story by Tsugumi Ohba; art by Takeshi Obata; adapted by Julie Lutz
published by Viz; $9.99 US
Another outstanding volume in the series about manga creators. The troublemaker Tohru, from books 14-15, has returned with a crazy new business premise that reminded me a lot of how American comic companies work, particularly the CrossGen attempt to build an on-site studio. He’s got employees creating manga stories based on focus groups, with artists treated as hired hands. Of course, everyone thinks it’s horrible, helped by how Tohru tends to go crazy-villain every so often when explaining his motives.
His approach is considered bad for ignoring the important role of the editor and his input, but the bigger question for me is why he just doesn’t start his own publisher, since that’s really the role he’s usurping.
An early debate over whether old creators should make room for the young or whether anyone who can do the work should be hired will also seem familiar to anyone who remembers, for example, the Frank Cho scandal rumors around Charles Schulz’s retirement. It reminded me that we’re still dealing with relatively young kids, since more mature participants might be more sympathetic to the idea that they, too, might be older creators one day.
All this comes together with some references back to Mashiro’s deceased uncle and his earlier attempts at manga success. Given all the comments about how manga artists don’t make money unless they have a super success, with anime adaptations and all the spinoffs, I found myself wondering about these older creators, how they’re supporting themselves and what options they have otherwise.
For what is at heart an adventure competition series, true to its shonen roots, it’s fascinating to see such philosophical debates included. Ultimately, Bakuman posits a moral industry, driven by more than just the desire to make money. That may or may not be true, but it makes for a compelling story.
It’s also striking to see the series itself use the techniques its characters espouse and/or discover. For instance, during one competitive showdown (another “we must rank higher than them!” challenge), Mashiro discovers the benefit of creating a stand-alone chapter in his series that ties back into the older stories. (We here call it a “great jumping-on point”.) The boys figure out the technique, and the next chapter of Bakuman features a stand-alone story about an editor retiring. That chapter also checks in with a lot of the supporting cast and references their fond memories, leading readers to want to refresh their recollection of the events.
This volume concludes with fresh meat for coming books, as both our heroes and crazy genius Nizuma are working up new series. One tackles the incredibly hot concept of zombies (to which, in response, his editor says, “sounds like an American comic”), while another will seem vaguely familiar to fans of Death Note (written by the same author as this series).