Summery: Moritaka Mashiro is coerced by his classmate Akito Takagi to strive to become a mangaka. Moritaka is haunted by the his Uncle’s own deadly experience as a mangaka and isn’t convinced until Akito asks Azuki Miho, an aspiring voice actress and Moritaka’s crush, to star in the anime adaptation if they succeed. In a rush of passion, Moritaka also asks Azuki to marry her and she agrees under the condition that they don’t see each other until the day their dreams come true.
Review: Bakuman is a refreshing show this season not because of the plot or animation but because of the way the show handles it’s subject matter. The goal of becoming a mangaka is not romantizied but it’s explicitly presented as a futile goal. The drive behind Moritaka is never to just become the best mangaka in Japan but to win the girl of his dreams, and that is the push that makes him chance an impossible dream. In a way, the show puts romance as the most important factor in a person’s life. The story of Moritaka’s Uncle is colored by a failed romance more than the fact that he worked himself to death. Actually, Moritaka’s Uncle worked so hard in order to impress the girl he loved and even after she was far out of reach he kept working to become a famous mangaka.
The entire show also has an anti-corporate vibe. Moritaka has a long voice over in the beginning of the show explaining that he doesn’t want to strive to be a great CEO or business man; he just wants to get a good job and live a good life. Akito, however, works as a foil for Moritaka. He is already at the top of the class and he wants to tackle his dream of becoming a mangaka because he sincerely believes he can succeed. Akito embodies the success for the sake of success mindset that the Japanese love. The two dueling personalities will color the series and hopefully draw out some of the more profound ideas. I would love the show to answer some of the questions it seems to have just dropped into the narration: Is becoming a mangaka more Nobel than becoming a CEO? Is being wealthy and successful better than just living a good life? Bakuman has the opportunity to explore these deep seeded beliefs and challenge them.
The most compelling aspect of Bakuman is the fact that a story about a pair of Mangaka attempting to be the greatest in the country is coming from a pair of mangaka who were on the top of the manga world in Japan and have gained international success. Their insights into the workings of the industry alone are enough to keep the show engaging and interesting for any fan of Japanese anime and manga.
The romance between Moritaka and Azuki is the only stumbling point of the first episode. It quickly goes from her admiring them for attempting to become mangaka to her being shut away from them for the duration of the series. It becomes a non-romance and she becomes only a goal that Moritaka is attempting to achieve, not a genuine love interest. There is some anger towards woman boiling under the surface of the characters in the series, not only in the fact that Moritaka’s Uncle worked himself to death in part due to a broken heart, but in an early monologue Moritaka dismisses love as something worthless because he is unable to talk to woman, and he seems to blame woman for this failing, at least that is the impression that I got from the line. Tsugumi Ohba hasn’t ever written female characters well. Death Note’s Misa, the only major female character, is completely dependent on Yagami Light to the point of blind devotion. It doesn’t look like Azuki Miho is going to aspire to anything greater.
Verdict: Bakuman has the powerful dialogue of Tsugumi Ohba so it is a no brainer for this season. The bonus is that it is a borderline autobiographical story of two of the most successful Mangaka of our generation. Their insight into the industry and commentary on the politics and workings of the modern Japanese manga industry will hopefully make this a compelling , insightful series. If you can overlook Ohba’s blatant sexism, that is.