story by Tsugumi Ohba; art by Takeshi Obata; adapted by Hope Donovan
published by Viz; $9.99 US
Even with its questionable gender stereotypes, Bakuman is quickly becoming one of my most-anticipated current manga series, because of its insights into the creative-process-as-business. In the last volume, the kids became professional manga creators; in this book, they deal with the aspects that make the job work, not just a dream of making art and goofing off.
As the volume opens, the boys get some bad news. The editor that discovered and guided them, the one that gave them all the background information about how the business worked, has to hand them off to someone else because of his increasing responsibilities elsewhere. They get a new, younger guy, Miura, who seems very enthusiastic but not nearly so knowledgeable or helpful. (With his hair and snub nose, he also resembles a smushed-face Astro Boy.) I sense more conflict coming, as the kids seem to know more about what they want to create and why than he does. Instead of a mentor, they now have an editor who’s growing along with them.
The transition does allow for an early burst of emotion, though, as the previous editor and the creators say goodbye. So much of the book is about denying feelings in order to be professional or reach achievements — as Moritaka and his virtual girlfriend Miho have vowed to do — that moments like this seem very honest and refreshing.
This is the first book in the series that really takes advantage of the various characters introduced so far, especially the other aspiring manga creators Moritaka and Akito have met along their path. In fact, when I think about this book, I don’t think about those central two much — it’s the more vibrant, exaggerated characters that surround them that capture the imagination. But that’s a great, accomplished use of structure. None of the supporting cast could handle their own series — as we see in the overly sappy chapter focusing on the older Nakai and his attempt to win his writer Miss Aoki back from another creative partnership. They work best in smaller doses, which allows them their shining moments without tiring the reader of their quirks.
Hiramaru, for example, is a “corporate dropout” whose first manga won a prize. We get to see him at the company New Year’s party, where he’s hilarious, especially in deadpan contrast to the wacky eccentric Nizuma, another high schooler. Hiramaru doesn’t realize how good he has it, to be selected for a series with so little work, and now he’s regretting his choice to make manga, since it’s a lot of effort. The most telling line is when Moritaka says to Nizuma, about Hiramaru, “Anybody you think is weird must really be weird.” When he returns later on, seeking a studio hideout, it’s more great comic relief that puts events in perspective.
With so many lengthy dialogue balloons, such as Miura’s early lecture on how to run a studio and pay assistants, it’s astounding that the art is still so detailed. The end of chapter 37, which shows the storyboards for the party scene against the final version, is particularly enlightening in how everything was arranged to be readable in spite of the large amount of information. The emotions of the characters are always visible and easy to understand, which keeps them feeling like people instead of business-education-book puppets.
Throwing assistants at the young creators gives them new personalities to demonstrate their growth and maturity against, while their new editor has his own tastes and approaches to the work. It’s a pleasant change from all the “this is great, we just have to get you discovered” praise so far, and it provides more of a challenge to drive the series. It also reminds the U.S. reader that a manga editor has a lot of effect and influence on a work — it’s not just an artist’s vision. Which makes it more difficult when the editor is too easily swayed by whomever’s just talked to him.
The question of girls comes up again, as one of the team’s assistants is female, which means Akito’s girlfriend Miyoshi winds up helping out as well. Moritaka comments that “it’s easier to have two girls rather than one”, a statement that could be interpreted any number of ways. I was just pleased she was presented as the more accomplished of the younger helpers. It makes sense that there aren’t a lot of women around, since this series is specifically about shonen (boys’) manga, but I’m now curious about how a similar series would work in the shojo realm. Would it be more like Miss Potter or Mean Girls?