Bakuman c1 – Dreams and Reality
A short while ago, I mentioned a few words about the new manga series Bakuman from Death Note head-honchos Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata. Originally I wasn’t considering even blogging the series from week to week, but I was pleasantly surprised when I checked out this week’s Jump to see what the story was about.
So what exactly is Bakuman about? Last we heard in the pages of Weekly Shonen Jump #36, the series was billed with references to its “explosive” nature which lit a speculative fire under fans of the Ohba/Obata pairing. I mean, we’re talking about the reunion of a mangaka team that pulled off one of the most popular series in recent memory only a few years ago. So, we go from egotistical genocide engineers and the offbeat genius detectives that try to stop them to… a pair of 9th grade mangaka wannabees bored off their asses!? Sheesh, what a jarring transition, yet a strangely alluring one at that!
The story starts off with our blue-haired protagonist, the 14 year-old Moritaka “Saiko” Mashiro, whining about the derelict of a life that’s he’s leading. Essentially life’s shaping up to be a dead-end, where grades in school basically box you into a set path for the rest of your years. Poor Moritaka’s outlook on life even does a number on his willingness to confess to the girl of his dreams, the all-too-conveniently-placed-on-the-seating-chart Miho Azuki.
After ho-hum’ing the rest of the school day away, Moritaka proceeds to take his too-cool-for-school act home for instant ramen when he realizes that he’s pulled a dumb one by leaving his math notes back on campus. But it’s not the formulae, proofs, or actual academic material he needs to retrieve, but his rather incriminating fanboy sketches of Miho. He quickly ducks back into the classroom, but happens across the series’ second protagonist, the rather conniving idealist Takagi Akito.
Eventually, it’s revealed that Takagi knows about Moritaka’s little crush on Miho and decides to capitalize on this situation through a little blackmail. But instead of the cliche demand for lunch money, Takagi instead forces Moritaka into becoming his partner as mangaka! Moritaka’s got obvious skill as an artist as evidenced by his creepy love doodles, so Takagi sees this as an opportunity to complement his self-described talents as a storyteller. However before Takagi can get to full steam in pitching his idea, Moritaka shoots him down by telling the story of his uncle, Taro Kawaguchi, who was a one-hit wonder in the world of manga and had a career that ultimately tanked. Takagi responds by maintaining he knows what it takes to win writing contests and all he has to do is to appeal to editors and regular readers instead of judges. Moritaka remains nonplussed, takes his notebook, and heads home only promising his rather hot-blooded classmate he’ll think about it.
Later that night, Moritaka’s thoughts turn to the memories he made while watching his uncle Taro work on some manga. Five years ago, Moritaka listened as Taro explained his motivation in becoming a mangaka. Apparently he had done so in order to get the attention of a girl that he had loved (almost mirroring Moritaka’s own situation with Miho), but by the time he had his first, and only, hit with the series Chou Hero Densetsu / Superhero Legend he was already over-the-hill and she was happily married. Despite not getting the girl, Taro had no regrets since manga gave something for her to measure how hard he’d worked over the years. It was only two years after that conversation, with Moritaka in 6th grade, that Taro met an untimely death and buried with him were Moritaka’s dreams of also becoming a mangaka.
The sequence ends with Moritaka’s mom walking into his room and catching him fiddling around with his PSP which draws a reprimand and a mini-lecture on him not going to be able enter the apparently prestigious Minami High School at this rate. After she leaves, emo-Moritaka pounds his fist into his PSP (oh god, why!?), but before he can sulk any further he receives a surprise phone call from Takagi.
Takagi’s seemingly played the subterfuge card again in order to goad Moritaka into becoming the artist for his manga, or so Moritaka believes. However, that’s not exactly the case as Takagi implores Moritaka to meet up at Miho’s house; apparently Takagi’s got some dirt on her and is going to tell her something to her face. The two eventually meet up at Miho’s huge, Western-style residence and, after some bumbling and horseplay, ring her doorbell. Eventually Miho pops out to her doorstep and Moritaka finds himself flustered before her. At which point Takagi boldy declares to her that he’s becoming a mangaka, an announcement that bewilders Moritaka given the audience. But to Moritaka’s further shock, Takagi reveals that Miho wants to become a voice actress, something that Moritaka steadfastly refuses as a possibility for the softspoken Miho. Regardless, since Miho’s already been sending demo tapes to various production companies, Moritaka immediately begins to feel apprehension at the thought of her succeeding. If she hits the big-time, how’s he ever going to confess to her then?
Takagi pounces on Moritaka’s momentary lapse in concentration and gets him to make an announcement to Miho: he too is going to become a mangaka with Takagi. This, added with Moritaka’s declaration that if their manga gets animated she can voice for it, completely gets Miho fired up and into complete fangirl mode. She skips over to just behind the fence for some face-to-face dialogue with Moritaka, but all he can think about is how cute she really is when suddenly…
HAHA, gotta love Moritaka’s expression to this situation; he’s only in ninth grade and he asks his crush if she’ll marry him if they both achieve their incredibly far-off dreams! Anyway, everyone’s pretty much destroyed by that bombshell and enters damage control: Miho retreats back inside and our two heroes proceed to spaz the hell out. A few moments later, Miho uses the intercom to tell Moritaka she accepts his proposition on the condition they can’t see each other till the manga is a success and she gets casted in its anime adaptation. Until then, they can only use email to encourage each other on; it’s a proposition that comes off as more than a bit awkward, but Moritaka suddenly remembers that this is very much like what his uncle Taro had to go through with his dream girl. He takes Miho up on her counteroffer and finalizes their pact right on the spot!
The stage is set. Miho’s on her way up through the anime industry. Moritaka and Takagi are taking a stab at breaking onto the manga scene. CAN THEY ALL REALIZE THEIR DREAMS!?
Well, gone are the strikingly dramatic ramblings monologues and perpetual flopsweats of Death Note and back in are some of Obata’s more playful facial expressions that haven’t seen much use since Hikaru no Go. The story is simple enough to follow (maybe TOO simple for the more high-brow reader), but given the age of the characters and the overall end goal for them, I’m thinking that a timeskip or two may be in play before this thing is all over and done with. We still haven’t been shown any of the supporting cast of characters just yet (something that’s traditionally done in the coming chapters), but I can easily see how the right additions by Ohba can take this manga from just merely charming as it is now to something truly hilarious in the long run. Oh and I do hope it enjoys a nice healthy run, it’s certainly got enough star power behind it between Obata and Ohba to certainly make it past the evaluation period among Jump readers. So, till next week: