Bakuman。1 by Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata: B+

Moritaka Mashiro is bored. For his fourteen years of life he’s merely gone along with the flow, a path which is destined to end with him becoming a normal white-collar worker. He doesn’t want this, but sees no alternative until Akito Takagi, the top student in class, notices Moritaka’s artistic skills and proposes that the two team up to create a manga. Moritaka is resistant at first—he’d much rather loaf around and play video games—but when the object of his affections (and aspiring voice actress), Miho Azuki, agrees to marry him when his manga becomes an anime, he is suddenly unstoppable.

Moritaka expects resistance from his family—after all, his uncle essentially killed himself by trying to become a successful manga artist—but they’re surprisingly supportive and it turns out that his uncle’s studio has been preserved, untouched, since his death. I absolutely adore the chapter where Moritaka and Akito rush to the studio for the first time—it is seriously a manga-lover’s dream. Not only are there plenty of artistic supplies, but there are shelves upon shelves of manga (“for reference”) as well as neatly organized boxes of storyboards and final drafts. All of the scenes with the boys working on their story—they decide to submit a final draft for consideration by the end of summer break—are absolutely fascinating and bring home just how grueling creating comics can be.

There are a couple of problematic things about Bakuman, however. Moritaka and Azuki’s pledge to get married when they achieve their dreams—without dating in the meantime—is pretty silly, but not out-of-character for a couple of fourteen-year-olds. The fact that they’ll be encouraging each other via e-mail, just like Moritaka’s uncle was encouraged by letters from his classmate, who just so happens to be Azuki’s mother, is a coincidence I could’ve done without. In general, this whole subplot failed to interest me; I was much more interested in the boys’ efforts to get their manga off the ground, but I suppose listless Moritaka needed to find motivation somewhere.

More significantly, many reviewers have taken issue with the displays of sexism in Bakuman. Having now read it for myself, I get the impression that certain characters are sexist but I’d stop short of applying that label to the series as a whole. This makes me wonder, though… why, when characters in Bakuman say things like “She knows by instinct that the best thing for a girl is to get married and become somebody’s wife” or “Men have dreams that women will never be able to understand” does it not piss me off as righteously as when characters make very similar comments in The Color Trilogy by Kim Dong Hwa?

I think it depends, for me, on who’s saying it. If, as in the case of The Color Trilogy, a male author puts such words into the mouths of female characters, I can’t seem to help getting peeved about it. In Bakuman, the speaker of the first line above is Akito—in other words, just an overconfident teen who thinks he knows everything. He goes on to say he doesn’t like a particular girl in class because she’s proud of how well she does in school, but when Azuki’s mother later tells him she doesn’t like smart guys, he flails about and says, “But that’s just your taste.” Perhaps what he earlier presented as deep insight about Azuki was really his own taste coming through. The second line above, about men’s dreams, though technically spoken by Moritaka’s mother, is actually a quote from his off-camera father and was easy for me to dismiss as, “Oh, he’s just an older man with outdated opinions.”

I’m not trying to argue that these characters aren’t sexist, but they don’t succeed in getting my dander up and certainly will not deter me from reading more of the series.

Bakuman is published in English by VIZ. One volume’s been released here so far, while the ninth volume of this still-running series came out in Japan last month.

This review was originally published at Comics Should Be Good.

Review copy provided by the publisher.

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