Anime rarely have in them the capacity to inspire their faithful watcher to do work. And I mean this in the nicest way possible. They are highly addictive, engrossing and due to their large availability online, through legitimate means or otherwise, it’s very easy to set aside your work and studies and go on a binge for 72 hours straight.
Bakuman: Season 1 isn’t so.
Moritaka Mashiro and Akito Takagi are two middle school students on the verge of graduating onto high school. While Moritaka Mashiro is your average, angsty love-struck teenager, Akito Takagi is the smart, cool, good looking nerd whose dominating the exam results list each term. But one fateful afternoon, Akito convinces Moritaka to work with him to become a mangaka – A manga artist. Akito would write the manga – the story and the dialogue and the setting – while Moritaka would use his talent and experience, (his uncle also used to be mangaka) to draw the series.
And thus, one of the greatest mangaka duos are born and the rest is history.
Working out of the old workshop that used to belong to Moritaka’s uncle, the duo soon begin submitting names (rough sketches of manuscripts) and their corresponding manuscripts to a big manga publisher.
Now I can’t lie, that right there sounds like the most boring premise for an anime ever but let me tell, the team behind Death Note (yes, that’s right this is from the same writers and artists behind THAT one) manages to pull it off. By basing the series on much of their own early experience of trying to get serialized and drumming up the drama (obviously) and comedy, Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata manages to make this one of the most compelling anime I’ve watched in a long time.
What’s great about this anime is how it avoids sugarcoating anything about the manga industry. From the get go, the audience is blasted with how incredibly daunting a task this serialization business and that’s just without mentioning the effort needed to draw a single page. The brief exposition scene in the third episode (I think it was?) about the various techniques and styles needed to put together a complete page actually cringe. Of course its fascinating stuff, especially to an otaku like myself but then I can’t even imagine writing one single page full of sentences without cramping my fingers up. And then there are the critical editors, the public that’s (in my opinion) too into mass produced shounen style manga and rival mangakas who are churning out pages by the dozen everyday. What all of this means of course that each time our duo climbs one rung of the ladder to serialization, the audience climbs with them.
And what with the slow climb by this duo and our emotional investment in their fate, this anime is perhaps one of the most inspiring anime I’ve seen. Watching it made me want to actually do work so that I can achieve my dreams and goals. It makes me want to invest in my ambitions as much as the characters are in theirs and that my friends, is pretty rare for an anime. Instead of depressing you with how much they get done in a month, Moritaka and Akito makes you want to join them in their success. And that for me is a great accomplishment for an anime.
But not all is right with this anime. What would an anime be without a love story eh? And yep, we have a pretty hefty, meaty and frankly uber unrealistic one right around the corner. See our manga writer Akito Takagi wants to become a mangaka because he genuinely wants to be so. But our manga artist Moritaka Mashiro is only partially invested in this for the love of the medium. The other reason is his ‘love’ for a person.
He is in love with Miho Azuki whose dream is to become a voice actress for anime. And because they are both chronically enfeebled around each other and painstakingly shy to boot, they make this pact that they will only ‘date’ when Moritaka’s manga gets serialized, made into an anime and Miho gets cast as the lead heroine for the anime. They will then promptly get married. Until then, they will only communicate via 2-3 line text messages. And these messages will only be regarding their dreams. Ignoring the fact that this whole scenario is completely unrealistic and destroys the exact thing the anime has got going for it, it also ruined Moritaka Mashiro’s character. Instead of being driven and determined to become the next being mangaka in Japan, he alternates between the former state and a pathetic, lovesick teenager who spends his time pining and agonizing over wanting to see his love. And this whole idea of a ‘muse’ to an artist? I’m sorry but I refuse to believe we’ve regressed back to the 17th century. This romance side story derails the momentum of the story frequently and it was only respect for the anime’s integrity that prevented me from skipping through the romance parts entirely.
Bonus: since this anime and its source manga are based on Ohba and Obata’s real life loosely, much of the anime have real life references in it. Popular manga series get mentioned several times (One Piece, Hunter x Hunter, Naruto to name a few) and the publisher that Moritaka and Akito work with is named Yueisha, which is a thinly veiled referenced to the actual company Shueisha. And the magazine that the duo aim to be serialized in is called Shounen Jack, while is a reference to the actual magazine Shounen Jump.
Throughout its 25 episode first season, Bakuman is a sparkling look into the intrinsic workings of the manga industry. From showing the process of manga selection to debating the importance of mainstream vs cult manga, Bakuman is definitely captivating stuff to the avid manga reader and/or anime watcher. But if anime/manga aren’t frankly your go-to entertainment and you’ve just watched one or two episodes of Naruto just to see what everyone’s talking about, this isn’t for you. Much of this anime’s draw comes from the details and the expositions in it and for someone like me, it’s beautiful.
Except for the romance.