I spend a lot of time lately complaining about the state of anime and the series that have been created within the last five or so years. In the course of this tirade, shounen manga has often been the main focus – mostly because the most popular titles right now all happen to be geared toward young boys. But if I’m going to be perfectly honest with myself – and with all of you – I have to confess that I actually really love shounen animanga (I confess to you guys a lot…I’m going to blame it on my Catholic upbringing). Many of my favorite series happen to be shounen; I enjoy adventure stories, and stories about justice and determination. Shounen series give me all of that, and they’re not overbearing with romance.
I’ve not really been able to get into the most popular shounen titles: Bleach, One Piece, Naruto, Death Note…. But after a little bit of hunting around, I was able to find one that suited me just fine – Bakuman. The original manga series was written by Tsugumi Ohba and illustrated by Takeshi Obata, who also created Death Note together. The series follows the characters Moritaka Mashiro (who goes by “Saiko”) and Akito Takagi (or “Shuujin”) from middle school into early college on their quest to become…manga-ka! That’s right, this is a series about two boys who decide to team up and create manga together, with Saiko on drawing and Shuujin working on the story. This clearly goes against all that is known about popular anime series for boys, which are typically full of fighting and muscles and incredibly poignant bromances. And yet, somehow, Bakuman is shounen, through and through.
The very act of drawing is not something that is conducive to battles, and writing is not a very fun process to witness (and I’m sure many of my fellow writers would argue that it’s even less fun to go through at times). But somehow, Ohba and Obata have managed to make an engaging adventure story that takes place mostly within manga studios and a publishing office. How does that work out?
I really believe there is a lot to be said for the characters in this story. Saiko, the story’s main protagonist, has a lot riding on his career as a manga-ka; his uncle had been one many years prior to the action of the story, but had sadly died after working himself much too hard. Additionally, the girl Saiko likes, Miho, is an aspiring seiyuu (voice actor), and the two of them have agreed to marry after Saiko’s manga gets an anime in which Miho can star. Pretty ambitious! Even though Shuujin had been the one to convince Saiko to team up, Saiko is the one who is really determined to be one of the very best manga-ka in Japan, and the boys get their first serialization while still in high school.
Aside from the protagonists, however, there is a whole host of other manga-ka in the picture – people with whom Saiko and Shuujin have to compete in the reader polls. The more popular a manga, the more likely an anime will get made! There are a couple characters who seem a little forced – the kind who show up for five episodes at most and then totally disappear afterwards, only ever there to temporarily raise the stakes. But there is a solid cast of main adversaries, individuals whom Saiko and Shuujin see both as competitors and as real friends. That very notion in and of itself is a staple of the shounen genre: An opponent is only any good when you respect them and care about them in some way.
Bakuman is three seasons long, which helps to give the series a very satisfying ending. There are no loose ends left dangling, and the viewer can feel as though the show was not forced to move forward. The animation style is a lovely mix of modern/popular and different; all too often, I am turned off by a series that looks just like every other series. Thankfully, the animators chose to utilize Ohba’s unique semi-realistic art style to give the show some believability. Watching the boys move and seeing the way they style their hair or wear their clothes, it is very obvious to me that they are Japanese boys, totally immersed in a Japanese way of life. This may not be something that’s apparent to any viewers who don’t pay attention to trends in Japanese fashion or history, but it is very much an appreciated touch for those of us who want more exposure to another culture without having to sift through endless stuffy tomes.
To sum up, I would just like to add that I’m very supportive of any series that instills in young people an interest in artwork and storytelling. Anime very much prompted my interest in artwork, and I like to think that Bakuman will do the same for current and future generations. It is an uplifting and hopeful show, but also very based in the realities of life and the unpredictability of pop culture. I can’t believe how much I learned about different methods of drawing and the intricacies of the serial comic-book publishing world!
Bakuman is also wonderful in that it is an easily-digestible story, but not an overly-simple one. There is a lot going on that is very engaging, but it won’t plague you with hard-to-answer questions when you have other things to worry about. It’s a great series to watch when you truly want relaxation time – a series to truly be enjoyed. I highly recommend it for anyone, but especially to those of us who have been done with ninjas, ghosts, and aliens for a while and just want the morals and good feelings behind a pure shounen series.
(P.S. I haven’t actually read the Bakuman manga yet, though I certainly hope to. Reading a manga about creating manga – woah!)