There’s a huge amount of manga out there but once in a while one comes along that changes you. For me that manga is Bakuman.
Manga Title: Bakuman
Author/artist: Tsugumi Ohba/ Takeshi Obata
Genres: Slice-of-life, comedy/drama, romance
I was beginning to get into reading more manga when I came across Bakuman in a nearby bookstore. I started to read it and I just couldn’t stop turning the pages – my hands and heart had been set on fire by Tsugumi Ohba’s writing and Takeshi Obata’s art (the duo also behind Death Note).
The main characters Moritaka Mashiro and Akito Takagi, who are classmates, decide to form an artist/ writer duo after Takagi sees some of Mashiro’s art in a scrapbook that he leaves behind in class. The scrapbook also has Mashiro’s drawings of his crush Miho inside it and at first he’s worried Takagi plans to show it to her.
A bit of self-referencing
Mashiro is hesitant at first; although a lover of manga, his uncle was a mangaka (manga artist and usually author too) who “worked himself to death”, therefore Mashiro initially ignores Takagi. Eventually Takagi convinces him in a dramatic way.
Mashiro and Takagi
They visit the house of Mashiro’s childhood sweetheart, Miho Azuki, who dreams of becoming a seiyu (voice actress) one day. Takagi declares that they are collaborating on a manga; caught up in the moment, Mashiro asks Miho to marry him once their manga is adapted into an anime and she is the seiyu for it.
Sharing a dream
Miho accepts, revealing her feelings for Mashiro, which she has held for him since elementary school. And so begins an intense and energetic journey into the world of the manga industry and into the heart of realizing dreams.
The pair starts from scratch, with Takagi writing and drawing rough sketches for Mashiro while he works on visualizing and drawing the art. They make their first submission to the famous Shueisha and meet with their future editor who sees their talent and encourages them to publish it in a one-shot for Weekly Shounen Jump. Their and Miho’s mutual friend Kaya Miyoshi helps them think up a pen name that combines their names and Miho’s…Ashirogi Muto. They work excruciatingly hard to attain serialization in Shonen Jump and eventually succeed with their first series, interacting with many manga artists along the way.
Mashiro and Takagi share a similar enthusiasm and raw energy often seen in shounen protagonists. They both have a ‘genius is 99% perspiration’ mentality that’s extremely catching. Mashiro is a straightforward, down-to-earth type of young man who is ruthlessly earnest whether in drawing or romance. Though initially reluctant to do manga, after making his promise with Miho he goes into it full of gusto – and is even quite willing to learn from his fellow manga artists – who share a healthy competitive spirit.
Being conservative and traditional in many ways, Mashiro has a bashful approach to his relationship with Miho – even the slightest communication can have him blushing and feeling over the moon. Bakuman focuses mainly on Mashiro out of the Ashirogi Muto trio as he attempts to break through the unspoken curse left by his uncle and carve a path towards his dreams, while at the same time maintaining his artistic and personal integrity.
Takagi is far more of tactical and rational than Mashiro. Although as much of a fighting dreamer as him, Takagi is pretty methodical in his approach to writing manga and acts to balance out Mashiro’s fiery enthusiasm with logic, even though he’s often carried along with it anyway. He’s the script writer and does most of the original concepts for their manga pieces, which are often praised for their innovative and dark undertones. Despite their differences, Takagi shares the same passion as Mashiro and the two build a deep understanding and bond of friendship over time.
If anything the character that receives too little attention in Bakuman is Miho. Due to her and Mashiro’s decision to not be together until they fulfill their ambitions they’re separate most of the time, the focus being mostly on Mashiro and Takagi. Occasional peeks into Miho’s life and her progress along the path of a seiyu reveal her to be just as driven as the boys. She works hard at auditions for voice acting parts, gradually working her way up in the world of voice actresses.
Traditional and shy to a fault, Miho strictly adheres not only to her agreement with Mashiro, but is also truly devoted to him . The pure love between the couple is not without its difficulties, and the two of them both suffer from the loneliness and uncertainty that comes with their type of relationship.
Takagi’s love interest – Kaya Miyoshi is optimistic with a fiery temper. She often brings Takagi back to reality and teaches him some basic wisdom. Miho’s best friend and a constant companion to Takagi and Mashiro, Kaya lends positive support to the mangaka pair and is there to celebrate their joys with them and go through the difficulties too.
Miho and Kaya
A large supporting cast of fellow manga artists fills the panels of Bakuman. Notable among them is the eccentric Nizuma Eiji, also a winner of the Tezuka prize for manga when he was only 15. He becomes a long standing rival and thus a motivating force for our pair. Mangaka of the famous Crow series already being published, Eiji is considered a prodigy not only in his art, but in his unique way of creating drafts for his titles.
Other fellow artists include Shinta Fukuda, mangaka of a motorcycle manga Kiyoshi Knight, Ko Aoki, a young woman penning the fantasy title Hideout Door, a unique but lazy genius Kazuya Hiramaru – who draws a title called Otters 11, and the recluse Ryu Shizuka – drawing the manga True Human. Many other talented manga artists present themselves as the story progresses.
Nizuma Eiji, Shinta Fukuda, Ko Aoki and Kazuya Hiramaru
The thing that hooked me about this series is its vigor. The raw power, enthusiasm and unstoppable determination that Ashirogi Muto show throughout each chapter as they hurtle headlong towards their dreams is really something to read. They start pursuing their aspirations whilst still in junior high, so there are priceless moments in their high school where they talk about manga in the sick room, dream up stories and art during lessons and still go home to work all night to meet the deadlines for their submissions.
Another energetic element of the story is the strong rivalry and close camaraderie shared by the manga artists. They constantly try to outdo each other, whilst secretly rooting for one another, and being able to pick up the strong points of their adversaries. To add to the story’s charm is the fairytale like love between Mashiro and Miho, who don’t meet and only occasionally send brief emails of encouragement to one another until their dreams are fulfilled. The deep seated love they have, but complete stubbornness of not seeing each other is as heart rending as it is sweet.
Lastly, a fascinating aspect for me was learning of how the manga world works and watching the process of creation that Ashirogi Muto go through. Starting from the basics of rough sketches, to submissions and reviews by the board at Shueisha, they climb the ladder to serialization and once they reach it, they have to maintain their integrity and the quality of their stories throughout in an industry where it’s so easy to just start churning out uninspired and repetitious work in order to keep the cash coming in.
Ultimately Bakuman made me feel that it really is possible – if you have the dreams and vision, stick to your principles and never sell yourself out – dreams really do come true. The old cliché that we’ve all heard thousands of times before turns out to be a solid reality. After only reading halfway through the manga I was inspired to pick up my pen (or keyboard) and start writing again after not doing so for years. The power of this story is it can make you start saying ridiculous things like, “I’m gonna become a mangaka!” And…why not?
For another great article on Bakuman check out Manga Turtle here!