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BAKUMAN Vol. 1 -- Retro Review

It doesn't look like it, but this is actually something of a horror story.

Previous Retro Reviews...

This one hits close enough to home that I maybe ought to cite a conflict of interest. BAKUMAN started only a few years ago, too, so doing this “retro review” gets even messier. Well, classifications be damned - - I really wanted to read and discuss this book. I’d say it’s arguably timely since the whole series concluded just recently, but that’s honestly beside the point for me. What’s important is that I’ve got something of a vested interest in the subject matter.

If you’ve paid attention to my byline on every single one of my posts, you’ll know that I write comics professionally when I’m not reviewing anime and manga here. So, as you’d expect, a story about comics creators speaks to my own life experiences far more specifically than all the tales of space pirates, mecha pilots and even generic twenty-somethings covered on this site. Hell, the kids in BAKUMAN (as of this first volume, at least) are seeking to make a manga that’ll be turned into an anime by the time they’re 18, and I technically broke into comics when I was 19 (the technicality being that the artist flaked out even after we’d had a contract worked out with a publisher.)

Honestly, reading this made me feel uncomfortable, and that’s perhaps to its merit. See, I know the book’s supposed to be an informative (but still entertaining and comical) journey through the manga business - - it accomplishes that, rather successfully, for most of its audience. For me specifically, though, it’s an embarrassing and even sobering examination of the often tragic flaws in thinking that can all-too-easily befall comics creators. It’s almost like watching somebody else pick open your scabs in the mirror.

BAKUMAN’s about a duo of smart middle schoolers who become a comics-producing partnership after some harmless blackmail. Mashiro, a dutiful student and budding artist, is essentially pushed into making manga his life’s goal by a classmate, Takagi - - an over-achiever and aspiring writer who knows little about making manga.

Even at age 14, Mashio’s all but sworn off cartooning as a career since he grew up seeing his uncle, a mediocre mangka, work himself to death. However, after Akito gets a hold of a notebook full of Mashiro's pencil portraits and then discovers that the subject of the portraits - - Mashiro’s crush, Azuki - - wants to be an anime voice actress, he pressures his would-be collaborator into confronting this girl he’s loved from afar.

The confrontation actually leads to an unhealthy resolution. After something of a comedy of errors, Mashiro and Azuki promise to marry one day… after their other dreams have come true, though. I imagine that the back-and-forth of their courtship will become the melodramatic intrigue to anchor a series that might otherwise be dryly fixated on shop talk and career planning. However, this volume lets loose a surprise that colors such playful romantic intrigue with a harsh coat of reality - - and it's not actually one of the oft-discussed “gambles” of the manga business.

As it turns out, Mashiro’s uncle and Azuki’s mother had a very similar “courtship.” They exchanged platonic letters for years while he was working on his manga career in the hopes of one day making himself worthy of her. Eventually, she grew tired of waiting and married a businessman (thus bringing Azuki to the world,) while he resigned to a loneliness that implicitly contributed to his death.

The series will most likely tie this romance off eventually with some happy ending where their dreams come true and their years-in-advance marriage plans work out exactly as hoped for. However, it’ll frankly seem as believable as a teenager’s successful plan to keep his hard drug habit manageable and until he quits on a chosen date without any pangs of addiction or withdrawal. And that's not a case of me reading too far into things, here, since the series practically advertises itself as entertainment that doubles as a field guide to some of life’s cold hard truths.

Maybe this all isn’t as tough to wrestle with in Japan. From my time living in Asia, I remember how Japanese children’s fates are sealed early on through those terrifying entrance exams. I also remember how reports of students committing suicide after getting low grades on those exams weren’t uncommon, either. So, maybe all these disquieting notions are just a matter of fact that readers over there are so used to that they'll never let it never their carefree entertainment.

Then again - - maybe these plot points are meant to be this unsettling. This is from the same team behind that unflinchingly nihilistic DEATH NOTE, after all. If that's the case, than BAKUMAN is a far more sophisticated piece of work than I already appreciate it to be.

As I warned, this isn’t a “retro review” so much as a discussion of a work of art from somebody with maybe a little too much skin in the subject matter. Despite these glum rabbit holes it might be you go down into, it really is a top-notch book.

Tom Pinchuk’s the writer of HYBRID BASTARDS! & UNIMAGINABLE. Order them on Amazon here & here. Follow him on Twitter: @tompinchuk

FoxxFireArt moderator on May 18, 2012 at 7:26 p.m.

I thought the name Retro Review was a tad odd for a series that began in 2008.

I think people would be pretty surprised at how many times I get people who keep contacting me on devArt asking me to draw their story. Poeple who I've never heard from before suddenly asking me to dedicate incredible amounts of hours drawing their comic and offer absolutely no compensation. It got to the point where I just stopped replying at all. I just delete them now.

A couple years back, a person contacted me and asked me to draw a comic he was going to pitch to Antarctic Press. I took his script and drew up a twenty-five page comic. A lot of hours went in on that. I mailed them to him, and never heard from him again. Never even replied to any of my e-mails.

If I had a friend ask me to work with them on a project. I'd actually consider that. But it takes quite a bit of arrogance to go up to someone you don't know and ask them to put aside paying work to make your project for free.

Lurkeroon May 18, 2012 at 7:29 p.m.

The main complaints I heard about Bakuman during its releases were about masochism. I never read it myself, but apparently the female lead was not much of a confidence booster for females.

Kuma_From_Argentinaon May 18, 2012 at 8:54 p.m.

Retro? If this is Retro I'm feeling so fuc$%&% old.....

I'm also in a comic (manga Style) proyect, and the guy is pretty nice (he lives in Mexico, so we never met each other) but the Manga is going smoothly, I'll try to publish in an editorial called Larp, that publishes Manga in Argentina, or maybe a fanzine. The last resources I have is making it a webcomic

takashichea moderator is online on May 19, 2012 at 12:02 a.m.

I enjoyed this volume and its references to Death Note. My favorite character is Akito Takagi. I haven't got a chance to keep reading after volume 3. For me, Bakuman has a lot of text to read through. I didn't mind, but it's going to be challenging to reread and not get bored. So far, my impressions are that the series doesn't have much strong females when you compared it to Fullmetal Alchemist and Naruto. Akito's girlfriend is pretty 2D, and I haven't read far to see how Azuki is maturing.

Petiewon May 19, 2012 at 11:08 a.m.

I remember reading this series for a while a couple years back. It had an interesting premise but that's all I liked. It seemed overly drawn out, none of the plot points or cliffhangers were particuarly interesting and it has possibly one of the worst "romances" i've ever seen in a manga.

sotyfan16on May 20, 2012 at 10:40 a.m.

I fell in love with this manga last year. I started buying the manga and came to the point where I had all the volumes available but wanted more. So, I found scans and started reading it online and up to the chapters in Japan after about a week of hard reading. It ended about a month ago and I've been reading the weekly chapters since last August. I enjoyed every bit of it.

There are some intriguing trails and rivalries in the series and some very interesting manga ideas as well. I would assume that the work that goes into creating manga is pretty well spot on and that is what excited me the most about Bakuman. The romance has its moments and the ending is what I thought it would be though I was curious if it would end at that point.

The anime is pretty good and follows the manga quite well. I am excited to see the third season when it comes out.

Can't wait for Ohba and Obata's next project.

Dig Deeper into Bakuman.

Bakuman is a series about two boys who want to realize their dream of becoming mangaka!

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