Bakuman Season 1 (Cert 12)
6 Discs (Distributor: Manga Entertainment/Kaze UK) Running time: 676 minutes approx.
Like most fourteen year-olds, Moritaka Mashiro has no idea of what he wants to do with his life, but he does know is that classmate Miho Azuki is cute and sketches a portrait of her in his notebook. Another classmate, the studious Akito Takagi, spots this doodle and approaches Mashiro with a proposition: be the artist for a manga story he plans to write! Mashiro declines the offer, but not one to take no for an answer, Takagi tricks Mashiro into visiting Miho’s house to announce their dream of becoming mangaka.
Miho unexpectedly reveals that she aspires to become a voice artist to which Mashiro’s responds with a marriage proposal to Miho should they both succeed! Amazingly, Miho agrees if she gets to voice the heroine in an anime adaptation of their manga. With motives now firmly in place, the lads prepare to enter the ultra competitive world of manga creation!
It’s with some irony that this tale about two youngsters looking to score big in the manga world comes from two people looking to produce a successful follow up to an international hit. The gentlemen in question are Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata who gave us the seminal Death Note, which spawned a superb anime adaptation, novels and three live action films.
An unenviable and often unachievable task, Ohba and Obata have not rested on their laurels and tried to repeat the successful formula of their now classic hit as we quickly find out. Obviously this will be met with disappointment by some but Bakuman deserves to be judged on its own merits and is distant enough from its predecessor to do this.
Much lighter in both tone and visual, the story is a fun slice-of-life drama that also provides a unique insight into the entire creative process of a manga strip from start to finish and everything in between. Over the course of seventy five episodes (spread across three series) we are given an exclusive look behind the scenes and the hard work expected from both the artists and the editors, and the various obstacles and requirements needed to even be considered for publication let along scoring a hit series.
While some may bemoan the measured pace of the story, the typical “instant success” approach is not even a consideration here, relying on the true reality of failure and defeat before our heroes even make it onto the first rung of a very long ladder.
The levity and drama comes from both the personal lives of our teen heroes, who appear to be diametrically opposed – Takagi is confident and clever, Mashiro a little cautious and reserved – but quickly bond over their lobe of manga. Mashiro defies his mother to follow in the footsteps of his late uncle, a one hit wonder mangaka who struggled to create a second success.
To keep things moving a few contrivances are thrown in, such as Mashiro being given the keys to his uncle’s old studio which is chock full of manga, merchandise and every piece of drawing equipment under the sun, but we’ll let that slide as it is a small matter. Soon the boys are researching and learning their craft, discovering the true pressures and difficulties that must be faced in order to achieve success as mangaka.
While Mashiro and Miho have an unusual relationship, in which contact is limited to texting only (put to the test when they are forced to sit together in class), Takagi has an admirer of his own in Miho’s perky chum Kaya Miyoshi, who is likely to viewed as an annoyance, but as Takagi points out “her breasts are big” so she’ll get some forgiveness from one part of the audience.
Both romances get occasional coverage to lighten the mood (in Takagi and Miyoshi’s case) or to measure the progress of their journey (Mashiro and Miho). In a slightly predictable twist of fate, it transpires that Mashiro’s uncle had a true love other manga in his youth – Miho’s mum, possessor of arguably the worst hairstyle in modern anime!
Our budding artists face strong competition on the manga front, the most prominent being the eccentric genius Eiji Nizuma, a character that shows Ohba and Obata couldn’t quite leave Death Note too far behind. This unconventional character has all of the esoteric quirks of master detective L and to complete the obvious parallel, everything this fifteen year old mangaka submits turns to gold.
His oddball personality and erratic behaviour suggests he may be autistic but this is neither confirmed nor denied. Nizuma however is arguably one of the more interesting and entertaining characters to grace anime for a long time.
As much as this is a work of fiction, there are plenty of references to genuine manga titles and other well known pop culture phenomenon to keep the more knowledgeable viewer happy. For instance, the publishers our heroes seek work from is called Shonen Jack, which is a riff on the legendary Shonen Jump, home to such luminaries as Bleach, Naruto and One Piece, all of whom are featured heavily throughout the series.
The various rookie awards the lads try out for the Tezuka Award and the Golden Cup are genuine contests, while the voting and feedback procedures that the editors use to determine the fate of a series is very much set in real life. This show is informative as it is entertaining.
The third series of Bakuman ended its run in Japan just a couple of months ago so this subtitle only release over here in the UK is rather well timed. Concluding on a positive note but with an open ending, we have to wait until season two arrives to see how well our young heroes fare, but for now, anyone interested in what the Death Note creators did next, or have an interest in how the manga world in Japan works, Bakuman is hugely enjoyable and educational way to find out!
Japanese Language 2.0
Opening: Superhero’s Legend
Saint Visual Girls High School Op-ED
Ratings – ****
Man In Black