I was enthusiastic about trying Bakuman when I first heard about it, but upon reading some initial impressions–always a dangerous thing to do before actually trying it yourself–from die-hard manga fans, I lost my excitement and pushed off watching it during its original airing season. I’ve just now recently completed watching the 25-episode anime and am glad I waited, glad for good reasons.
The story follows two fourteen-year-old boys who go through their junior and high school years trying to become successful mangaka. While one is motivated purely through self-interest and his skills for storytelling, the other finds inspiration through love, a love that will not be fulfilled until one of his manga works becomes an anime in which his love interest can voice a character.
The general complaints about the anime adaptation are that it paces events poorly and that its love story lacks love and thus doesn’t deserve as much attention as it receives. I disagree with a good majority of the criticism that Bakuman receives, and instead enjoy the spacing of conflicts, the young adult themes presented in this shounen work, and the unique love relationships. With little to no knowledge of the manga sphere, I was fascinated with what the protagonists had to go through to get their works serialized. As I am a performer of the arts in a couple of fields, English and music, a portion of the trials they faced was somewhat familiar. Any artist can tell you how important it is to continually hone your skills through repetition and experimentation; practice is essential to maintaining and improving upon ability, while trying something new is key to stumbling across something truly innovating. We get to see plenty of both in Bakuman, with both Mashiro and Takagi rushing daily to the studio to work on their individual areas of expertise.
The anime itself can be broken up into trial segments: the idea and love confession, the introduction into the manga industry via the editorial department of “Shounen Jack” (a.k.a. Shounen Jump), the Tezuka Award and the introduction of the first rival, the NEXT poll competition, an inner conflict between protagonists, the Golden Cup, and serialization. Since I can clearly draw the lines between each area of conflict, I don’t think of this show as too slice-of-life-y as others think. There were admittedly moments of light comedy and romance, but I find them nicely interspersed into the main story.
Despite this being a shounen anime about characters who participate in the shounen manga industry, there’s a distinct visual lack of the stereotypical shounen elements. The ages of the protagonists are appropriate, and although we don’t have the usual battle elements present in works like Bleach and One Piece, I view the multiple attempts at publication and various manga awards as real world battles. Mashiro’s and Takagi’s entrances into full-fledged careers are also realistic as coming-of-age journeys.
Considering the main love story between Mashiro and Azuki, I actually find their version of love as patient and inspirational. The whole idea of setting love aside for a career is usually a negative in love stories, but here it is used as a push for self-improvement. Not only do they each focus solely on fulfilling their career dreams, they also let their love strengthen without physical intimacy to cloud their views. However, as many who have tried long-distance relationships before can attest, lack of communication usually causes the death of what was once a promising connection. I love that Bakuman understands this and has the two slowly progress in their methods of communication throughout the season.
The relationship between Takagi and Miyoshi, on the other hand, almost completely opposes the prior. While they start off weak, with Takagi’s dream separating them and any seriousness they could have, they, too, eventually grow to really care of one another. However, instead of absence making them fonder, it is presence that builds their ties to one another. Despite Miyoshi’s complete lack of drive for her own future, she has plenty of support to give to Takagi’s, and will do whatever it takes to help him and Mashiro realize that dream, be it cooking them dinner or analyzing mystery movies for their mystery manga. I appreciate that Takagi doesn’t do what I expect; instead of taking her care for granted and basically using her love to further his own ambitions, he is grateful for her help and starts to find motivation through her as Mashiro does through Azuki.
Overall: 8/10 (Very Good)
The show fulfilled my expectations and succeeded in both pleasing and surprising me. As a casual reader of manga, I was able to get a better idea of the mangaka world, and a such, have a greater appreciation for the works that I read. I am also a huge fan of coming-of-age tales, and I like that this one goes outside the fantastical realm that is so popular in shounen anime and manga. I’m definitely going to keep up with this and watch the second season, which I believe will air during the 2011 Fall season.