Because this title was a follow-up to Death Note in several ways. And as I wrote in my Death Note impressions, that meant it was drawn by one of my favourite manga artists, Obata Takeshi, who provided the art for Hikaru no Go. Apart from Blue Dragon Ral Grado I’ve loved everything he’s done since, and though his art has become more stylised and – to me – less appealing since the brilliant latter chapters of Hikaru no Go, I still took a liking to Bakuman.
The hook of the piece is that it turns the imaginary camera around – this is a manga about the people who create manga, the kind of thing that is usually confined to funny little omake at the end of volumes. It revolves around two boys who despite seeming very different, decide to get together to create a manga, one writing the scripts while the other puts his artistic talents and the equipment left to him by his mangaka uncle to use. Driving the plot is the artist Mashiro’s personal life – his regrets about his deceased uncle never having found real happiness and his hilariously over-romantic relationship with class-mate and later seiyuu/idol Miho: they almost never talk, blush profusely in each other’s presences and yet promise one another that when their professional dreams are realised, they will marry.
Although the writer here was Ohba Tsugumi, who also wrote Death Note (and whose real identity is much speculated-upon), this actually feels closer Hotta Yumi’s writing for Hikaru no Go than to that title: much of the drama comes from the boys getting a rival very different in temperament from them, and the silly comedy characters on the periphery of the story often steal the show – Otters 11 and its creator are probably the best things to come out of this title.
The problem is that apart from a very few moments, this whole series felt at arm’s length. I never felt like I knew either Mashiro or Takagi, or cared much for them. Their accomplishments always rang hollow because they either came very easily (like their first successes) or they revolved around imagined manga that didn’t actually sound all that good. There’s fascinating insight into the world of manga, into pleasing the editorial team, into deadlines and assistants, into how hard the work can truly be (though where HunterXHunter fits into any of it I couldn’t tell you), but the novelty wore off after a few months and a tendency soon arose for very artificial drama to be inserted (the soulless writer who got an online team to come up with stories for him returned! This time with a whole team of employees!) and to be resolved within a few issues, so that the abiding impression from Bakuman was a fragmentary and not very engaging one.
Bakuman was memorably and occasionally genuinely gripping, but it never hit me in emotional terms, and in truth I’m not at all sad it’s over. On the other hand, I am keen to see what Obata does next. And willing to watch the anime version – possibly in a few months, when the story will seem fresh and new again.