Two high school kids who drew a manga walk into the offices of Jump magazine, certain they’ve created the next biggest thing. The editor quietly reads over the pages they slaved so laboriously on and bluntly informs them that though there is potential, what they have created is not up to par. There’s no punchline to this little anecdote: that’s actually what happens in Bakuman, the newest collaborative project from writer, Tsugumi Ohba, and artist, Takeshi Obata, a team made famous for the hit series Death Note. It’s a manga about manga, and it’s awesome.
Not that manga that focuses on such a topic is really a new thing: after all, we have titles like Genshiken, or Eisner Award winning A Drifting Life to consider as well. But where Bakuman differs from other similarly themed manga is the fact that it portrays, in detail, the cogs and screws of the manga and anime machine that fuels Japan and all the giant, fighting robots they keep there. Though there are a number of subplots to help propel the characters through this process with a semblance of story, the main draw here is definitely the seemingly mundane process of creating an appealing manga, getting it published, and then seeing it go somewhere.
Beginning as a simple dream, we see the progression of Moritaka Mashiro and Akito ‘Shujin’ Takagi, two high school students who aspire to be published manga-ka. Don’t lie: we’ve all thought about it, all said to ourselves as we peruse through our favourite titles, “Oh. Yeah. I could do that, no problem.” But Bakuman doesn’t pull its punches, clear from its very first chapter that becoming a success is a lot of work without any guarantee that there will be any payoff – in essence, a huge gamble. Mashiro and Shujin, working under the pseudonym ‘Muto Ashirogi’, are thrown headfirst against the brutal realties that titles published in Jump magazine must adhere to specific parameters, and that everything serialized therein are slave to reader polls, forever just one statistic away from being cut and tossed out. After bombing midterms and skipping school, they still are at the mercy of the editor’s critique, and it isn’t always what they want to hear.
Perhaps in lesser hands, Bakuman would be a hodgepodge of frustration and disengaging drivel, but Ohba and Obata have proved once again that they are only capable of high quality work. Beyond Ohba’s writing, it is incredibly fitting that Obata’s artwork is some of the most gorgeous currently in manga. Seeing page after page filled with beautifully drawn figures, dynamic poses, expressive faces and the inkwork of a god only drives home the point that making manga isn’t for the faint of heart. It’s hard work, long hours and crappy pay until you make it, but in the end, the rewards are totally worth the journey.