Bakuman Volumes 1-3
By Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata
Viz: $9.99 each, paperback; 194 pp.
Thousands of kids in the U.S. and Japan dream of becoming manga artists; 14-year-old Moritake Mashiro, the hero of the new manga series “Bakuman,” isn’t one of them. He draws well, but he draws for fun. Moritake just assumes he’ll fulfill his parents’ wishes and become an ordinary white-collar worker, although the idea is hardly appealing. But when his classmate, A-student and aspiring writer Akito Takagi, sees Moritake’s drawings, everything changes.
Akito proclaims, “Manga is the pride of our Japanese culture! We can become famous through it worldwide!” But Moritake’s not buying it. He lacks ambition, and his uncle Nobuhiro was a manga artist who scored one big hit, then worked himself to death trying to match it.
Akito has also seen Moritake’s drawings of Miho Azuki, the cutest girl in their class and an aspiring voice actress. So he brokers a deal: By the time they’re 18, he and Moritake will create a hit manga that becomes an animated series, with Miho in the starring role. Then she’ll marry Moritake. With that incentive, Moritake throws himself into drawing with a crusader’s zeal, fueled by hormones rather than faith.
The title “Bakuman” plays off the Japanese words bakuhatsu (explosion), baku (a dream-eating monster) and bakuchi (gamble — Moritake insists working in manga is a gamble). It was created by writer Tsugumi Ohba and artist Takeshi Obata, who scored a major success on both sides of the Pacific with their macabre fantasy “Death Note.” Instead of the murderously alienated college student Light Yagami and his arch-foe, bizarre über-detective L, Ohba and Obata offer a story here about two likable kids.
The tale of an eager student who quickly becomes a successful manga artist has been used before in both manga and anime. But Ohba and Obata mix their fantasy-adventure with carefully researched insights into the Japanese publishing business. They apparently arranged to work with the editors of “Shonen Jump” (“Boy’s Jump”), the most popular manga magazine in Japan. Their sympathetic editor Hattori explains to Akito and Moritake how new stories are chosen, how artists and writers collaborate with editors, how submissions are evaluated, and the importance of artistic competitions and readers’ polls.
Moritake remains the less excitable member of the team, commenting, “Even the author of ‘Death Note’ wrote somewhere that he’d probably starve to death in five years if he didn’t keep working.” Akito replies noncommittally, “That’s a surprise. But then again, ‘Death Note’ was a pretty short series.”
When Moritake is given the keys to his uncle’s old studio — untouched since his death three years earlier — it galvanizes the young artist. As he learns more about his uncle’s struggles, he devotes himself to drawing with increased determination and begins teaching Akito the basics of manga production and scripting.
The boys’ initial work is favorably received, and Hattori continues to hone their skills. But they soon must make a major decision: Do they continue the personal, quirky stories that might enjoy a cult following, or do they try to create a mainstream battle story which could become a breakout hit. Their debates over how to proceed intensify when Moritake and Akito meet Eiji Nizuma, a nutty manga prodigy only a few years older than they are.
Obata’s artwork has a clean, straightforward appeal, and it’s not surprising that “Bakuman” has already been animated in Japan. (A 25-episode adaptation aired in Japan last year, and a second season is already in the works.) No plans have been announced to release the anime in the U.S., but the fourth volume of “Bakuman” will debut on the VIZ Manga App for the iPad on March 28, ahead of the print edition’s national release on April 5. In any format, the winning characters and kids-make-good storyline are certain to delight young readers who aspire to become manga or comic book artists — and adults who once shared that dream.
– Charles Solomon
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