Bakuman Volumes 1 and 2

Bakuman Volumes 1 and 2 by Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata

This is another series I’d steered clear of initially, because even though I enjoyed Death Note despite the narrative shortcomings towards the end of the series, I wasn’t sure how interesting I’d find manga about manga to be. I also read some reviews that charged the series with sexism, so I was avoid the series for that reason as well. I found the first two volumes of Bakuman entertaining, and the sexism in the series seems like an accurate reflection of the attitudes of its protagonists – aspiring manga creators and schoolboys Moritaka Mashiro and Akito Takagi.

Bakuman Volume 1

Mashiro is crushing on the coolest girl in his class, Azuki. He practices his drawing skills by sketching her portrait in his school notebook. When he leaves his notebook at school he rushes back to make sure no one will find out the secret of his drawing habit and his crush. He’s confronted by Akito Takagi, a boy who sits in the back of the classroom and prides himself on his observational powers. Takagi proposes a partnership: he’ll write stories and Mashiro will provide the drawings. They will become mangaka together. Mashiro loves drawing, but is reluctant to become a mangaka because his uncle used to be a professional who failed to build on the success of his initially popular gag series. He died broke and alone.

Takagi ends up forcing Masahiro to draw manga by dragging him to Azuki’s house and confessing their ambitions. Masahiro is so embarrassed, he randomly breaks out with a proposal of marriage, and she accepts on the condition that they marry after they’ve fulfilled their dreams. This ends up being somewhat convenient in a narrative sense, because Azuki ends up being a character that Masahiro can just use as a muse. She isn’t given much of a personality compared to her male counterparts.

I can see why people are criticizing Bakuman for being sexist, but the elements that someone would use to make that critique didn’t really bother me because they seemed to fit with the point of view of young Japanese teenage boys. Takagi makes a long speech about how clever Azuki is because she dedicates herself to being the perfect girl. Her grades aren’t too good. She has a socially acceptable goal of becoming a voice actress. She doesn’t act too stuck up, and she’s mediocre enough not to stand out so she doesn’t inspire jealousy in the other girls. Takagi attributes her behavior to careful calculation. This type of speech seems just like the type of thing a 14 year old boy with ambitions of becoming a writer would say.

Bakuman Volume 2

Seeing how Mashiro and Takagi evolve their ambitions and refine their approach to making manga was fascinating. I always knew manga polls in magazines were significant, but seeing the way the boys discuss the type of story they need to produce in order to get the poll numbers they need made me realize how much the creation of a successful series can be a numbers game. Mashiro and Takagi have a more cerebral, offbeat approach to the stories they create, while their prodigious rival Nizuma seems to be creating the straight-up action series that fans of Naurto would adore.

There were plot elements in Bakuman that seemed to make things just a little too easy. Takagi’s family has held on to his uncle’s studio and gives him access when he announces that he’s going to follow his dream. It turns out that Azuki’s mother was actually the long-lost love of Takagi’s uncle too. Azuki and Takagi agree to wait for each other while pursuing their respective dreams, freeing her up to be an objectified object of affection with the eventual couple only cheering each other on mostly through text messages. The genius fifteen year old manga creator Nizuma and the way he inspires the heros of the story to work harder seems more than a little reminiscent of the relationships between L, Mello, and Near in Death Note.

While all the details about manga creation were interesting, there was a slightly didactic or textbook-like quality to all the exposition. While I enjoyed reading Bakuman, I don’t think it would be the type of series I’d read over and over again. I put these volumes down with a renewed appreciation for Obata’s art. He makes playing Go look dynamic and filled with action, and similarly he makes the process of creating manga look gripping. I put these volumes down with an appreciation for the creative process and the business behind manga. It was interesting to see how Mashiro and Takagi started to revise their work after being taken under the wing of an editor. Seeing how difficult it is to even get a story published in the first place makes me appreciate manga creators even more. Bakuman isn’t a perfect work by any means, but I did feel like I got a lot out of reading it. I’d recommend this title for anyone who is curious about the process of manga creation.

Review copy of volume 2 provided by the publisher.

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Comments

  1. I agree that it’s still a great title and I’m glad VIZ brought it over here.

    Yes, there are issues of sexism. But, it’s not as bad as most other series.

    I did take a look at the issue of sexism in Bakuman. You can read it at: http://www.mangatherapy.com/post/1543578362/sexism-in-japan-bakuman

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