Author: Tsugumi Ohba
Manga-ka: Takeshi Obata
Publisher: Viz Media
Rating: Teen (13+)
Release Date: April 2011
Synopsis: “When Akito is unable to come up with a storyboard within the time frame he promised, Moritaka decides to break up their partnership! As they go their separate ways to create manga, it may turn out that they’re actually headed in the same direction…”
Is it too much to ask for more manga in a manga series about making manga? In this fourth volume we’ve given a little reprieve from this frustration when a single page from each artist’s work is shown. Still, it feels more like a mouthful in a work that should offer a feast. The glimpses of storyboards are neat, particularly the chapter covers which are Bakuman in-progress stages. But, when you read page after page of people writing, drawing, revising and then talking about doing all those things (rinse and repeat), you start to resent seeing next to nothing of it.
The one thing Bakuman does continue to offer in abundance however is text. Page upon page of text bubbles still suffocate the artwork. It’s a familiar sight for those who’ve read this collaborating team’s previous work, Death Note. While the artwork puts up a grand show in the panels it gets to stretch its wings, the text is still near overwhelming compared to it. As Akito and Moritaka finally get their big chance to become professional manga artists, we’re bombarded with exposition about the expectations, procedures and editorial direction of competing in one-shot anthologies and vying for first-pick in serialization meetings. The upside comes in how much lengthier it makes the read. A page count that may take a mere half hour for some in other series can last considerably longer with Bakuman.
All of this at least means that amidst the text-heavy pages there’s still a lot to learn about Japan’s manga industry. Sure it’s probably not a hundred percent accurate but it sheds some really fascinating light on magazine serialization. This includes levels of editor positions, processes of determining series to serialize and reader surveys helping determine the latter – it’s all really intriguing stuff. Watching Akito and Moritaka fly their way to the top levels of the manga totem pole takes away some of the realism but seeing how hard they need to work at it at least gives a little more credence to the actual struggle of manga artists. Plus this is a shonen manga afterall – fight on!
Unfortunately there’s this continually nagging element of the story that brings everything to a painful standstill. Moritaka and Miho are still madly in love, or at least we think they are, or they think they are. Whatever. Either way, they’re continuing to uphold their promise to one another to never actually see the other person (outside of being in the same classroom) until they both achieve their dreams. It’s kind of sweet but so awkwardly shown that’s near impossible to stand behind. As a thankful break from them ‘interacting’, Miho’s life does take a bit more centre-stage in this fourth volume. Granted it does very little to make up for her awful female-degrading personality in prior volumes. We get to see her experience the harsh truths of the entertainment industry as her agent breaks to her that her only real worth is as a pretty face. Funny coincidence that it’s how readers probably see her as well.
The entertainment industry continues to trickle its way into Akito and Moritaka’s lives in other ways as well. Amidst debating how good a match they are as manga-makers, the two also join the crew of manga artists they’ve made friends with (so to speak) to protest another rookie in their midst. A J-Rock idol one day and a manga artist the next, the delicate nature of readers’ surveys becomes unnervingly clear when they realize people would likely vote for what artist they like on reasons other than the merit of their work. It’s the kind of drama anyone can relate to it in a variety of contexts. It, along with the numerous references to well-known (and available in English) shonen series,connect and empathize with readers in a way that the leads’ whirlwind career often won’t.
Bakuman is still Akito and Moritaka’s show however and their journey through manga-dom remains a worthwhile read if you’ve come this far. The further relevance of other artists (most of whom both rivals and comrades) is a welcome addition to the story and they really round out the plot by offering some different perspectives. Even Akito’s girlfriend – who’s now taken on the role of super-supportive cheerleader – makes for a tolerable addition and brings a lot of life to pages that can otherwise just be full of people sitting around staring at their phones. There remains a lot of stuff to slog through in Bakuman but the core of the story – a stout fast battle for manga fame – still manages to be educational, inspiring and most importantly, entertaining.
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The book used for this review was bought from The Beguiling