facing a series hiatus just as they are gaining steam. And let’s not forget the biggest one of all: competition. In the case of our heroes, this comes in the form of a young manga prodigy, only a year older than them, who has just recently become the hottest thing in Jump just as they were getting ready to pursue their own careers. Enter Eiji Nizuma.

To quote an artist and friend of mine, “To be that talented, you’d HAVE to be crazy.”

 

Nizuma is Bakuman’s version of the token rival character that populates many Japanese series (the Vegita, Seto Kiba, Gary Oak role: someone who isn’t the main antagonist, yet is frequently in direct confrontation with the hero, usually for more personal reasons). Despite his motive- to have the right to cancel any series he doesn’t like if he becomes the number one artist in Jump- painting him as a very unsettling person, Nizuma does grow to be a fun and intriguing character in his own right. Quite anti social (but working on it), obsessed with manga, and with a workstation that always looks (and sounds) like a riot. It would not surprise me if the creators envisioned him as being autistic. He also regularly appears to be quite friendly to Ashirogi (Mashiro and Takagi’s pen name) and a personal fan of their work, even after they become full blown rivals at Jump.

In addition, several other manga artist appear as regular characters right alongside Ashirogi and Nizuma, and the Ohba/Obata team do an excellent job of giving each of them distinct personalities and styles. There’s the really aggressive artist who isn’t necessarily the most talented, but is so over-the-top and extreme in his style that he pushes the boundaries of what he’s willing to get away with in his attempt to fight censorship. You’ve got the middle aged veteran artist who’s been trying to get his foot in the door for years, and finally receives a stroke of good fortune when Jump teams him up with an award-winning novelist looking to serialize their story. There is also a late bloomer genius artist who picked manga out of the blue, figuring he could do that, so he did and became an instant hit, yet found out how stressful and agonizing the job is, but because he quit his former job and now has a popular series in Jump he’s stuck with this highly coveted career that he doesn’t even want. That’s… actually pretty clever.

Meanwhile, the editors at Jump themselves have an unofficial competition between themselves to see the artists under their wing get published. They all display their own methods of dealing with each of their various artists, and we are quickly shown how a good editor and a bad editor can make a difference in a manga artist’s success.

Meanwhile, there is another B-plot concerning Mashiro’s crush on this girl Azuki that he’s been too shy to say a word to all throughout Middle school. When Takagi convinces Mashiro to join him in creating manga, he instigates the two of them meeting one another, in which Mashiro proclaims to Azuki his goal to become a manga artist and she states her goal (wouldn’t you know it) is to be a voice actress. If you haven’t already guessed, the two of them make a promise that Mashiro and Takagi will become successful manga artists and get their story animated, and Azuki will play the voice of the heroine in their anime, and when that day comes, when both their dreams come true, they will get married. This is eventually what becomes the fire up Mashiro’s butt that turns his drive into that unstoppable force I mentioned above.

Moments like this really sell the heart the creators put in this story.

 

Meanwhile, Takagi, by complete accident, winds up in a relationship with Azuki’s best friend Miyoshi. Normally, you’d think Miyoshi would be the whiny annoying hot girl character that everyone can’t stand, and you’d be right, mostly. Yet she is very upbeat, tomboyish, and becomes Ashirogi’s biggest supporter. Her aggressive and down-to-earth relationship with Takagi makes an interesting foil to Mashiro and Azuki’s very romanticized idea of relationships.

Meanwhile, Mashiro has this late uncle who was a published manga artist for Jump way back when, whom all the older editors immediately remember his name from. It becomes a blessing and a curse: a blessing in that he and Takagi inherit his uncle’s old studio full with reference material, and a curse in that his uncle’s death may or may not have been directly related to his work in manga, thus raising concerns form Mashiro’s parents and the Editor-in-Chief of putting the pressure on him at such a young age.

Meanwhile, each individual manga artist has their own series that takes shape throughout the course of Bakuman’s run. We see short glimpses of each of these stories, all of which have their own distinctive art style that differentiates them from the main story, as well as each other. For instance, Eiji Nizuma’s series, Crow, always looks extremely sharp, flashy, and just plain badass. In just a few short images, I whole heartedly believe that Nizuma is in fact an artistic genius, and that Crow is the next big fighting series, right up there with One Piece and Naruto. Maybe even better.

If that actually existed, I’d be all over it.

 

At this point, I realize I my have been bombarding you all with too many meanwhiles. On reflection, the plot does seem a bit complicated, but you’ll just have to trust me that each of these plot points are interwoven very nicely, and the story does have a nice flow. A little slow at first, but after the first hurdle of chapters, the momentum picks up very nicely.

In addition to everything I mentioned above, there are many other little things to Bakuman that really make it something special. I like how the series has an official timeline and regularly keeps track of time as events pass by and we gradually get to see our characters grow year by year. I like how they created all these fictional manga series, yet still reference real manga series to give the world a sense of real life. I also really like the writing. Ohba is an excellent story teller, but credit should also be given to Jump’s English Adaptation, Hope Donovan, for making the dialogue flow so naturally in my native language. What I would give to see all Japanese work have this kind of quality in their translation.

Bakuman is currently 163 Chapters (16 Volumes) and still running. There is also an anime, which is currently in its second season. While I am very curious to have a look at it, if I’m being honest with myself, given the nature of the story, this is a tale that is truly meant to be read as a Manga and thus why I feel it is most fitting to be the first edition of Manga Marvels.

As an aspiring writer myself, I found a lot to love and relate to in this series (not to mention wishing I could be as talented a writer as Akito Takagi). For anyone out there looking for a fun splice of life story about kids who dare to dream and have the heart and dedication to back them up, along with an intriguing look into the world of manga, check out Shonen Jump’s Bakuman at your local library today, or find it online at MangaFox or MangaReader.

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