Moritaka Mashiro feels as if life is passing him by; with no dreams or motivation, he trudges through day-to-day life. One day, after leaving his notebook behind, he returns to school and finds the smartest guy in class, Takagi, waiting for him. Takagi is happy to return the book, but on the condition that Mashiro agrees to become a mangaka with him. Though Mashiro initially declines, he soon reconsiders when he discovers that the girl he likes, Azuki, dreams of becoming a voice actress. And after promising that she can have the lead role if their manga is ever adapted into an anime, he suggests that they get married once they are both successful! Shockingly, she agrees to the proposal and Mashiro and Takagi embark on their quest to become manga artists.
StoryWeekly Shounen Jump is probably the most well-known manga magazine to Westerners. It has spawned many of our favourite shounen series from Dragonball and Naruto to Slam Dunk and Sket Dance, but have you ever wondered what it takes to earn a prestigious slot in this behemoth publication? Takagi and Mashiro are two middle school students who have never spoken until one day the former approaches his classmate with an offer. Having seen his impressive drawing skills, the enthusiastic teen asks Mashiro to team up with him and create manga together. Though he initially declines, the unwilling boy soon reconsiders when they make a promise with aspiring voice actress, Azuki. As the object of the artistic lad’s affections, they all decide that when the duo succeed in having their manga become an anime, Azuki will voice the heroine and will marry Mashiro. Bakuman then follows the duo who, under the pen name of Ashirogi Muto, begin their mission to become published authors in Shounen Jack (quite why the anime changes Jump to Jack I have no idea, especially considering the amount of name-dropping when it comes to other franchises). Since it only covers the first four volumes of the manga, this first season of Bakuman merely scratches the surface of Ashirogi Muto’s journey. There’s no doubt that a lot happens to the duo as they work on submission after submission, but being the early stages of their career, the process can get very monotonous. Despite slight differences in each arc, the basic formula of working with their editor, Hattori, to ready a manuscript for competition with other rookie mangaka can get a little repetitive. Ultimately, the amount of mileage you will get out of this depends entirely upon how interesting you find the setting. Those who salivate at learning about the inner workings of a popular manga magazine will lap up every new challenge that Mashiro and Takagi face, as each time they progress, the series unearths more about the road to serialisation. Conversely, anyone who wants a quick fix will likely find this series long-winded; but then again, those desiring immediate gratification and an unreasonably speedy progression through the ranks are watching the wrong series. Although primarily shounen, Bakuman isn’t your typical mainstream show. As such it’s possible for those who aren’t fans of the genre to enjoy it – even with the overwhelming name-dropping of existing Jump hits. Certainly, those with a love for Naruto, Bleach, One Piece and Dragonball will get more enjoyment from seeing posters decorating the editors’ office at Jack or spotting volumes of the manga piled up in Mashiro’s studio. Similarly, some of the more nerdy discussion between the central pair when it comes to their favourite manga may go over the heads of anyone unfamiliar with them, but this isn’t such a huge deficit as to completely detract from any possible enjoyment. I for one am wholly unfamiliar with Ashita no Joe and have very limited experience with the Dragonball franchise, but still don’t feel completely lost when Takagi and Mashiro begin referencing them.AnimationWith J.C. Staff at the helm of the much-anticipated anime adaptation, you’d expect some pretty damn good animation. Luckily, the studio delivers fluid movement and great attention to detail. Certainly, the area where the visuals succeed most is in the settings. In particular, the care that’s gone into Mashiro’s studio is spectacular. Rows of manga line the walls, each with recognisable spines so if you look closely you can identify which series is which or point and go “Oh look, there’s a Luffy!”. With more piles of manga on desks and boxed figurines on shelves, there’s always something to look for in the backgrounds, which all adds to the fun – though I wouldn’t suggest playing a drinking game every time you spot an existing franchise you recognise or you’d soon be comatose! There are some truly butt-ugly hairstyles in this series, particularly when it comes to the women of the Azuki household. However, despite the rigidly straight fringes and chunky, lolloping ringlets, the rest of the character designs work well. There’s a more lifelike approach to the facial layouts than witnessed other shounen shows, and by utilising a more subdued drawing style the series seems more realistic than fantastical. Likewise, even without wacky hair colours and gravity-defying ‘dos each individual has their own unique attribute to make them easily recognisable, from Mashiro’s hair antenna and Takagi’s glasses to Hattori’s sausage lips and Yujiro’s "afro".SoundNo matter how many times I hear it, the opening track, “Blue Bird” is unforgivably corny. Although the song fits with the tone of Mashiro and Azuki’s sappy love affair, their romance takes a back seat to the real Shounen Jack-y action making the cheesy opening seem a little out of place. Bakuman’s voice cast performs well throughout, but for me the star is Nobuhiko Okamoto as Eiji. Okamoto dives headfirst into the role of the genius mangaka, perfectly portraying Eiji’s odd mannerisms. With ease he flips between the childish, light-hearted kid who just wants to draw and the serious and ambitious man who wants to beat his rivals. Equally, Okamoto displays great skill with the plethora of bizarre sound effects he conveys as Eiji works from “SHA-KIIIN!”s to sounds of crows cawing.CharactersAs with the story, this season of Bakuman only touches on its cast of characters and what we learn of them is only the tip of the metaphorical iceberg. That being said, the two central protagonists develop reasonably as they embark on their quest to become published mangaka. Starting out as fairly typical disenchanted youths, they meander through life with no direction or interest, but when they team up, their inner fires are ignited and their enthusiasm begins to burn bright. The duo then evolves with every success and failure that comes their way as they face up to their own weaknesses and how to overcome them. The narrative easily facilitates this development and actually demands that this maturation happen for the pair to progress, thus creating a far more realistic and engaging storyline. Despite the pleasing development of the main duo, it’s the quirky secondary cast members that hog the limelight and create a wholly diverse set of personalities. In particular, teenage prodigy, Eiji, generates plenty of interest. With his eccentric behaviour and tunnel vision when it comes to drawing contrasting with his “Manga-Yoda” like insights into what will and won’t become popular in Jump, it’s hard not to be captivated by the bizarre individual. Rough-around-the-edges Fukuda also proves to be another appealing personality. With a brash demeanour and short temper more akin to that of a delinquent he could be easy to dismiss as just another character stereotype. However, his ultimate sense of fairness and his friendship with the other rookies makes him far more compelling to watch.OverallFor anyone with an interest in the behind-the-scenes workings of a large manga publication, and particularly when it comes to the shounen genre, I can’t recommend Bakuman enough. I know that I certainly can’t wait for the next season to begin so that I can re-immerse myself in the lives of Ashirogi Muto, their rivals, and the world of Shounen Jack.
NOTICE: This review covers all seasons of the show.Bakuman is a fairy tale about two high schoolers, as they try to become famous mangaka. And I say “fairy tale” and not “story” because it is very ideal and easy-going. The problems these guys face are detached from reality; not that different from the boys reading fighting shonen full of juvenile ideals. I mean, how does this premise sound to you when you read it out loud? “The girl I love and have never spoken to, agrees to marry me as soon as I make my first anime series before I am even 18 years old. My parents, who were against me becoming a mangaka because it is a crappy profession, agree to let me do it because I really want it. My uncle was a famous mangaka and I now get his workshop full of manga and equipment all for free. My sweetheart’s best friend happens to love my best friend too. My sweetheart’s mother happened to love my uncle too, so it is DNA telling me that I deserve to have her. Also money or school exams are never a problem.” All that and several more are what alienated me from the very first episode; there is no real conflict in the show and everything plays out conveniently. Those who are actually affiliated with manga-making will most likely laugh with how unreal the whole thing plays out. Real life is a lot more challenging than what the anime shows you. But I guess all that are trivial if you just accept the fact you are watching an unrealistic story about some cartoons who want to become famous by drawing more cartoons. It is after all a shonen story about teenagers striving to become the best in their field; not that different from your run of the mill sports or superpower manga they love and mention all the time.Speaking of manga, the show is not afraid to mention their actual names and even some vague reasons of why they were so successful. It is also full of tips around becoming good in the field, so on a very basic level it does help someone to know what it feels to be a mangaka. It also helps the average Jump Shonen fan to have a sense of familiarity with what is going on in the story. But beyond all that, Bakuman is still a rather shallow slice-of-life show, with stereotypical characters and superficial conflicts which are resolved with cop-outs. Down to it, it is an otaku-oriented series. It will mean a lot less for anyone who is not an anime-fan, and chances are he will see it as nothing more than yet another school romcom or something. And why wouldn’t he; a big part of the show has to do with one of the protagonists being a shy wimp who can’t even look at the girl he likes without getting a heart attack, and the other one being an indecisive four-eyes who loves to be beaten all the time by his tsundere platonic girlfriend. As for those who already are deep in the hobby, chances are they will like it a lot just for mentioning the thing they like. In fact, it’s not a stretch if you see the entire show as propaganda around the bright side of manga-making. And it works if you don’t try to see the whole thing as realistic. The characters are all lively and their goals seem plausible under the light way everything is presented. All you see them doing is studying for awhile, then taking part in silly school romances, then they draw some manga, and then they take them to some director to approve them or not. Sure, it all looks understandable and acceptable if chicks love you even if you spend most of your time drawing cartoons instead of having fun with them, and if the publishing company is just a few blocks away from your house. Oh, and of course if you have a fully equipped professional workshop for free. I would be fine with all that if the stakes were high. Something that they are not. Do you know what will happen if they fail in their goal to be mangaka? Here, let me tell you. “Oh no, my story didn’t get published; I guess I will now need to find a different, better paid and more secured profession.” Sounds a lot less thrilling than in a fighting shonen where defeat means you get killed or the world gets destroyed, doesn’t it? Also, the romance part is completely retarded. Why are the girls interested in these boring losers? They are hot enough to have anyone they like. And why is there even romance in this story if it’s not really moving forward in any way? It’s just there for teasing you to keep watching, but it otherwise might as well be absent from the plot, as it doesn’t offer anything. I mean, they try to make it sound like the boys are going to have sex if they succeed, but it’s not like they would never attempt to be mangaka otherwise. They do it because THEY LOVE IT! Not because they want money or girls. In fact, this is not what they would choose to do if they wanted money or girls. So in all, the romance is a useless extra, that was initially added for teasing the viewer into expecting something to happen. But as it always happens with anime romances, they don’t go anywhere, and are just standing in the way like annoying filler. Heck, being dumped by their girlfriends ends up being the only way to offer development in this otherwise useless aspect. And I might as well add how it lasts way longer than it needs to. The premise didn’t deserve three seasons, because watching people making manga is a lot more boring than reading them. The novelty wears off faster than you think, and the cool ideas for manga they have at first are soon replaced with generic stuff we see all the time. That is why most viewers gave up on it in the second season, and the animators skipped a lot of chapters in the third one because they knew it got tiresome and nobody would stick around for more. This wouldn’t be an issue if they had removed the useless romance; but we couldn’t have a shonen story without token chicks, and that was the result. So, ironically enough what ruins the show are the very stereotypes of the shonen demographic, in a story that claims to be about creativity… by using the same shit everybody does. So is Bakuman a good show? For an anime which deals with manga-making it is definitely the best… because there is hardly any competition. There are other anime with a similar theme, such as Doujin Work and Comic Party but they are short and silly. Bakuman definitely stands out, it is full of references to famous anime, and provides some tips for the rookies to know what is going on behind the scenes. Other than that, it is nothing but an unrealistic romcom, with simplistic characters and an easy-going plot that outstays its welcome.
Story The story is about two boys who team up to become manga creators. As someone who loves manga, I find it very interesting and informative. There is also a cute (but occsionally frustrating) romantic subplot involving one of the boys, Mashiro, and his love intrest, Azuki. Overall, the story is really good. Animation The animation is pretty much solid. Sound The opening and ending songs are all pretty good and the background music fits the scenes. Characters Both of the main characters, Mashiro and Takagi, are pretty well developed and relatable characters. I really like the friendship that develops between the two of them. Then there is Mashiro's love intrest, Azuki, who is one of those cute and shy types. As stated above, the romance between Mashiro and Azuki is cute but frustrating (it's hard to explain why, but you will know what I'm talking about once you watch this series). Takagi also has a love intrest, Miyoshi. At first, I found Miyoshi somewhat abrasive and slightly annoying, but she did grow on me over time. Heck, I had mixed feelings about Takagi and Miyoshi's relationship at first, but even that grew on me. Then there is the rival, Eiji Nizuma, who is a quirky and overall awesome character. There are also plenty of other secondary and minor characters as well. Overall I found this to an enjoyable series. If you are interested in all the effort it takes to make a manga, you will find this series to be informative. I should add, though, that this review only covers the first season/series of Bakuman (its my personal belief that split cours should be reviewed separately). Once I watch the sequels, I'll write separate review for them. Secret Santa 2016 Review #1
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