Bakuman Volume 2

Bakuman Volume 2 cover

Akito and Moritaka struggle to become manga-ka (published comic creators) by meeting with an editor at Shueisha (owner of Viz Media) in Bakuman volume 2. They’re getting advice on submitting to the magazine Weekly Shonen Jump. (That’s the original home of this manga during its serialization — it’s Disney-style cross-promotion in action!)

The advice on making comics seems realistic, at least when it comes to the Japanese industry. I’m not sure a story about kids making professional-level manga can ever be 100% plausible, but the advice I see here seems sensible and fact-based, if very cynical and specialized for its home market.

In contrast, the emotional points are completely ridiculous. Within the first three pages, while the boys are waiting for their appointment at the manga publisher, we find out more about Akito’s motivations for making manga in spite of his elite educational status by hearing him casually relate a family history of slacker brother, a down-trodden businessman dad, and revenge-seeking mother. He wraps it all up with this quote:

Bakuman Volume 2 cover

Since then, they’ve never complained about any of my choices, so I guess they’re good parents.

Oh, sorry… that was depressing, eh?

Is this telling so blatant in its short space because many readers can relate to that kind of family dynamic? The motivations of the female character (the mom) makes no sense and doesn’t appear to have any basis in what a real person would do, but the idea of rebelling against one’s parents’ choices is common in teen-oriented literature.

The editor, like them, is young at his work. His interior monologue is self-contradictory and conflicts with what he tells them; he’s buttering them up to keep their developing talent at his company. At one point, he says the equivalent of “people who like this kind of thing would like this”, the kind of meaningless praise that fills space and makes the listener think it’s more profound than it is. Still, the advice he’s giving the characters, and by extension the reader, is ultimately sensible: that there’s a difference between manga art and illustration, and that a story for a comic has to be told differently than you would tell the same story in a novel.

The art continues to astound, and the information about how the Japanese manga publishing industry works is interesting to me. It’s escapism, in a way, looking at the details of how to game the new talent contest and appealing to readers who dream of becoming professional comic creators. Most comic readers have thought about that at some point, so it’s a seductive thought, layered here with exoticism of a system foreign to the U.S.

Then it’s back to the schoolboy drama, as Moritaka has to … shock! … sit next to his crush Azuki. I’m too old to remember how soul-crushing the littlest moments could be with someone you liked, so I find his terror funny. Given how superior he acts, I like seeing him confused. Moritaka is dumbly arrogant, presented as knowing more about writing manga than his partner even though he’s the artist, and even shown as evaluating his editor. This manga is only worth reading if you find that kind of adolescent snobbery amusing, as I do, instead of annoying. He’ll find out how the world really works soon enough, even if it’s not shown in this series’ pages.

There’s lots of practical advice about the Japanese publishing industry and very little consideration about art. I found that approach very modern, almost too much so. These boys don’t feel a need to tell a story; instead, they’re trying to build a career, making decisions based on business considerations. They select a story idea based on what they think will win an award instead of what they’d like to write about or draw. It’s about achievement instead of creativity.

But then, the relationships are the same way. Two girls are fighting over Akito after he attacks a guy who bad-mouthes their comic work. None of this is believable, but it gives the writer and artist something to do that’s not all about the business. There’s also an even freakier kid introduced, a manga prodigy who lives for nothing but his art. He becomes the team’s biggest competition, even though he doesn’t know they exist.

Overall, this manga series is the best example of the advice it’s publishing. It’s an outsized competition story, well-suited to the teen boy audience of the original magazine, with lots of hooks to keep the reader interested and voting for the series in the reader surveys, which as we learn throughout this volume, will determine a manga-ka’s career. (The publisher provided a review copy.)