Ever wondered about the exciting world of Manga? The in's and out's of the world of editors and the mangaka they're in charge of? How a romance that tests how close to the breaking point you can push people's sense of disbelief? Well, all this and more can be found in the manga rivalry series, created by Death Note's Tsugumi Ohba and Takashi Obata, Bakuman!
Moritaka Mashiro is an average high schooler with average ambitions and a slight talent for drawing. After leaving a drawing of his crush, Miho Azuki, in his notes at school, he returns to find the notes in the hands of Akito Takagi, the smartest kid in his class with the unusual dream of becoming a manga writer, and wants Mashiro to do the artwork. Mashiro refuses, thinking back to his mangaka uncle, who started his career to ask out a girl he loved, but waited too long and eventually worked himself to death. That night, Takagi drags Mashiro to Azuki's home, where he reveals that she dreams of becoming a voice actress. Mashiro agrees on the spot to draw Takagi's manga, and in the spin of the moment, asks her to marry him when their manga is an anime and she voices the heroine. She agrees, but only if they never see each other until their dreams come true. Now Takagi and Mashiro, armed only with determination and the knowledge left behind by Mashiro's uncle, they set out to take the gamble of becoming mangaka, under the name Ashirogi Muto.
Bakuman isn't the first manga to focus on mangaka, but it is one of the few that focuses on the creation process of manga as much as the character creating the manga. Much of cast is made up of mangaka and their editors, and the action and drama come from situations like placing in the Jump rankings or getting serialized in the magazine all together. Learning how Mashiro's uncle worked himself to death leaves a well resounding tension whenever someone is put up for cancellation or doing poorly, and you never forget that this isn't just about their rivalry at stake, but their livelihood as well. That isn't to say that this is a Shonen series and that some of these moments aren't played over the top or a bit melodramatic, but I still believe what i said stands, and it doesn't hurt that most of the cast are really likeable.
Mashiro is a well rounded character, with plenty of motivation for each of his major life changes. His abandonment of art because of his uncles demise is clearly shown through his early reflections on life, and his promise with Azuki acts a great method to help him rediscover his own love for drawing, which is built upon much more as the series progresses. He's very reserved in most situations, which is opposite to his partner Takagi; a easily outgoing person, and willing to go the extra mile to make his manga succeed, even forcing Mashiro to be his artist by putting him on the spot in front of Azuki. Though they both share a burning determination for the manga they create, Takagi is more willing to wear it on his sleeve, even punching out a classmate who mocked Mashiro's artwork.
This being a manga based manga, there are also plenty of other mangaka characters and editors as well, including Hattori, Ashirogi Muto's editor. Hattori is a very earnest and humble character, and an experienced editor, clearly showing he has a firm grasp on what makes a manga good, while also being able to admit he doesn't, because no one can fully understand what will be popular or not. They're are also Ashirogi's rivals in Jump, who also represent different aspects of manga, such as Eiji Niizuma, an eccentric and prodigy of mainstream battle series, Shinta Fukuda, a kind hearted delinquent who draws Seinin style shonen manga, Kazuya Hiramaru, a slacker that doesn't want to work who draws differing gag series, and many more, each working in Jump and are given great chances to grow not only as characters, but as mangaka, with their stories and art improving with each new series or interaction.
There is also the relationship between Mashiro and Azuki, and how i've both insulted and complimented this romance in the same article. I do believe this was a great way to bring Mashiro back to art, since he had the drive for it, and since he's a likeable guy, you do want to root for him, but the promise is what nearly kills it. To recap the plot summary. their promise is to not meet until Ashirogi Muto's manga becomes an anime, and she voices the heroine. Leaving aside how completely unlikely this is, because this is manga, but its that first part, for them not to meet. Bakuman pushes this thing that they were destined to be together, that they've been watching each other for a long time and they were meant to be, despite the fact they rarely, if ever, communicated with each other. I do believe in love at first sight, if we're talking about looks. You can fall in love with how a guy or girl looks, and I think we can all understand that it's personal preference, but i can't believe you're fully in love with a person you've never met. Now they do talk through email, but based on how it's portrayed, it seems like all they ever do is exchange holiday greetings and congratulations on big events in careers, but outside that, they're never shown talking to each other and very rarely talked about talking to each other. The only thing that saves this for me are the times when they break the promise, when they talk, when we see them actually building their relationship, and I think for some, even this won't be enough. Well, you can still be happy that manga's pretty.
Bakuman is artistically gorgeous, not because it has the best art, though its pretty good, but how diverse it gets with its art. Bakuman on its own is well drawn, with plenty of detail in characters faces, character design, and backgrounds, but what sticks out in this manga is how each artist's different art style is portrayed. Each mangaka or artist has their own style of drawing, and Obata does an amazing job changing his style for each one, switching between mainstream battle and gag styles to shoujo, to even dark or artsy styles. And the series even shows Mashiro's development as an artist, visually showing how his art improves from his first work with Takagi to the last the series features. My personal favorite art moment is early on when Niizuma has Nakai, an assistant of over 10 years draw his background for his series, and I honestly believe they look better than the background in the actual series. I kinda wanna believe that was on purpose just to show the characters ability. Bakuman, if nothing else, is a great variety show of all the different art styles you'll find in manga.
RECOMMENDED: Shonen Jump fans, Fans of Obata's Artwork, People looking for a closer look at the working of manga magazines that don't mind the over the top shonen-ness, Slice of Life fans, Gag fans
NOT RECOMMENDED: People looking for a more solid romance manga, People looking for something they can just pick up and read quickly (at 176 chapters of highly detailed dialogue and artwork, this isn't what you would call a "light read")
I could talk for hours about Bakuman, what I enjoyed and what little nitpicks I have, but for the sake of leaving a story for you all the read, I'll end it here. Bakuman, I believe, is a great shonen series, filled with likable characters, great drama, fantastic artwork and despite an so-so romance, the good outweighs the bad by quite a bit. If you ever want a great look into the workings of Shonen Jump and manga, then Bakuman is your read.
Bakuman was published by Shueisha in Weekly Shounen Jump, and was concluded at 20 volumes, 176 chapters. The manga has been published in english and in completion by Viz.