I was fourteen when a friend of mine told me to try Manga. The next time I went to a bookshop I went to the Manga shelf and uttered, “But the book is faulty. It’s back to front!” Genuinely. I felt a little stupid when everyone laughed at me, so maybe that’s why it took me almost another decade to consider it again.
I got Bakuman in Japan earlier this year when I visited the Manga Museum in Kyoto. By Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata, this Manga is apparently very different from other Manga, because it is basically a Manga about Manga.The story: Moritaka is a young schoolboy who is close to the end of his compulsory schooling and has no idea what he wants to do with his life, and thus no idea which high school he should attend (if any). He enjoys drawing, but his parents expect him to lead a “stable” life and he agrees, having lost his uncle to the consequences of overworking.
I read comics when I was younger – Casper, Richie Rich and such, and then Tin Tin and Asterix & Obelix. Last year I read Orchid. All these were coloured illustrations, but this Manga’s black and white lined drawings allowed for so many details that I realised I far prefer it. This is probably a newbie’s fascination, but I loved examining every frame for all the little details.
I wouldn’t say that I was entranced by the writing style – it is straightforward to the point that I don’t even really have any favourite quotes. Perhaps this is a translational issue, but I think it is simply the nature of the story, aimed as it is at a younger demographic.
There is romance in this Manga (how could there not be, I suppose) – but it is a rather unrealistic unromantic romance which was a little annoying. Perhaps in light of the pressure on Japanese youngsters to excel, it makes sense.
What bothered me about the story though was that it displayed some unhealthy behaviour that was not formally addressed. I suppose this makes me sound like the type that wants to censor books to be positive and didactic. I’m not sure it’s that at all. But for example, Moritaka and Akito start to pull all-nighters regularly to work on their Manga, resulting in them failing exams and feeling generally miserable.
Maybe it is admirable to give your project everything you’ve got – I just wished there had been more discussion of it, although the comic format does not really lend itself to discussion (or does it?). I know that people have this thing about bragging about how hard they work and how little they sleep (medical students are very guilty of this, and I’ve done it too), but it’s super unhealthy. And now I sound like your mother.
Similarly there is a lot of reflecting on the life of Taka’s uncle, who died of overwork. Japan has a culture of working hard and honour, and although Taka’s uncle died in this way, he shows no desire not to repeat that pattern. In fact, he revels in the similarities between his life and his uncle’s. Overworking is actually a big issue in Japan, such that many companies have instated limits on the amount of overtime an employee may do. So I also hoped that this would be addressed rather than almost idolised.
In general I though the story was fast-paced, sweet and easy to read. Teenagers who don’t usually read would probably also enjoy it. The Manga industry was well explained, which I also found very interesting. I would like to read further volumes of Moritaka’s adventures, but I’m not going to roll around at night wondering about them.