Matt Kamen on the anime that’s all about manga
Bakuman is a slice of life series focusing on the highs and lows of making it as a manga creator in Japan. If you’re reading this, chances are you’ve at least considered making your own comic. Succeeding in that cut-throat field is no easy path though, as this week’s new release makes clear.
The eagerly anticipated show is adapted from the latest manga series by writer Tsugumi Ohba and artist Takeshi Obata – the creators of the wildly popular gothic thriller Death Note
. Clearly, there’s a HUGE weight of expectation on Bakuman given its pedigree. Thankfully, it doesn’t disappoint but those expecting anything even remotely similar to the twisting, psychological battle between Kira and L will be very surprised by what’s on hand here.
Bakuman focuses on Moritaka Mashiro – Taka for short – a 14-year old art prodigy who’s winning awards even at his young age. He’s a big fan of manga himself (anyone who’s familiar with Japanese manga releases will get a kick out of Taka’s book shelf, with full runs of Dragon Ball
and One Piece
shown with correct cover art!) and looks up to his Uncle Nobuhiro, a one-hit wonder manga creator who never regained the success of his inaugural work. Sadly, Nobuhiro died while Taka was still young, purportedly from overwork but Taka suspects that the desperate man committed suicide, driven to it by a string of uncaring editors and a lack of work. Discouraged from following in his footsteps, Taka’s resigned himself to getting an average office job and leading an unspectacular life. His sense of ambition is nevertheless kickstarted when raging teenage hormones, a girl he fancies, and a healthy dollop of blackmail conspire to change his direction in life!
Much to Taka’s dismay, his classmate Akito Takagi finds Taka’s sketchbook, full of drawings of his crush, aspiring voice actress Miho Azuki. Rather than teasing him, the seemingly aloof Akito reveals himself to be a huge manga fan and, impressed by Taka’s talents, suggests they make a series together. Although Taka initially declines, Akito gets him to team up by telling Miho that they’re working on a series together. Swept up in the suddenness and his own feelings, Taka agrees, telling Miho they’ll save the heroine’s voice for her when their series is animated. Taka also blurts out a marriage proposal for when they’re a success – which Miho surprisingly accepts, with the strange proviso that they not see each other again until then. From here, the series charts Taka and Akito’s quest to become the best manga creators they can be, though Taka retains traits of bleak realism and despair at the viciousness of the industry.
Besides being an opportunity to engage in some hilarious reference gags at the expense of popular manga series – yes, including Death Note! – Bakuman is also delivers some healthy social commentary. The characters are all in the last year of Middle School, making the hard decision over which High School to go to. It’s an important choice in Japan, and many teens find the social pressure to get good grades, and progress from prestigious school to University to notable company to be overpowering. Increasing numbers simply shut down, as Taka is in danger of doing at the start of the series, all contributing to Japan’s hikikomori (social shut-ins) phenomenon. The show also covers how truly hard it is to make it as a megastar manga-ka – the popularity rankings in the weekly anthology comics, the pressure from editors, the demands of success. It’s a bleak career path that offers undeniable rewards if you make it, but the chances of making it are scarily slim.
Bakuman, the anime, is out now on UK DVD from Manga Entertainment.