SD Alternative

“I like nonsense, it wakes up the brain cells. Fantasy is a necessary ingredient in living, it’s a way of looking at life through the wrong end of a telescope. Which is what I do, and that enables you to laugh at life’s realities.” - Dr. Seuss

Bakuman

AKA The manga by the Death Note writer-artist team about… a writer-artist team trying to conquer the world of shounen manga. ^^; The following is a modified version of a review posted on myanimelist.net. If you have a minute, I’d appreciate it if you could rate my review as “helpful”: I’d like to see a review that is generally positive but that also mentions this manga’s blatant sexism could make it onto the first page.

Quick Overview:
Shujin (writer) and Mashiro (artist) decide to team up in middle school. They share the same goal, of getting published in Jump, coming in #1 in the popularity polls, and having their work made into a anime so that Mashiro’s childhood sweetheart (a would-be voice actress) can play the title role.

Writing:
As is often the case in the best shounen manga, you can learn something about the field the protagonists are attempting to conquer – in this case, the world of professional mangaka – by reading Bakuman. There’s a lot of actually very good analysis of Jump manga from a business point of view, as well as behind-the-scenes-in-the-editors-room kind of stuff. There’s no fantasy wish-fulfillment angle and everything the pair accomplishes together is shown to be the result of hard work — as in, Shuji and Masahiro really do spend all their time writing manga, drawing manga, discussing manga, and learning the business of manga. And as in, Ohba (the series writer) really does come up with a separate believable (often sci-fi-ish and vaguely familiar) premise for every manga they dream up — premises that are good enough that I would be interested in reading those manga. There’s some really good stuff here. However…

Characterization:
A reviewer on MyAnimeList.net mentioned that the characters are shallow. This is sadly true. There seems to be a “Theory of Mind” failure on Ohba’s part here, in that the secondary characters all either agree with the protagonists and support their vision, or are irrational. That said, the character designs actually vary a lot, so that the characters are all easily distinguished from one another. They might not have fully realized personalities, but they do have interesting and varied personality quirks. Also, (again as in Death Note) one of my favourite things about this manga is the interaction between the two leads. They act less like friends or collaborators and more like two halves of the same brain, playing off each other, coming up with ideas together, and supporting each other in romance. Who doesn’t want a BFF like that?

Art:
Bakuman is a good showpiece for Obata (the series artist), since the art changes depending on the flavor of manga currently under discussion – Heavy for the surrealist gag manga author, Loose for the One Piece-ish author, Grafitti for the scenes with the mangaka who does funny violence, Wistful for the former Margaret author, etc. (Sorry for the non-technical terms: I’m not an artist.) The art is most “Obata-like” when he is focusing on the main pair’s own story. Although sometimes more sloppy than his work on Death Note or Hikaru no Go, the art is still amazing.

Drawbacks:
Well, there was that plot line that promoted overwork to the point of hospitalization. (And here I thought a Jump manga that added “talent, intelligence, luck” to the “friendship, hardwork, loyalty” Jump formula could avoid that trap! Silly me!) However, since I enjoy screaming at the stupidity of counter-productively hard-working shounen heroes, this wasn’t really a drawback for me.

Much more troubling is this manga’s HARDCORE sexism. I sense the hand of an editor, somewhere, in the introduction of the karate-loving girlfriend who beats up the writer every time he says or does something stupid. (Subtle, no! But effective, yes!) However, even the editors can’t keep Ohba from sneaking in the misogynist plots and commentary.

Let’s count the ways in which this title is sexist: Ohba never skips a chance to bash on shoujo manga or dismiss the opinions of female readers (30% of Jump’s readership). He doesn’t trust pretty girls but automatically dismisses from consideration any girls who are NOT pretty. He allows that girls can be smart but maintains that smart girls have warped and overly assertive personalities. There is a story line centered around “training” a shoujo author to do panty shots. There is a story line centered around marrying your girlfriend to shut her up.

… To be fair, really bottom of the barrel guys have their characters dragged through the mud, too. But that’s just it, there’s such a disparity between the basic decency and grooming required of men and the sainthood and flawless beauty required of women, it is absolutely, positively ridiculous. My only comfort in all this is that while a lot of Jump series are casually sexist, in that there just aren’t many strong female characters who play large roles in the story, Bakuman, because it is actively sexist and misogynist, paradoxically includes many more smart, beautiful, capable women whose only failing is that they put up with way too much abuse from Bakuman’s sexist pig male characters.

In other words, there’s actually a degree of realism here not present in other Jump series, which have only weak or passive women. In this case, what the readers see (smart, beautiful, capable women) is quite different from what the author, living within his own neuroses, expects them to see (stuck up bitches). At the same time I despair, because the average Jump reader is still a 15 year old boy, so these kinds of distinctions may be lost.

Conclusion:
Bah. Anyway, sexism aside, this is actually a very good manga. I recommend it especially to people who want to learn more about what it takes to become a Shounen Jump mangaka. Most of all, Bakuman is a pretty good how-to guide for submitting to Jump. Maybe it’ll be to Shonen Jump submissions as Hikaru no Go was to professional Go… or maybe detailing the sheer amount of effort involved in becoming a professional mangaka for Jump will scare prospective artists away. :p