Bakuman, Volume 1 – Manga Review

Review by: Clive Owen

Publisher: VIZ Media
Author: Tsugumi Ohba
Artist: Takeshi Obata
Genre: Graphic Novel (Shonen Jump Manga)
MSRP: $9.99 US
Rating: T (Teen)
Release Date: Available Now

Not quite a guide to what goes into the making of manga but close enough.

I’m a sucker for manga that not only contains a great story but also teaches. Whether it’s a manga that teaches us how to put on a yukata or how to properly prepare Japanese rice, there is manga that offers an in-depth view of things that interest us most about Japanese culture. Since I’m a loyal manga fan, I am also interested in the process of making one and that’s what we get in Volume 1 of Bakuman.

Unfortunately, that’s the only reason you will be reading Bakuman so if you have always been interested in what goes into making a manga, which includes the creative and business side to it, then this manga is one you should pick up. If you’re in it to experience a story that is just as good as Tsugumi Ohba and artist Takeshi Obata’s collaborative masterpiece, Death Note, then you are in for something of a disappointment.

Bakuman tells the story of Moritaka Mashiro, an average-looking junior high school student who is in love with the cutest girl in school and has a talent for drawing. In fact, you might say that his love for art and reading manga comes from the fact that his uncle was a mangaka whose manga series was good enough to become an anime series. Sadly, his uncle died and Moritaka believes that his uncle had taken his own life.

It isn’t until the smartest kid in his class, Akito Takagi, comes across Moritaka’s notebook that the young student with glasses makes Moritaka an interesting proposal. See, Akito wants Moritaka to team up with him to create their own manga series that will make them famous. As Akito points out, manga isn’t just loved in Japan anymore but all over the world. He even uses Death Note as an example of a Japanese manga title making it big in other countries.

Unfortunately, Moritaka isn’t interested in becoming a mangaka and blows off Akito for reasons that seem petty at first. I mean, are smart guys that annoying to be around with or could it be that his uncle’s death is stopping him from joining Akito? As it turns out, Akito isn’t the type of guy who gives up easily and keeps trying to convince his classmate who has obvious talent.

Then Akito comes up with a brilliant plan and it includes Miho Azuki, the attractive girl he likes who happens to have a dream of becoming a voice actress. Akito tells him that he will make a confession to Azuki only to end up pushing Moritaka to make his own confession. Without really thinking, Moritaka confesses that he will team up with Akito to create a great manga series and that he wants Azuki to be the voice of the heroine. He then blurts out a request that if the manga is a success and it does turn into an anime series that she will get to voice, would he marry her? Her answer not only shocks both boys but provides the motivation that Moritaka needed.

On top of the fact that he’s now motivated to draw for Akito, Moritaka’s grandfather gives him the keys to his uncle’s studio. Thus begins the quest to create a manga worthy of being printed in the pages of Shonen Jump itself. Both boys go over reference material and the things that Moritaka’s uncle had used in his short career as a mangaka. The boys learn a lot about the basics, including coming up with storyboards and the types of pens used for drawing.

They also discover that Moritaka’s late uncle was in love with his old High school classmate who – as it turns out – is strangely connected to the girl that Moritaka loves. They even confront this person, although the reasons for doing so seem out of place considering the fact that the boys are working on a busy deadline they must meet in order for their dreams to come true.

Interestingly enough, both Moritaka and Akito go through many of the steps that go into creating manga including finding the type of story they want to tell, putting the idea into a storyboard they can present to an Editor and then finding the right editor. They make some insightful observations about the business that includes the duties of an editor.

Unfortunately, Bakuman falls victim to slow pacing that seems to drag the chapters on too long and Moritaka isn’t that likeable a guy that you will want to cheer him on in his quest to make his dream come true with Azuki. In fact, he comes off as selfish throughout the manga. Akito is a lot more fascinating, although his observations about women’s roles in society make me believe that Ohba-sensei (who I deeply respect as a storyteller) just isn’t capable of creating strong female roles that don’t fall under his old-fashioned viewpoint that women should only be wives, mothers or sexy eye candy. Women aren’t even allowed to be smart in his stories. I’m having trouble telling Azuki apart from Misa Amane from Death Note.

While it has its interesting moments, including those that might interest budding comic creators, Volume 1 of Bakuman lacks the likable quality of Ohba-sensei’s past work nor will you find yourself cheering the characters on this early in the game. Old school sexist comments and slow pacing aside, the world of manga is a fascinating one and Bakuman does offer enough insight to make it worth a glance. We are certainly keeping an eye on this one in hopes that the series will get a lot better than this first volume.

MANGA REVIEW BREAKDOWN

STORY: C+
A talented young artist named Moritaka never thought of being a manga artist like his late uncle but when fellow classmate, Akito, sees his true talent it becomes clear to Akito that he is the right person to partner up with to make their own manga. While Moritaka is less than enthusiastic to team up at first, a promise from the girl he has a crush on leads him down the path of a mangaka.

ART: A
Takeshi Obata’s art is simply stunning as we’ve see before from his work on Death Note and Ral Grad so you can expect the same gorgeous details and good-looking character design work. Budding artists or those interested in what storyboards look like will love that Bakuman includes a few storyboard samples of key scenes scattered throughout the volume.

OVERALL: C+
There are some interesting insights in what goes on in the making of a manga but Volume 1 of Bakuman doesn’t quite do justice to the talents of Ohba and Obata nor will you come to like the main protagonist. Really, it hard to like a guy who unintentionally comes off like a self-centered and unlikable fellow. Hopefully, Volume 2 will improve on the things that just don’t work as well in this first volume.

Review copy provided by VIZ Media

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