story by Tsugumi Ohba; art by Takeshi Obata; adapted by Hope Donovan
published by Viz; $9.99 US
As with any addiction, sometimes I’m afraid to talk about the hold Bakuman has on me. I called the series one of my Best Manga of 2011, due to how much I enjoy and anticipate reading it, but I well know that it also has flaws, mostly relating to its horribly cardboard female characters. Still, I look forward to each new volume with great gusto, since I love following the struggles of the manga artists and the details revealed about the industry, especially how they work with the magazine staff who are their bosses.
The boys’ original editor is now working with Iwase, introduced in the previous volume as a rival for Takagi, the writer. I like her skills, but her motivation to beat Takagi as a way of forcing him to be interested in her is ridiculous. The rest of her attitudes, though, are quite amusing. When told her series was accepted for serialization, her editor is surprised that she’s not more excited. She responds, “It’s just that I’ve never failed an exam or had a submission turned away in my life.” I could grow to like her.
Perhaps I should follow Ed’s advice of simply ignoring any relationship story pages and just read the bits about making comics. That especially goes for the subplot of Takagi promising his girlfriend they’d get married if their new story got accepted as a series. I suspect that’s to allow for comedy bits, such as Mashiro pretending to be her father so Takagi can practice asking him for her hand, but it’s at best funny in an uncomfortable way. Few American readers can relate to either wanting to get married so young or the girlfriend’s lack of any ambition or goals for herself.
Anyway, Iwase’s artist is Nizuma, taking on a second series in a groundbreaking decision, and he’s always a pleasure to see more of, since he comes the closest to “crazy obsessive artistic genius” in type. (I wouldn’t want to work with him, but he’s great to read about, especially how everyone else uses him as a barometer for talent.) How all the other young creators take the news of the new series allows for checking in with the wide cast of supporting players. I particularly like the brief mentions we get of Hiramaru, the one who can’t make a deadline without his editor sitting in his room staring at him. He’s developed a crush on Miss Aoki (who’s shown on the cover), and his editor is taking great advantage of this romantic pressure point to keep him working. (I like her, too, in her quiet certainty and her request to only work with female assistants to avoid complications.)
The more I read, the more I share the guys’ dislike for their editor, who doesn’t seem to know much about what he’s doing. Even when he is clear on his goals, they’re not the same as what the boys want, pointing out how what’s good for the manga magazine and the business may not be the best thing for the artists. He does get some development this volume, though, learning to make different kinds of choices.
The conflict in this installment is that the boys’ new manga is doing well, but it’s a joke-based series that mostly appeals to kids. It’s successful, but none of their friends like it, because it’s too young for them. Those friends, meanwhile, are working on series that rank higher, so the guys have to figure out whether to be satisfied with what they have or strive to create something more artistically challenging. In short, it’s the classic debate of art vs. commerce, whether a working creator should aim for prestige and recognition or stability and money.
Once again, we’re left with a cliffhanger that puts the guys’ career on the line, all the while they’re shaking up the usual way of working. It becomes clear that Takagi’s marriage is another way of ramping up the potential effects, since he’s going to have a wife to support. Changing his state is a way of signifying the importance of learning to make adult decisions. I should have had more faith in the Bakuman creators — they use their characters like paper dolls, the women especially, but there’s always a dramatic purpose behind it. (The publisher provided a review copy.)