I find out about a manga from a review, shared via google reader shared items. I read all 42 scanlated volumes only pausing only to comment on the review and sleep. This has never happened to me before. Ever. Suffice to say, I recommend Bakuman. I’ll let the review I mentioned give you the lowdown.
But I will share some of the that got me so hooked on this manga. First of all, and probably most important is my realization that I’ve been a snobbish, elitist piece of shit with my attitude towards shounen manga and anime. I have been unfair, especially since I’m still very much in love with Dragon Ball now that I’m watching Dragon Ball Kai. While I don’t write reviews (in general) or spew hatred for shows like Naruto and Bleach, I know in my heart I consider them inferior works, immature works, and I generally act as if I’m too good for them. Hate isn’t the opposite of love, indifference is. And I have been indifferent with my casual dismissal of these shows as things I’ll never ever watch (or read).
Now, I’m not saying that I’m suddenly going to start watching Naruto and be an instant fan. Not at all. I only give up my attitude that these shows and manga are generically bad, or worse: that they are cheap and require no brilliance or genius in their production, writing, or craftsmanship. After all, it’s not as if robot anime is superior by default. My preference for my pet works is more or less, a contingency of exposure and taste. My taste tells me they are better, but it is not the truth. It only works for me and other mecha fans. So yeah, Bakuman is changing my life. When was the last time a silly little pile of pictures and text did that for you?
What would be fair I think is to accept that everyone excretes crap, just as greatness can come from anyone who does so.
Shounen manga and anime follow formulas. Formulas are not bad things. You’ll find plot formulas in your favorite anime and manga. Very few works truly defy formula. I can think of Grave of the Fireflies, and My Neighbor Totoro, but not to say that these do not use narrative tropes and conventions; otherwise I can think of very little else. Serial manga, will have to follow formulas to sustain longevity and success. For example,
- Character arc (introductions, presentation of motivations, possibly framing of conflict)
- Training arc (preparation for battle, power levels are incresed)
- Battle arc (conflict is resolved)
This formula is identifiable in works like battle/quest shows/manga like Dragon Ball Z/Kai and sports shows/manga like Slam Dunk. Are these works dismissable for following such a simple generic formula? Does it mean anyone can make something and duplicate the tremendous success that these works as simply as the formula suggests?
No. Success in the entertainment industry is a zero-sum game. Only a few get to be really successful, and while it seems that luck may factor in a very big way, since the formula suggests that a lot of works will seem very much alike, success is distributed unequally in a big way… it takes guts to bet one’s career and livelihood in making manga. One can argue that another action manga is better than Naruto, and it would probably be true, but that won’t impact Naruto’s following or success. Also, it is also a dead end to blame fans for being stupid or for being n00bs, or for having poor taste. Naruto is an excellent gateway anime targeted on the kids who will love it. Obviously, it’s not written for a 32-year old and married mecha anime fan. I would not be creating any value to anyone should I endeavor to elaborate all the reasons why it’s not a good piece of work.
So how did Bakuman give me this?
Self-serving? Sure. So what? Shounen manga is too, about young boys trying to be men. Bakuman is no different, and its conceit is that manga too lays out a path to manhood. Here’s more:
Thus are presented some of the major themes in Bakuman: the portrayal of genius, hard work and guts (guts is another way to read conceit), and the role of luck in the success of mangaka. And yes, I think it does brilliantly in narrating a story with these themes, giving me a very cool insider look in the manga industry. And yes, Bakugan is a fantasy where kids do spectacularly well against the odds — and this is why it is very entertaining as well.
Man, I want to be these kids. I want to be Mashiro with his ridiculous romanticsm (in a small way, I was like him — I asked sybilant to marry me on our third date… well she didn’t say no!). I so enjoyed the deep respect for others, and how great rivalries can happen outside the context of hate and right vs. wrong.
And there’s this bit near the beginning, when Mashiro called his dad to tell him how wrong he was to think that his uncle (a ‘failed’ mangaka) killed himself:
Oh man, I’m GAR for Mashiro’s dad. Such manly fatherhood, life lessons from awesome manga-scenes! My baby on the way is going to be raised right I tell you!
So shounen manga and anime can be comically manly, plying such lines and in other cases exaggerated feats and unrealistic displays of courage. In Bakuman we find this too, with the exaggerated feats and unrealistic displays of courage playing out in the various fictional manga within the narrative (probably names and ideas of the creators that never made it into actual manga) while the main characters grow and mature with heartwarming sensitivity. I’ll be following this title for good, and I really want it to get licensed because even though original anime is very difficult to come by here in the Philippines we do get licensed manga.
Yeah, I’m taking these lessons from Bakuman to heart and applying to my otaku blogging. I got guts, talent, and luck. You’re all gonna remember love more and more. I’m so Isamu that way.
My documented experience with Weekly Shounen Jump anime adaptations:
Yeah I love Dragon Ball Kai [->]
I wrote some foppery; whimsical and indulgent stuff about it too [->]
I hate The Prince of Tennis [->]