Manga Review: Bakuman

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I’ve been on a manga binge as of late. My reading list has consisted of Shonen Jump Alpha, Tenjo Tenge, One-Piece and Bakuman. I am absolutely hooked on Bakuman (バクマン。). The series is produced by the same team that created Death Note, Tsugumi Ohba (writer) and Takeshi Obata (artist).

 

Bakuman coverStoryline:

The series follows the lives and careers of mangaka (manga creators) Moritaka Mashiro (artist) and Akito Takagi (writer), who work under the pen name Ashirogi Muto. Bakuman takes readers from Ashirogi’s struggle breaking into the business while in middle school, through their triumphs and failures as adults working for Shonen Jump. Mashiro (a talented artist) had an uncle who drew gag manga for Jump before he died. He strives to follow in his uncle’s foot-steps and seek greater glory as a mangaka. Takagi is the high-achiever in the classroom who harbors a dream of becoming a manga writer, and talks Mashiro into teaming up together.

The thing I love about this series is that Tsugumi Ohba gives readers an honest look at all aspects of the manga business with amazing detail. That’s how I learned about the G-pen. (Which is a type of nib for dip pens.) I was able to easily look it up online and even buy a few. Bakuman also breaks down the all-important surveys sent to Jump by Japanese readers. Ohba also reveals how Jump’s editorial department is organized and how it carries out its duties.

The series also has a large number of supporting characters, which the series focuses on at different points. Ohba pays particular attention to the personalities and quirks of each of the supporting cast. Feable-minded Takuro Nakai and his pitiful struggles with women. The eccentric Eiji Nizuma, a manga genius, freak, and sworn rival of Ashirogi Muto. We also get to know the editors and take witness to their many office-dramas. Ohba also grants each mangaka their own series (Eiji Niizuma’s “the Crow”, Shinta Fukuda’s “Kiyoshi Knight”, Nakai and Aoki’s “Hideout Door”), and provides just enough plot for each series to make them believable to the reader. (The believability is also due impart to Takeshi Obata’s ability to create a unique art style for each series.) 

Woven into the series is a little romance with a side of angst. We get to follow the relationship of Mashiro and Miho Azuki as they pursue their dream of Mashiro getting an anime while Miho pursues her dream of becoming a voice actress, so she can play the voice of the heroine and they can get married. This is a lofty pursuit agreed upon by two extremely shy and chase kids early on in the series.  Bakuman also weaves into the story heavy doses of Takagi’s relationship with Kaya Miyoshi (an aggressive yet spirited girl, who also happens to be best friends with Azuki) which is fraught with love triangles and misunderstandings. Throughout the series we’re treated to the conflicts, misunderstanding, pursuits, and sometimes craziness between characters. An example is Kazuya Hiramaru (creator of the fictional manga series Otter 11) and how he constantly tries to weasel his way out of working on Otter 11, yet gets manipulated, bribed, and thwarted by his editor.

Bakuman is a big departure from the popular Death Note manga in the sense that it’s a lot lighter and more humorous. In fact, humor goes hand-in-hand with the drama. It’s much more grounded into reality as compared to Death Note. As noted earlier, the relations and the very real issues, personalities, and conflicts are what drive the series. Throughout Mashiro and Takagi’s partnership, we learn about the creative process mangaka go through, the concerns they have, and what some creators do to move up in the surveys.

 

Artwork:

Photo or masterful artwork?

Photo or masterful artwork? © Tsugumi Ohba & Takeshi Obata

Just as in Death Note, Takeshi Obata’s artwork is very impressive in Bakuman. Stylistly, Bakuman is more cartoonish, with screen-tones commonly being used for stylistic touches. (Which look pretty cool.) But Obata-sensei also mixes in some photography into the panels, and probably filters them in Photoshop or runs them through a copy machine. He’s had Takagi and Mashiro walk down a Tokyo side-walk with passing traffic. I remember another scene during one of Shueisha’s (Jump’s publisher) New Year’s party, Obata incorporated a photo of a car with Takagi and Mashiro stepping out of it. To be honest, this trick is a fine art, and Obata-sensei pulls it off seamlessly. Sometimes it’s difficult to tell the difference between line art and photos.

Another example of Obata's use of photos and screen tones. © Tsugumi Ohba & Takeshi Obata

Another example of Obata’s use of photos and screen tones. © Tsugumi Ohba & Takeshi Obata

Another key point (which I’ve made earlier) was Obata’s ability to give each of the fictional makgaka with their own artistic style. He was even able to provide Mashiro with various styles for each of the Ashirogi Muto’s series. (Detective Trap, Tanto, PCP) Screen tones are used quite liberally in Bakuman. Their use varies from being used as stylistic touch to a more straight-forward realistic manner. As you read through each chapter, you’ll notice the use of quite a few advanced screening techniques, such as scraping. (I’ll get into that in a future tutorial, or you can read up on them in How to Pen & Ink.) Obata-sensei is able to whip up some pretty impressive scenes with his screening techniques. The few color pages I’ve seen by Obata are just as masterful. I assume he’s using Copic markers, but he works in a very painterly fashion. I can tell, by studying the way Obata-sensei lays in his color, it has a sort of watercolor quality.

Bakuman resturant scene

A sample of Obata’s color art for Bakuman. © Tsugumi Ohba & Takeshi Obata

Viz’s Packaging and Layout.

Unfortunately I missed out on Bakuman when Viz Media started republishing it’s English translation in Weekly Shonen Jump Alpha. So I had started reading Viz’s collected volumes online and in print.

Whacky messages from the creators.

Wacky messages from the creators.

For both the volumes and SJ Alpha, Viz uses a digital format based on Adobe Flash. I often find it to be a pain as of late, but Viz utilizes Flash technology nicely when presenting Jump manga. The presentation is set up to be like a virtual book. It has transparent arrows that appear on the two-page spread as you roll the cursor over on either side of the layout. You can use the left and right arrow keys on your keyboard to turn the pages.  A menu with some basic options conveniently appears in the upper right-hand corner. The designers and programmers take full advantage of Flash’s native ability to zoom and to go full-screen. You can even bookmark your place at anytime and go back to it whenever you want. Viz also has reader apps for iOS, Android, and Kindle devices. (I have the iOS app.) Viz has done a very impressive job with their digital format and should be commended by everyone.

Screenshot of VIZ's iOS app.

Screenshot of VIZ’s iOS app.

The collected volumes (both print and digital)  utilize the same layout. (The digital versions are missing the Death Note ads.) The books like all of the other titles republished by Viz, read from right to left just like the original Japanese tankobon. (Opposite of how we normally read books in the West.) The design of the first couple of inside pages utilize a manga page template that get cropped off towards the top. Something of note, the reader gets greeted with a page containing brief bios of the creators along with a wacky message and image from Ohba and Obata. Next the reader gets a two-page spread of a character line-up on top of graphing-paper. Afterwords, the table of contents is laid-out inside a proof with crop-marks. (Similar to what’d be exported by Quark Express 4.x, or what you see at any printer.) 

Screenshot of VIZ app in iOS.

Screenshot of VIZ app in iOS.

Between chapters we get treated to Ohba and Obata’s storyboards (which are extremely rough sketches of the pages to figure layouts and views of each panel) and a thumbnail of the final draft. I find it interesting because I’m fascinated by how things are created. I like to compare the differences in how the writer and artist visualize each page. I also like to see the changes Obata-sensei made between his rough and final draft. He’s usually pretty consistent. Whatever he roughs out seems to be set in stone. If there’s a Bakuman art book with some more roughs, I’d definitely jump on it.

At this point in time, I’m only at chapter 10 of the series, right at another twist in the plot. So far Bakuman’s been able to keep my attention. That’s pretty good considering I have a hard enough time trying to read through chapters of Bleach and Naruto. But maybe that’s because I’m a big enough geek to be reading a manga about creating manga. I have to also add that Bakuman isn’t for everyone. I’ve stumbled across a few websites that give the series mixed reactions. Regardless, Bakuman has enjoyed much success in Japan and abroad.

VIZ has currently translated and released 17 out of 20 of the collected volumes for the US and Canadian markets. You can purchase them on Amazon. Or you can buy them directly from Viz Media.


Anime

In Japan, NHK-E aired the anime version of Bakuman, which ran for about three seasons. That’s pretty good for any Japanese television series. I’ve only seen the first episode (It comes off as being more wacky than the manga.), but I do know it has been released on DVD. You can pick up the first season at Amazon and save 24% off retail.

 

You can also checkout its official website http://bakuman.net/ (In Japanese) As far as I can tell there’s not an official English language website for Bakuman.

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The text of this article © 2013 Chris Hilbig. Images used in this article are © Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata