Bakuman Book 1

Review by Ed Sizemore

Akito Takagi is 14 years old and dreams of being a manga writer. However, he’s not a good artist, so he needs one as a partner. Moritaka Mashiro is Akito’s classmate and a gifted artist. He wanted to be a manga artist until he saw his uncle work himself to death in that job. After much arm twisting, Akito convinces Moritaka to join him. Together, they seek to become successful manga creators (called mangaka).

Bakuman Book 1 cover
Bakuman Book 1
Buy this book

Bakuman is a fortuitous release for Viz. In June of this year, Viz and 35 other publishers formed a coalition to combat the problem of scanlations. Just this week, manga author Yana Toboso (Black Butler) spoke out against illegal downloads of manga and anime. Part of the debate surrounding scanlations is a discussion of the hardships that mangaka face. It has become painfully evident that there is a part of manga fandom that doesn’t know how the Japanese publishing system works or what it’s really like to be a mangaka. Now Viz has a series that claims to tell the truth about how manga is created and the life mangaka live.

The first page of the book quotes Obata, “There’s no fantasy in this series, so I feel a bit nervous about it.” Let’s be honest, that’s not entirely true. Few, if any, mangaka begin by being given a rent-free studio, all the needed supplies and equipment, and a comprehensive library of manga and reference material. Akito and Moritaka are starting out well ahead of the average mangaka. This plot device gets us past having to watch our fledgling mangaka slowly amassing supplies and begging their parents for pens, screentones, paper, ink, etc. But let’s not fool ourselves into thinking we’re getting an honest, no-holds-barred look at being a mangaka.

That’s not to say there isn’t plenty of realism in the series. At the beginning, Moritaka informs Akito that only one in a hundred thousand will ever be a ‘successful’ manga creator. By successful, Moritako means a mangaka who is free of financial worry. Most artists and writers are living paycheck to paycheck, like the rest of the world, and that’s only if they have a series currently being published. While they are pitching a series, they don’t get paid. Even if a mangaka has a successful manga series that gets adopted into a successful anime, he won’t make enough money to last a lifetime.

At this point, Ohba and Obata make reference to their successful manga series Death Note. Ohba quotes himself as saying the money from Death Note will only last him five years. That’s a sobering fact when you consider that Death Note was a successful manga that was adapted into a successful anime, had three live-action films made, has a series of light novels, had three video games, plus Viz is getting ready to release a new deluxe edition of the manga. And let’s not forget all the merchandise sales. Even a global bestseller like Death Note is no guarantee of financial security.

Ohba and Obtata also give real lessons in the craft of creating a manga. Since Moitako learned a lot watching his uncle work, he serves as Akito’s mentor. Through Moitako’s tutorage we learn: the difference between using a G-Pen nib and a Kabura nib, what a storyboard is, what the role of an editor is, that not all editors are good, etc. We discover there are various visual reference books available to artists for creating backgrounds such as office interiors, street scenes, and forests. Creating professional quality manga is a complex and demanding enterprise. To be successful means putting in more than just 40 hours a week.

Bakuman is being published in Weekly Shonen Jump magazine, and it feels like Ohba and Obata are trying to fit a slice-of-life series into the Shonen Jump formula. Our protagonists are young men with great potential who seek to conquer the world of manga. Before them are many obstacles they will have to overcome. Each challenge will force them to improve their skills and achieve a new level of mastery. Is this beginning to sound familiar? The plotline could be used to describe Dragonball, Bleach, or Naruto. The problem is the authors are trying to create an exciting tale about the tedium of being a mangaka. Unfortunately, this takes away from the sense of realism they wanted to create. It makes the events of the series feel overhyped, like an infomercial that is trying too hard to sell you another ‘life-changing’ kitchen toy.

There is also the little matter of Akito’s four-page discussion about two of his female classmates. Akito is voicing the traditional understanding of women and their social roles in Japanese society. Basically, he thinks that women should seek to be wives and mothers. He uses this lens to analyze the motivations of his classmates. Needless to say, this won’t sit well with female American readers.

However, I have a hard time taking Akito seriously. First, he is only 14. I understand the authors writing the manga are adult men, but they are putting these words in the mouth of a very young man who has never been in a serious relationship himself. Second, this is very early in the series. There is no indication that Akito’s opinion is set in stone and will be the way that the manga itself will portray its female characters. I’m holding off any final opinion for a couple more volumes to give Ohba and Obata time to do more character development.

Obata’s art is gorgeous as always. I’ve yet to read any manga Obata has drawn that isn’t visually exceptional. The lines are crisp and sharp. The panels and pages flow well and are easy to read. There are lots of gorgeous details. I continue to encourage any artist to study his pages to learn how to do comics right. My only complaint is the character designs are very similar to those used in Death Note, so my first thought when I saw Akito was, “Hey, it’s Light with glasses.” But that’s a miniscule complaint at best.

When I heard the creators of Death Note had a new manga out, I was very excited. Unfortunately, the false sense of dramatic tension really soured Bakuman for me. I was hoping for something a bit more realistic. For people not as worried about realism, this is a good introduction to Japanese publishing and what it takes to get published. Honestly, I have no impedance to pick up the second volume, so I let this series pass by.

22 Comments

  1. I’m not sure what you mean by that last sentence, Ed. Are you saying that you’re not going to read any further?

    I think I may reread this series and write up my own thoughts. I appear to have liked it more than many other readers.

  2. Johanna, Exactly. The series just don’t grab me.

  3. Interesting. I’m already ready for volume 2, which is weird, because based on lots of criteria, I shouldn’t like it as much as I do.

  4. Hi, this is pretty accurate to what I felt about the series, too, but I’ll be giving the second volume a chance. What you said about justifying the apparent sexism, youth of the characters and the series, I think could also apply to the realism issues.

    However, I do think there is a sexist undercurrent to the story. As a dramatic construction, Akito’s speech is presented as the sharing of information which the only other character in the scene agrees with. Taken as is, these ideas are presented as objective fact with no voice of dissent. The contextual shots showing the classmates during the talk also present his narration in a much more authoritarian voice than may have been intended. If the scene were intended as a goofy kid just being goofy, I’d think it would have focused on his goofiness or the contextual shots stylized as illustrations of his goofy subjective opinion.

    Otherwise, the big plot motivation, the promise to the girl, pretty much hangs any failure to achieve the dream of the promise on her head while any success would be fully owned by the boy. In the case of the uncle, it’s the woman who fails to stick to the dream, while the uncle was busy working himself to death. I just can’t see the lesson here being anything but, men will fight for their dreams, women just want a marriage, wherever it may come from.

  5. Jade,

    Given Obata’s illustration style, I don’t know if he could pull off the goofiness needed for such a visual contextualization of Akito’s comments. He is too straightforward an artist for that.

    Great point about girls waiting around for the boy to initiate and progress the relationship in this series. If you look at Death Note, it’s easy to critique Ohba for his female characters. In that series, he created two great female characters only to have both fall into the typical Japanese female stereotype. The up and coming FBI agent who quits a promising career to become a wife. The Kira fan who tracks him down and learns his identity only to become the hapless love puppy and wife.

    I still can’t get past the fact that two 14 years old get a fully stocked studio to begin their careers. That’s too much of a short cut.

    Thanks for the wonderful comments.

  6. [...] Sato is a talented artist who reminds me of Takeshi Obata (Death Note, Bakuman, Hikaru no Go). I’m impressed by the battle scenes. They are very dynamic and clear. So often [...]

  7. [...] I believe this makes me the only woman regularly podcasting about manga. Next up: we talk about Bakuman. [...]

  8. [...] also expect those who were dismayed by the few pages of sexism in Bakuman to be incensed by this book, since Mashiro has all kinds of internal monologues that say things [...]

  9. [...] the latest Manga Out Loud podcast, Ed and I discuss Bakuman. I liked the book more than I thought I would, and we talk about why. I liked the snarky bits about [...]

  10. [...] Ed reviewed Book 1, he dinged it for not being very realistic. I’m not sure a story about kids making [...]

  11. [...] faces and expressions. However, after discussing the questionable treatment of female characters in Bakuman earlier this year — that series is drawn by the same artist, Takeshi Obata, as Hikaru no Go [...]

  12. [...] Viz announced that the fourth volume of the Bakuman manga series would be available digitally on March 28th. The print version is due out April 5 [...]

  13. [...] with its questionable gender stereotypes, Bakuman is quickly becoming one of my most-anticipated current manga series, because of its [...]

  14. I agree with what you said about this first volume, and yes, as a lady and comic book reader, I was rather troubled by the somewhat sexist content. Funnily enough, it wasn’t the ongoing opinion of the character of Akito that I was irritated by, it was that there wasn’t a female character to contradict that statement. Moritaka’s mother could be improved if she was just a cardboard cut out with an audio box that stuffed animals have.

    Not to mention that when the potential of an actual problem had come up- when the mother said that a manga career was out of the question, she was overruled by the absentee father TWO PAGES later. If anything, these kids are pretty much GIVEN everything they could need to get started, but the reasoning for actually WANTING to become manga-ka’s is incredibly weak and flimsy.

    The weirdest part of reading the first volume, is that I’m left questioning whether or not Ohba is being brilliant by giving such weak beginnings as a comment of the quality of storytelling in popular and current manga as he’s rehashing typical storytelling devices- the “love” motivation being foremost. It is after all a manga about a manga.

    I’ve read up to volume 4 so far and skimmed volumes 5 + 6 and it does get better, but not so much that I’d want to keep reading. I think I was hoping there would be more commenting on the manga industry, in the style of “Even A Monkey Can Draw Manga”.

  15. [...] the launch, the magazine contains Bakuman, Bleach, Naruto, Nura: Rise of the Yokai Clan, One Piece, and Toriko. Since some of them had to [...]

  16. [...] are 10 books in the Bakuman series out in the U.S. so far, and I’ve been enjoying them. Now, via ANN, comes news that the [...]

  17. [...] Bakuman [...]

  18. […] ending is the Viz series about manga creators, Bakuman (Book 20, $9.99). While it had its problems, the struggles of the young artists really grew on me, […]

  19. […] Viz releases a Bakuman Complete Box Set ($159.99) that contains all 20 volumes of the manga series. Bakuman is the story of two aspiring manga creators, an artist and a writer, who navigate the business of […]

  20. […] the upcoming manga. It will be available digitally June 19 (at $6.99), the same day it debuts in Japan. The two-volume series is drawn by Takeshi Obata, who also illustrated Death Note, Hikaru no Go, and Bakuman. […]

  21. […] Now, the best-known American manga publisher, Viz, has joined ComiXology. Viz has made over 500 volumes of manga available on the service. Titles include the immensely popular Naruto, Bleach, One Piece, Death Note, Dragon Ball, and my favorites Nana, Hikaru no Go, and Bakuman. […]

  22. […] has illustrated several manga titles well-known in the US, including Death Note, Hikaru no Go, and Bakuman. His detailed art is a pleasure to […]

Leave a Reply