This is a review of the manga series. Obviously this contains spoilers for anime watchers. I was planning to do Medaka now, but of course you all understand that I have to set my priorities. I’m a big behind on schedule but I’ll make up for it and I promise that I’ll have Hyouka’s first episode done on the day it’s out.
In case you didn’t know yet: the manga series Bakuman has ended in this week’s Shounen Jump. It isn’t strange if you didn’t know, because the ending came out of nowhere. Of course we knew that it was ending soon, but I think that all of us fans expected it to run for a few more weeks and that we would also know this up ahead.
I won’t review every anime or manga series that ends. I decided that I’d only write about a complete series that I consider to be amazing or special to me personally. Bakuman is both. As a kid I always drew. I’d draw whatever I was into: Freddi Fish, Madagaskar animals (mostly lemurs) and Pokemon for example. And not just one, but many. I’d draw the same characters over and over. I started drawing comic strips as soon as I could write, inspired by Calvin & Hobbes (that one is still a major influence on me), Donald Duck, whatever was on tv that I was into, and in my later strips I also put in many references to Naruto, One Piece and Doctor Who. When I was in fourth grade, I knew that I’d be a cartoonist (a newspaper cartoonist, to be exact). Of course, I learned my limits (I suck as an artist and I can’t draw a new strip every day) and put aside my dream. But still, it’s nice to imagine being a cartoonist up till now. I’d love to be in hundreds of newspapers worldwide or to sell millions of comics and be cited by many as the greatest guy of the century. And that’s exactly why knew that Bakuman and I were fated to be together since the second chapter.
Bakuman is all about dreams and doing everything you can to make those dreams real. You never give up, you stand for what you believe in and achieve everything through your hard work and determination. I can’t express in words how much Bakuman could excite me, make me want to quit everything and start working again to make my dreams true. The first four-five volumes are all about this, where Mashiro Moritaka and Takagi Akito start from scratch and work their way up until they get serialized. They have a bit of talent in drawing and storywriting but more importantly they have a love for manga and won’t stop working at every price.
But the amazing thing about Bakuman is its inpredictability. Its cliffhangers could kill me in the time that I was following the manga weekly and a chapter where something good happened would make my entire day, no, my entire week. We knew the way it would end, but it was never easy enough to just reach it? Money & Intelligence didn’t attract mainstream readers. Being serialized in high school was hard enough, especially when Mashiro got hospitalised, and Trap got cancelled because of the stress it caused Mashiro. Future Watch did unexpectedly bad as a one shot. Tanto wasn’t the right work for the two authors. PCP was too controversial to turn into an anime. The moment you think they’ve got it, they don’t.
500 words later and I still haven’t even started yet. But when you’re this enthousiastic about a manga, it isn’t hard to write so much. I bet I’ll regret now saying something afterwards.
Bakuman’s first chapter is suprisingly deceiving. I watched the anime first, but the first episode didn’t really motivate me to watch it. The focus was on this incredibly weird relationship. Out of nowhere the guy and the girl agree to marry when the girl voices the heroine in the guy’s manga. At the mature age of fourteen. Fair enough, the relationship between Mashiro and Azuki is the motivation for the manga duo and it pushes them forward through all the hardships they face. But this wasn’t what hooked me. I won’t say that I dislike the idea, but it never really did anything to me. The real thing started for me at the end of chapter 2. Mashiro suddenly got his uncle’s old studio. FUCK YEAH! That’s exactly the kick of it. The two boys (and I, the reader) are so psyched. Why? It doesn’t make sense: they didn’t need a studio and it wouldn’t have mattered it they had drawn at home. But this is the kick that we all had as children: getting something big, something expensive is so cool. There’s tons of stuff I wanted that I hardly ever used, but having it makes you feel so excited. Mashiro’s uncle’s “garbage” is their treasure.
As complete beginners they create a piece that they submit to Jump. The two of them get an amazing editor in Hattori, something that’s stressed mostly once they get Miura. As I already said, the beginning is my favorite part of Bakuman because the themes of working hard and never giving up are so much stronger in the beginning. But then again, the part where Mashiro and Takagi seperated in volume 3-4 sucked. It just felt so sad that they would ever leave each other when they fit together so perfectly (I’m not talking about a relationship by the way). Of course, it helped that Eiji and Fukuda got introduced properly in that part. Team Fukuda is an amazing group. By chance I picked up volume 6 today and read the part with the boycot again – it’s amazing that all of them were willing to put their careers on the line to support Ashirogi Muto. This “nakama” thing in shounen manga may be incredibly cliche, but it works for me every time.
One big flaw in Bakuman is how they handle some characters though. Certain characters get some great development during the series – Mashiro and Takagi of course, but Aoki more noticably. Where she starts as a real bitch, she ends as a nice person who fits in well with the “group”. But for some reason certain characters always suck. Nakai and Miura were just created to do things wrong, and Iwase seems to serve as somebody to hate intensely. This is something that I’ll always hate about Bakuman: how Miura was treated. He’s introduced as a new, young editor with little experience and a passion for comedy manga. The idea was good – Ashirogi would have to work together with somebody who wasn’t that great at his job yet, and the three of them would break out and become amazing. But this never happened. Where Ashirogi becomes the number one in the end, Miura was replaced with Hattori again after Miura’s failure. And everything that went well can be attributed to Hattori in the end, since he was the person responsible for PCP. Hattori was the perfect person from the beginning to the end. He knew everything about Ashirogi, he could help them out whenever they were in trouble, he had tons of experience and wisdom to add. Miura begin as the opposite: he pushed Ashirogi to do the kind of manga that he liked and never considered their feelings, he freaked out by everything that went wrong, he got into a fight with Ashirogi and had to get on his knees to make up for it. But where Ashirogi’s mistakes were corrected later on, Miura got sweeped away as the guy who sucked and written out of the story. Even later he still showed signs that he wasn’t very good at his job when he didn’t take the old man (I forget his name) seriously because of his age and he had no control over +Natural (in fact, it started sucking when he got onto it). I have always felt sorry for Miura. He really cared about Ashirogi. Remember the huge box of comedy that he sent them, with all of his notes in it? Remember how he did so much work for Ashirogi while Takahama should have been his priority? He had the same passion as the two boys, maybe even more than Hattori.
And not to mention Nakai. Nakai’s role is obvious: few succeed in the business, and many people fail at it. Nakai represents all the failures in the manga world. But what Ohba did to him was far worse: he connected failing in the world of manga with failing as a person. Nakai gave up and instead chose to pursue all the girls connected to the manga world. Later on he would even follow teenage girls into their apartements. He turned into the pedofilic begger on the corner of the street, until he became a NEET and found a new passion in eating tons of food. He could have become a great assistent and been good friends with all the mangaka, or look for a different career. Nakai too ended as a complete failure.
That’s pretty much all that happened between Trap and PCP: Miura. But once Hattori returns to the scene, Bakuman turns from painful to read into something amazing again. PCP is new, amazing and darn succesful at that. And that’s another of the great strengths of Bakuman: the way the manga series are featured in the story. Every mangaka has one or two manga that are explained in some kind of detail. The result is that we care as much about the series as the people drawing them. I think everybody who reads Bakuman would kill to read chapters of the series that interest them. PCP, Classroom of Truth, Otter nr. 11, +Natural, Money & Intelligence, Seigi no Mikata and True Human sound like amazing series that I would really want to read. Every author has his own style of manga too. Ashirogi specializes in plot driven, smart and somewhat alternative manga. Niizuma Eiji does the standard Jump battle manga. Fukuda draws a somewhat gritty, more mature manga with Kiyoshi Knight and a sport manga-ish thing in Giri. Takahama makes well-researched story manga (the closest to Bakuman in some ways). Aoki does (ecchi) romcoms. Hiramaru makes story-driven comedies. Pretty much every genre is represented with the fictional manga that run in Jump and I think that you really could make a magazine with the manga featured in Bakuman.
After PCP starts, Bakuman has less to stress about since their series is never in any trouble. We get some filler material to make time until the last manga comes up. First the short Shiratori arc, that tried to create a new conflict between Mashiro and Takagi. We never saw Shiratori back though, sadly. Then all the authors draw random romance oneshots. I can’t remember a lot about this, it wasn’t very memorable except for Eiji sucking at something.
Now comes one of the most ironic things about Bakuman. Since Bakuman is a manga about manga, you can’t but wonder if the creators aren’t hinting at their own manga and their previous manga Death Note as well. Some ones are subtle: there’s a part where PCP uses too much dark colors and Mashirio decides to go with less darkness and more light to brighten up their manga. A reference to Death Note perhaps, that was pretty much the blackest thing (as in color use, not story) in Shounen Jump I’ve ever read? Reversi also seems to parallel Death Note a lot. A theme about Reversi is that it’s a short story and that the story can’t be expanded on after the initial conflict between the two main characters. Death Note had about 100 chapters, and started to suck after L dies. Where Ashirogi decides not to add a new demon, Death Note did attempt this and failed miserably at it. But even Bakuman stopped in its prime instead of doing a Bleach. I can’t confirm this, but maybe even the part where Takagi makes names in text instead of drawing them is a reference to a change in working style in real life?
Anyways, of course a striking example of this is where PCP introduces an enemy. Like PCP, Bakuman also isn’t a manga that has “bad guys”. But Bakuman, like a manga inside the manga, also introduces one later on in Nanamine Toru. How can a succesful mangaka be an evil person? Well, by disrespecting the principles that the rest stick to: working hard for serialization and experiencing ups and downs. Nanamine has “pawns” to do the work for him and only draws the art by himself. He also ignores his editor where other mangaka like Ashirogi and Hiramaru rely on their editors and let the power of friendship make their manga better. But Bakuman has a problem with enemies: there’s no way to directly fight. You can use the rankings, but that’s pretty much it. I admit that the Nanamine arc was amazingly done for the struggles that Bakuman has with enemies though. Of course, the other enemy in Bakuman is big bad boss Sasaki who I follow on Twitter.
After Nanamine’s first arc ended, we got one of the most intense parts of the manga. Niizuma Eiji tried to end his own manga, and the other authors battled him to prevent a 20-week first place streak. Eiji was so cool and showed no mercy on his rivals. It was even more amazing because Eiji actually did manage to overpower all of his rivals and create a legendary ending. He was always the true rival that Ashirogi would always face.
Nanamine’s second arc was pretty cool but weird too. For one, it was too soon after his first failure. Second of all, the whole idea of a grand enemy to face is cool, but can’t be pulled off realisticly in a manga about drawing cartoons. Nanamine wasn’t truely evil the way enemies in battle manga are. He never wanted to kill somebody or conquer the world or something evil like that. The whole story was way too far-fetched for my taste. A plus for the Panty Flash Fight manga though, drawn by an old man. It was so wrong that it’s funny, especially when serious business Hattori said that it was one of the best manga he’d ever seen or something.
It was now time to end the story. Enough time passed in the manga, and we can finally enter the big hit that Ashirogi makes: Reversi. There was a lot of forshadowing on its part, Ashirogi wanted a second series that would become an anime. But I don’t think we expected PCP to move to a monthly magazine. The only problem was that PCP was written out of the story after that, even the authors didn’t seem to care about their monthly manga. “But you can’t just make Mashiro unemployed by ending Reversi!”, said Heishi. He even completely forgot PCP. Takagi and Mashiro might have even forgotten what’s on their shirts and mugs nowadays. But the part before the auditions was SO GOOD. Seriously, it got me pumped every week for two months straight and I couldn’t wait for the chapters every week.
And now, the last chapter. A lot happened, the story had its ups and downs, but I think the ending was rushed. I understand that Jump wants the manga to end at a certain week, but still. We never got to see their marriage? Even Takagi wasn’t in the final chapter at all. We got some short pictures of the rivals in chapter 175, and also the anticlimatic mention that Ashirogi finally beat Niizuma, but I want to know what happens later. Do all the authors stay succesful? Does Ashirogi create more hit manga? Will Mashiro and Azuki devorce once they find out that they still can’t talk to each other? I want to know. Maybe some time we can get an extra chapter as a one-shot like Rurouni Kenshin got? I can only hope, I guess…
I’m at a record amount of words here. But that fits Bakuman perfectly since it’s also covered in text every week. Now all I’ve got to do is finish my own collection of Bakumen: still 14 volumes to go. Still I can’t wait until we get anime season three and I think that I’ll always reread this manga every now and then in the future. The message will always be in my heart: don’t let reality crush you, work hard and achieve your dreams. It will always be better to die trying than never to try at all!