The Nihon Review - Anime Reviews & Editorials

Bakuman

Title: Bakuman
Genre: Drama/Romance
Company: J.C. Staff
Format: 25 episodes
Dates: 2 Oct 2010 – 2 Apr 2011

Synopsis: Ever since the death of his mangaka uncle, Mashiro Moritaka has been drifting through life, with no clear goal for his future. A talented artist, Mashiro spends his days fantasizing about Azuki Miho, a girl in his class he secretly has feelings for, and drawing portraits of her in pencil. One day, he forgets a notebook containing his drawings of Miho in class, and returns to get it, only to see that Takagi Akito, a fellow classmate and the top student in the school, waiting for him with his notebook in hand. Takagi agrees to keep Mashiro’s secret, on one condition; that they team up to make a manga!

Highlights
Incongruous pedigree: Can you really believe the creators were also responsible for Death Note?
Presentation: Has the feel of an old-school classic.
Characters: Main characters aren’t the most likable of their kind; clearly not the series’ strongest suit.
Story: At its best when it focuses on the process of making a manga.
Ending: Open-ended and inconclusive; there’s more to come yet.

Get a load of this: J.C. Staff‘s Bakuman is an anime adaptation of a manga about a duo whose goal is to make a manga with the aim of eventually getting an anime adaptation. If that hasn’t broken your mind yet, it might also be noted that Ohba Tsugumi and Obata Takeshi, the writer-artist duo behind the original manga, were also the creators of Death Note. Mind blown yet? Good. Let’s move on to the main point.

Despite its incongruous pedigree, Bakuman is nothing like its predecessor by the OhbaObata duo; it is a much more light-hearted tale about two boys’ ambitions to make it big in the manga industry, no doubt based on the creators’ nostalgia about their own beginnings. This is underlined by the presentation of the series as a whole; Kasai Ken’ichi, the man behind such classics like Honey and Clover and Nodame Cantabile, clearly saw some potential in the source material as a slice-of-life cum romance drama, as can be evidenced by the art direction, full of pastel colours and old-school character designs. The music used throughout the series is also similar to pieces one might hear in series from previous decades, complementing the visuals to evoke the feeling of an old-school classic romance. Along with the premise of the main duo’s path to becoming professional mangaka and the romance subplot between them and the main female leads, it is almost as if Kasai is attempting to make Bakuman to manga what Nodame Cantabile was to classical music.

However, whatever the merits of such an approach, trying to squeeze what is essentially a shounen story into a shoujo-esque paradigm is bound to cause some issues. This especially shows in the main characters themselves; although Mashiro and Takagi have a good chemistry between them as bromance partners, individually they’re not the most likable of personalities. This especially applies to Mashiro, whose personality traits display to good effect how obnoxious a shounen hero character, with his obsessive competitiveness and tendency to drag others into his pace, can be in a real-world setting. On the other hand, Takagi is a much more likable character, but tends to play second fiddle to the partnership for some reason, despite being the impetus of the whole story at the beginning. And whatever the failings of the male leads, it is the female leads who get it especially hard; Azuki remains more of a plot point than a character despite Kasai‘s best efforts to redeem her, and Miyoshi must deserve some kind of “went back to the kitchen” award for going from spunky tomboy to coffee-serving cheerleader for the Ashirogi Muto duo. It takes a couple of the more interesting supporting characters to save the cast as a whole; clearly, well-written characters isn’t Bakuman‘s forte.

Partially because of the failings of the characters, making a shoujo romance out of a shounen premise doesn’t quite work out either. Mashiro and Azuki must have one of the most unbelievable “romances” in anime (so much so that they even get called out on it), and come off as some inexperienced kid’s overly-idealised idea of a romantic relationship; probably not too far from the truth, as it is. The fact that an element of male chauvinism runs through the relationships between the main characters, including the romantic pairings, only make the attempted portrayal of the romantic relationships as an ideal all the more jarring. All in all, the attempt to emphasize the romantic component of the story, while well-meaning, may have been somewhat misguided.

Which is not to say the story as a whole was bad; as a matter of fact, Bakuman is at its best when the focus shifts to the premise of the whole story in the first place: the art of manga-making. It does get especially interesting when the series takes a closer look at the processes that go into the making of a manga and the inner workings of a manga publishing house, and it can be said that the audience is never more moved to root for Ashirogi Muto and their rivals, than when they are pushing to get a manuscript out, or waiting with bated breath for the results of their work from their editors. In that sense, Bakuman takes something from the real world, and makes a successful shounen premise out of it.

By no means is Bakuman a failure as an anime adaptation; it is certainly worth a look into, for it is very decent indeed when it is playing to its strengths. At the same time, there is definitely room for improvement, and it yet remains to be seen if it does improve, given that the series ends on a cliffhanger ending, with the promise of a sequel to come.

The Rating: 7
7/10

Reviewed by: Ascaloth

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