story by Tsugumi Ohba; art by Takeshi Obata; adapted by Julie Lutz
published by Viz; $9.99 US
As Book 13 opens, the newest challenge for the team of Takagi and Mashiro is working on a one-shot for a special event the magazine is planning in which their popular series artists each create a stand-alone story. Mashiro, the artist, wants to try writing the one-shot, since writer Takagi has been working with another artist as well to expand his skills. The team is still putting out their series while all this work is going on, but they’re realizing that they might have interests beyond their pairing.
This debate between the two creators highlights how different the manga industry is from our American comic industry, and also where there are similarities. There are two main models for making a living in the US in comics — one is to work as part of an assembly line on a company’s characters, in which case you’re probably making superheroes, whether or not you have an affinity for that genre, and the other is to do everything yourself and hope your book eventually is one of the few that becomes a success, in which case you’re probably telling autobiographical or slice-of-life stories. Maybe fantasy, in a few cases.
While there are both types of creators shown in Bakuman, all of them are working under corporate editors, and there’s a greater diversity of types of stories supported by the company, although the stories are clearly delineated by target audience, which defines the venue. Everyone also has assistants, which they have to pay, in order to make the accelerated deadlines expected. I doubt many US artists would want to work under the Japanese system, but it’s fascinating to see how it plays out day-to-day.
Speaking of distinctions, it’s wonderful to see how a book that’s mostly full of people sitting at drawing boards or tables talking to each other is kept visually interesting. There’s always something to look at, whether details of the studio or an expressive reaction. The boys and their friends even dress appropriately, with touches like scarves or headbands that indicate more character details.
I found it hilarious that most of the teams turned their single stories into romances. It’s an under-appreciated genre, based on a topic most of us are interested in, and yet it freaks the editors out. “We can’t have a boys’ magazine full of romance manga,” worries one. Another, more positive, thinks, “This could open up a whole new direction for us,” because you need the female audience (even for a boys’ publication) to get the biggest hits. The end result is that the magazine brands their event the “Super Leaders Love Fest”, complete with a reader survey to see whose story was most successful (because it wouldn’t be Bakuman without some kind of competition to measure achievement).
It’s even funnier that several of the artists were inspired by the same relationship, the weirdly old-fashioned “pure love from afar” between Azuki and Mashiro. It’s completely unbelievable, even if we get a couple of pages justifying “love at first sight” between fourth graders. The part I did find realistic was how some of the artists didn’t know how to write romance because they had very little or no experience with dating. If you’re stuck at the drawing board as often and as long as they are, there’s just no time to meet people. Which is probably why there are friends and rivals and love interests all among the same young group of creators. At times, the feelings among artistic partners are more intense than those among the couples.
For humor, there’s the manga artist who’s only in it for the money, the one whose editor is always bribing him for another chapter with the promise of going out to have tea with the female creator. His adventures in dating are turned into a chase scene near the end of this volume, an action-packed sequence that nicely balances the more emotional, growing-up realizations faced by our heroes earlier in the book. (The publisher provided a review copy.)