Manga of the Now: Bakuman
This time’s Manga of the Now is a new series by the writer/artist duo of Death Note: Bakuman. Contrary to the brilliant story of how absolute power corrupts absolutely, Bakuman focuses on a simpler story, that of two guys who want to get published in Shonen Jump. While it is nowhere near as good as Death Note, and has some crippling flaws, Bakuman is still an entertaining read.
The story starts with a middle school kid, Mashiro, who is bored with his life and just wants to tell the girl he has a crush on that he likes her. He is confronted by the smartest kid in his class, Takagi, who tells him that they should make a manga together due to Mashiro’s drawing skills. He accepts and tells the girl that they should get married when his manga gets made into an anime, and she can be the seiyuu for the heroine. It’s a solid concept off the bat, and the romance subplot adds a nice motivation to the story. The story continues with their trials against the bureaucracy of the shonen manga industry. This is where the series shines brightest as it seems to draw from a lot of the creators’ personal experience. Bakuman provides an insight into the manga editorial depertment that most fans, Japanese or foreign were probably unaware of. I was completely unaware of what factors play into what stays and what gets axed. The artwork is also extraordinary, with Takeshi Obata’s sharp, clean style as sharp as ever. What is even more impressive is how he is able to draw the various manga within the manga, each with a distinct look very much unlike his own.
Of course as I mentioned, this series has some very strong flaws. The first is the weakness of the characters. They lack depth and seem more like vehicles for the story than anything. Their motivations and personalities are all simple and predictable, and even the protagonists are bland. This is ironic as one of the characters’ greatest flaws in the story is their inability to write interesting characters. The most interesting character is the genius manga author Nizuma Eiji, who is a combination of L from Death Note and a child with ADHD. I say he is the most interesting character. but that is like saying making photocopies is more entertaining than watching paint dry, since his wacky antics are all that make him stand out. Also, Mashiro’s romance is so idealistic and sugary that it would even give the writers at Key diabetes. I fail to see how wanting to wait until marriage to even talk to each other is even a logical expression of love.
My other gripe is how much they praise the protagonists. They will spend pages with editors going over their work praising it. Because I feel that the authors identify with the characters a fair bit, I can’t help but feel like using this manga as an opportunity to masturbate to themselves. Also, since the characters are so talented and perfect, their hardships feel more like minor inconveniences.
Given its strengths and weaknesses, Bakuman is still a good read. It makes up for its flaws with a realistic, albeit accelerated view of the manga making process. It is published in Weekly Shonen Jump, and scanlated almost as quickly as Naruto or Bleach, so you can expect a new chapter every week. It’s not as good as Death Note, but is still a fun read.