Reviews: Bakuman

Quick out of the gate, fades in the stretch, finishes off behind but with head held high.

Bakuman, to me, can be divided in half.

The first half is very strong, particularly if the process of manga creation interests you. It has fun characters and a strong "metafictional" vibe. One can easily be sucked into the plight of these two underdog creators and their struggle to get by. Any breaks from the "central" story are at least well-tied into it, and their effects on the broader "world" of the mangaka community are shown.

Unfortunately, around the time they finally get a major success started, things start going downhill. A previously-cohesive story begins to fragment into a series of short, stuttering arcs. One artist, Shizuka, is often mentioned but never steps out of the background or impacts the story in any way. An assistant's uninteresting solo career takes center stage for a while to create contrived drama within the main cast and then is never heard from again before a brief mention in the finale. Nanamine makes a strong first impression as a uniquely antagonistic character, and his first story arc is fairly well-handled, if brief, but the second is just a poor rehash of the first, negating the Character Development he seemed to go through at the end and leaving him much more one-dimensional.

Not all of these arcs are bad (two fellow creators' slowly-blossoming relationship is a standout), but most of them are pointless, failing to serve the broader plot or alter the status quo. Many could be outright skipped before the finale. One gets the impression that the creators were running out of ideas, throwing mud at the wall to see what stuck, and finding little did. The growing cast probably didn't help either, and juggling them all was probably becoming a bit of a chore, with many potentially-interesting characters, like one-time rival Iwase and previous-assistant-turned-creator Takahama, simply fading into the background.

The finale is a little cheesy and preachy on the subject of fandom overreach, but it does wrap things up well enough, resolving the central conflict and giving the characters their storybook ending. And, years after the fact, the lesson that fans should learn to accept that artists don't belong to them has only become more resonant.

I'd still recommend it, but caution readers that Seasonal Rot is definitely a thing. It's a quality read, but that quality isn't always even.

Making Manga Creation Interesting

Young people are pursuing a highly appealing calling that many aspire to, but few can succeed at. The main character not only wants to succeed, but rise to the very top, for the sake of a promise to someone close to him. Does this sound like the typical story of a manga? It is a manga story, about making manga.

The characters are typically well-rounded and interesting, often developing and displaying hidden depths over time. Unfortunately, they often go in and out of the story, and many chapters (as well as often months or years in universe) pass without hearing from some.

The passage of time is different in Bakuman than it is in many other shonen manga; often, several weeks will pass in the course of a chapter. Despite this, the story flows at a good pace, and things remain suspenseful as the protagonists try to accomplish their short-term goals while advancing their long-term plan.

The series does a good job of showing certain debates regarding manga; very rarely will a character come off as completely unreasonable or without good points, and most of the characters have their turns at being right or being wrong. The main characters learn quite a bit over time, including realizing that some of their initial assumptions were wrong, and it helps show how much they changed over the years.

The series is quite insightful in its look at the creation process. Through reading it, one can understand certain decisions, such as why an arc goes on longer than it should (sometimes longer than the author wants it to), why a series shifts genres, and why some series end just as they're getting good. It also effectively displays just how much work doing a manga series is.

Bakuman also remains very human, with characters falling in love, having friendships and personal lives outside of their time as mangakas. Their goals are important to them, but not the only part of them, which helps them come across as believable and likeable.

In short, Bakuman is well worth your time.

I'll take a pen...and DRAW WITH IT!

Bakuman is a somewhat hard manga for me to describe without delving into meta, because this series is incredibly meta. Since October '10 when the anime debuted, it has been an anime, adapted from a manga that runs in Shounen Jump, about two kids trying to get a manga in Shounen Jump, to get an anime.  *

The manga's plot is set up completely within the first chapter. We get our main protagonist Mashiro Moritaka's backstory, as well as his motivation and love interest, while he and the second protagonist Takagi Akito share a good amount of characterization for themselves. The plot from then on is their attempts, failures, and success in getting into Shounen Jump and the various other writers/rivals they acquire along the way.

Written by Tsugumi Ohba and illustrated by Takeshi Obata, the duo behind Death Note, Bakuman simply is a very good manga to read. It's not a handbook for everything you'll need to know about getting into manga, but it nonetheless has some very insightful notes about the way manga works in a published magazine.

The art evolves gradually over time. The story's pacing is excellent, and avoids the hiccups of other series that make arcs drag on too long by keeping things just the right speed they need to be. The dramatic moments are dramatic, the funny moments are hilarious, and everything is of professional quality. This manga has a mastered sense of the cliffhanger and every chapter ending has you yearning for more.

The characters are unique and evolve naturally as they have to, and there's a wide enough cast to display plenty of quirks and insight, but the two that display this by far are the duo's first rival, Niizuma Eiji, and fellow mangaka rival Hiramaru.

If I had to fault it for one thing, its that Bakuman is a bit of a wordy manga. Most of the action involved is just the characters discussing the ups and downs of manga, and many of these discussions occur between the duo and their editor, Akira Hattori, and at times it can get a bit confusing. However, that's not to say this series is preachy.

All in all, Bakuman is an entertaining read, and I would highly reccomend it to anyone looking into becoming a writer/artist as reference inspiration.

As a final score, Bakuman is well deserving of 9/10.