Bakuman is a slice-of-life, comedy-drama, romance, manga series written by Tsugumi Ohba and illustrated by Takeshi Obata, the same team behind the hit series Death Note. The story follows talented artist Moritaka “Saikō” Mashiro and aspiring writer Akito “Shuujin” Takagi, two ninth grade boys who wish to become manga artists. Mashiro is at first reluctant due to his late uncle who died from overworking. Takagi calls Mashiro, telling Mashiro that he is at Miho Azuki’s house and is going to tell Azuki that Mashiro likes her. Racing down to Azuki’s house to find Takagi waiting for him, Takagi tells Azuki that he and Mashiro are aiming to be manga artists. Azuki tells them that she wants to be a voice actress, showing promise in the field. Mashiro, still thinking about his uncle, accidentally proposes to Azuki who accepts! But, only when their dreams come true, which means Mashiro and Takagi have to create a hit manga in Weekly Shonen Jump that will have an anime adaption so Azuki can voice the heroine! Using the pen name Muto Ashirogi (combining the Japanese characters for “dream” and “come true” with the A in Azuki, the Shiro in Mashiro and the Gi in Takagi’s names) Moritaka and Takagi get to work on making a hit! Should be a cinch, right? Right?
[WARNING: Spoilers for manga below]
When the series starts the art is freakishly realistic with incredible detail, backgrounds, and character designs, something Obata is known for. You could spend an hour just staring at the detail in some panels, especially with views of places like Muto Ashirogi’s studio. The characters have a lot of very fashionable clothing that is great to look at, something else Obata is known for. The art really draws you into the scenes, making you want to see what happens on the next page.
As time goes on in the series’ run, the art becomes more cartoonish in most panels but that does not mean it has devolved. The art is still strong, every splash page has a lot of “oomph” to them, and the cartoonish style makes the comedic moments even more hilarious. Although the manga turns to a more overall cartoonish style, the manga goes back to the realistic style for serious scenes. Surprisingly, these scenes are drawn even better than the start of the manga! The manga has a lot of panels for dialogue, which can make panel distribution awkward, one of the art’s weak points.
The place where the art truly shines is in how the manga is drawn. The manga meaning all of the series the various manga artists of the series publish in Jump. Every single artist has their series drawn differently by Obata; each has different art styles including different perspective points. It is like a different manga artist drew each series. One chapter of a series was drawn with no dialogue, just panels filled with action and it was gorgeous! Each time that they do the artwork for a manga series within the series, you wish that Obata and Ohba made them real series!
The story helps readers get a decent view of the manga industry and how things are done. All of the manga series’ varying stories show a very vivid imagination that is complimented by the art. This manga has many references to popular series such as Ashita no Joe, One Piece, Kinnikuman, Toriko, Naruto, the list just keeps going on and on! When the manga artists and their editors discuss manga it is very interesting to see how they discuss stories, it is as you’re in a room brain storming with these characters as opposed to just reading dialogue.
Miho Azuki, Mashiro’s love interest, gets a decent amount of development and the two play off of each other in a way that is cute (but can get annoying over time). On the other hand, there is one scene where Miho is helping Mashiro draw which was sweet and entertaining. She has her own personal arc at the end of the series that helps develop her as more than just being stubborn, like Mashiro. Takagi’s love interest, Miho’s best friend, Kaya, is the comic relief in the series. She is more fleshed out than Miho. Actually, she’s a character that makes you smile when she’s in scenes. The love interests of the leading duo are decently fleshed out.
Unfortunately, some characters are totally forgotten about. One character, an assistant turned manga artist named Shun Shiratori, has his series cancelled. He never appears in the manga after that. Even though he caused some drama unintentionally with Mashiro, he is just forgotten about. A female manga writer named Aiko Iwase is forgotten about after she is encouraged by everyone not to quit. Even her story arc, where she is in love with Takagi and later one of her editors, is just dumped. Even Ryu Shizuka, a shut-in-turned-manga artist is just forgotten about. All of these characters lost in Bakuman limbo can be confusing, especially considering how much build up some of them were. Even a couple of panels showing what they’re up to as they read the latest copy of Jump would have been nice!
Many of the other manga artists get their time in the spot light as well, some of them grow and some of them do not. One character that doesn’t develop as a person is Eiji Nizuma; he is still the wacky talented artist until the end. Another character that does not evolve is Yuriko “Ko” Aoki. Ko is one of two female manga creators in the series, and she comes across as very one-note. Most of her personal arc revolves around other people in the manga industry thinking she is beautiful that they have to try to win her over. While she starts off as cold, she turns into a very shy person but she is constantly put into romantic scenarios which can be quite annoying and drag on way too long.
The manga artist Aoki marries is a wacky guy named Kazuya Hiramaru who has comedic scenes throughout the manga that will make you laugh out loud. Hiramaru is a manga artist who doesn’t want to work and his editor has to try and get him to work. This pours into his manga Otters 11, which has a premise that makes you want to read it: otter people trying to change the world. Hiramaru can be the light at the end of a dark tunnel when the story is moving super slow.
The story drags things out quite often, with some scenes worse than others. Honestly, it’s as if they twist the knife even more during dragged out moments filled by countless bubbles of dialogue flooding the pages. For example, one arc involves an editor named Miura who turns every series he touches into an awful mess. The manga drags this out by having one manga artist complain to the editor in chief of Jump about Miura which makes him look bad and doesn’t make Miura look any better. One painfully long plot arc in this series is when Miura “forces” Mashiro and Takagi to do a gag manga something they aren’t good at. So for a few volumes it is just the same old repeating cycle of writer’s block, Mashiro throwing a temper tantrum, and Miura being in denial that he is a horrible editor. If reading those two sentences describing the arc felt long to you, imagine reading it. It can drag on to a point that you as a reader may want to skip that entire arc.
The only real villain character in the series starts off being a very interesting character who you want to see get his come-uppance. His introduction and his “fight” with the leads picks up the slack from any previous dragging. As time goes on the villain’s big plot becomes a convoluted mess that will probably take a couple of re-reads to understand.
While Takagi is likable, Mashiro is a very hard character to like. He is very whiny, self-centered, and stubborn. In some instances he is justified but other instances, such as having a temper tantrum during his best friend’s wedding, can make him unlikable. When Mashiro starts to become unbearable, the series cuts to another manga artist. When they return when to Mashiro he won’t be so annoying. Mashiro is a portrayal of the negatives of the straight-forward stubborn Shonen lead. If you want to look at him only for his character, you’ll be annoyed. Bakuman is at its best when it focuses on manga making and all of the wacky people creating manga.
Bakuman’s discussions about manga make it worth reading at least once. The way they discuss manga, and the inner workings of a manga publishing house, help you find a new appreciation for manga. The characters’ urge to get their next manuscript published or waiting to hear whether or not their series was cancelled excites you. You root for the manga artists to succeed and like them as characters and as people. You are drawn in by the drama and even when the drama is prolonged, you still care. While some moments overstay their welcome, when they end, the manga suddenly bounces back, full of adrenaline! Overall, Bakuman is a manga that took something from the real world and made a great Shonen premise out of it; that makes for a very entertaining read!
In exciting news: Bakuman has had all 20 volumes translated by Viz Media. The box set has also been released! IF physical copies aren’t your bread and butter you can also purchase them on your Nook Book. Please support the official release!