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DVD Review

DVD cover

Complete Series 1


Starring (voice): Atsushi Abe, Satoshi Hino and Saori Hiyama
Distributor: Manga Entertainment
RRP: £39.99
Certificate: 12
Release date: 17 June 2013

Top student Akito is willing to do anything to become a hit writer in the Japanese comics industry, including manipulating his unsure classmate Mashiro into becoming his illustrator. Before long, the pair have their backs up against the wall, fighting for a chance to get noticed in the intense world of manga publishing. But then, an unlikely series of events puts them face-to-face with what real comic artists have to give up: love, health, and maybe even their futures. Get ready for a compelling race through the world of publishing not limited to glimpses into the industry, but all-out panoramic views packed with insider details...!

A manga about manga artists might seem like an unexciting prospect – it's just a couple of guys sitting in a room drawing, when you come to it – yet writer Tsugumi Ohba and artist Takeshi Obata have chosen to make this their follow-up project to the blockbusting Death Note. Cannily choosing a subject matter close to home, the ultra-competitive world of manga publishing, Ohba and Ogata seem on solid ground, yet without being able to rely on the supernatural flourishes and dizzying plot twists that Death Note is renowned for, how will they fare?

Beginning with the meeting of middle-schoolers Moritaka 'Saikō' Mashiro and Akito 'Shûjin' Takagi, Bakuman quickly sets out to demonstrate that the themes of friendship, hard work and victory – to borrow the motto of the series' parent manga Shōnen Jump – can, with some generous embellishment, be applied to the career of a young manga artist. (Interestingly, while many of the well-known series running in Shōnen JumpNaruto, Bleach, One Piece – appear and are referred to by name throughout, Jump itself and publishers Shueisha sport pseudonyms, no doubt due to rights issues.) Bakuman provides its likeable heroes with many of the accoutrements familiar from sports and battle manga: a dream to aim for, a wise mentor, outrageous strokes of fortune, intensive bouts of training and a charismatic rival in the shape of manga prodigy Eiji Niizuma, whose absurdly eccentric antics steal every scene he appears in.

The story takes an unexpectedly sober tack at the outset as Saikō draws his inspiration from his memories of his late uncle, a sometime successful manga creator who, we eventually learn, worked himself into an early grave while trying to get his own career back on track after repeated failures. Saikō's more personal motivation, to marry his sweetheart Miho – but only after she has become a voice actress and appeared in the putative anime series of his as-yet-unmade manga – feels rather weightless by comparison and unfortunately points towards Bakuman's biggest fault: the unbalanced characterisation of the female characters. Miho is shallowly portrayed as a saccharine cutie quite happy not only to harness her own ambitions to Saikō's but to be thought of a prize for his eventual success; her best friend Kaya seems outwardly more robust but proves equally self-effacing in her own relationship with Shûjin. It's a shamefully sexist trope that undermines the effectiveness of the writing elsewhere.

Bakuman season one is sedately paced, replete with sometimes over-detailed explanations of the ins and outs of manga publishing that may leave the less invested viewer confused or bored. By the second half, with the addition of a likeable crew of fellow manga artists, the cast fills out somewhat and the minutely examined world of manga creation – portrayed, accurately enough, as taking up every spare minute of the creators' time – builds towards a narrative climax which, while stretching credulity somewhat, allows the characters' appeal to shine through.

With a second and third series of the anime on the horizon, the slow pacing of Bakuman season one may prove off-putting for some, and the animation and direction, while decent, are hardly exciting – to be expected of a series as short on action and long on dialogue as this one. Kazé's DVD release dispenses with an English dub, to no real loss, yet it's a pity that the subtitles suffer from spelling and grammatical errors that show up frequently enough to be noticeable: a little more effort at the quality control stage could have made all the difference. Bakuman is a decent series, yet the dreary sexist subtext detracts from the enjoyment to such an extent that only the most devoted fans can be expected to overlook it.


Richard Hunt

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