story by Tsugumi Ohba; art by Takeshi Obata; adapted by Hope Donovan
published by Viz; $9.99 US
After learning the need for hard work in the previous book, Moritaka and Akito reach several other serious milestones in this volume: they split up, and they challenge their editor by doing something the way they want to, instead of the way he tells them to.
Making their own decisions is part of growing up. Since writer Akito didn’t deliver the promised story by the end of summer break, Moritaka holds to their deal, and sets out on his own. As he tells his former partner, “If you want to become a manga creator, you’ve got to be able to meet your deadlines!” Frankly, it’s refreshing to see them accept that things didn’t happen the way they planned and move forward in a new direction, instead of making excuses or pretending their miss didn’t matter. (The cultural differences between the expectations for a manga artist and those in the U.S. for comic artists are part of what makes this series so entertaining for me.)
An early scene, when Moritaka meets with their editor on his own, says a lot about his maturity and determination. It’s not all dour, though, as his editor overreacts in a funny fashion, jumping to his feet and throwing his arms wide as though physically protecting his young discovery when another editor attempts to sieze the moment and hire him away. Moritaka’s editor is still working through possibilities when the new guy tries to swoop in, but after all the ramifications are explained (to both Moritaka and the reader), a new path is set.
Of course, the two kid creators will reconcile, but in the meantime, the editor is still trying to push them to take their time, to not be so eager, to put in the effort for better work and outcome in the long run. It’s a difficult lesson for the young and enthusiastic to manage. That’s why they start making their own decisions, to get what they want instead of following their editor’s directives. And that’s when they start resembling artists in the sense that American readers understand. We’re used to thinking of the type as special, as people with their own compulsions to create. Bakuman undercuts that myth by demonstrating the virtue of craft and how much heads-down work is involved, if you want to take art as a career, not just a hobby. Their editor sets them difficult milestones to show them how to build their endurance at this work.
The art manages to make lots of conversations and heads-down making manga scenes visually interesting through active and exaggerated expressions. There’s also Kaya, Akito’s girlfriend and source of panty shots, for the mostly male audience who’s presumed to be reading this series. She does get to make more of a contribution this volume, but it’s to help the boys achieve their dream. She gives up her plans to become a writer (not much of a loss since it’s made clear she’s incompetent at it) to serve as research assistant to Akito, summarizing genre works for him.
As a balancing factor, a new manga writer is introduced: Miss Aoki resembles a doll, but she’s an award winner, and she teams up with Nakai, the old guy assistant who still dreams of making his own series. She’s got an idea for a fantasy manga, and she switched from drawing to writing, because the editors thought that concept was better suited for boys, and her artwork wasn’t “suitable” for that audience. The implication is that her style was too girly. While I’m thrilled to see a female professional, I’m a little bit shocked by how gender-identified all this material is. I knew the American superhero industry willfully ignores girls and women, but I had higher hopes for manga. Aoki follows through on her introduction by criticizing other creators’ works for being too violent and otherwise unsuitable for boys.
As always, manga fans will enjoy seeing all the behind-the-scenes details about how series are selected and ranked and created. Another new manga creator, a former actor and musician who’s rather grandiose, makes his debut, reminding me of a young Japanese Orson Welles. He’s an excellent villain, full of ego, while young genius Eiji kibitzes on his compatriots and their competition.
Plus, the series pokes fun at its own genre. Akito says, at one point, “I’m sure a dramatic turnaround like that would happen in a manga, but real life isn’t that easy.” The smart reader acknowledges the contradiction in that statement, that this is still a manga, just a self-aware one. (The publisher provided a review copy.)