Bakuman Ends

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Well Bakuman sort of ends, with the final frame announcing a second season. That makes sense. The boys now have a serialization contract, but that represents the start of their career, not the end.

This series fascinates me with its realistic depiction of the manga industry, written from an insider’s viewpoint. This is probably a minority position. The series doesn’t seem particularly popular in America. Some fans may not be interested in an anime with no fantasy elements. Others find the main characters irritating.

Personally I think the main characters are interesting and sympathetic, though flawed.

The manga industry is a fiercely competitive high-pressure environment. There are few barriers to entry and thousands of would-be mangaka. A few may become rich and famous. Others will manage to eke out a modest living. Many more will get published occasionally but will still need to hold down a part-time job at a convenience store to make ends meet.

Manga artists are like free-lance writers. They sell serialization rights to their stories to manga magazines, but they retain the copyright to their work. Their dream is to create a series successful enough to bring in licensing revenue from anime adaptations and other spinoffs.

(By contrast, American comic book artists have traditionally been wage-slaves working as employees of publishing companies that retained all the rights to their work. This may partially explain why the Japanese comic book industry has generally been more diverse and vibrant than its American counterpart.)

The downside is that mangaka lead a precarious existence, obsessively watching the reader surveys which determine which series will be picked up and which will be canceled. If those most likely to succeed seem a little off-kilter, that may not be too surprising.

Most of the viewer complaints that I have heard are about the absurd “romance” between Mashiro and Azuki. Though supposedly engaged they agree not to see or talk to each other until they become successful in their careers, communicating only by email. They seem all to likely to succeed in their careers and fail with each other–but since this is just a story maybe they will eventually manage to work things out.

Mashiro wants to be a mangaka and Azuki wants to be a seiyuu, which is another highly competitive field. They are probably correct that the distraction of a youthful romance might derail both careers, but they refuse to admit that the real reason for their voluntary long-distance relationship is that they are both pathologically shy with the opposite sex.

Note that his partner Takagi is able to have a more normal relationship with his girlfriend, though this seems to work only because she is willing to dedicate herself to supporting his career.

The other mangaka characters all give evidence for the hypothesis that you have to be a bit weird to succeed in this business. Eiji Nizuma is hailed by everyone as a boy genius, but he is socially incompetent. (In fact he pretty clearly suffers from Asperger’s Syndrome.) His success is initially threatened by his unwillingness to listen to his editor. Fortunately he is able to form a friendship with Mashiro based on mutual artistic respect, and this seems to have a stabilizing effect on him.

Shinta Fukuda is somewhat older. His abrasive manner conceals an underlying insecurity. He has so far failed to get a series accepted for serialization, and it is starting to worry him.

Takurou Nakai is even worse off. He is in his thirties and has rarely had anything published. He grimly resists the implication that he should find another career. He is actually an artist with great technical skills but he has trouble coming up with appealing stories.

The most interesting of the secondary characters is Kou Aoki, a pretty young woman with a cold and reserved manner. She always seems perfectly composed and emotionless, but the evidence suggests that this is mostly an act. Aoki has published stories in shoujo manga magazines, but she wants to create a shounen series. Shoujo manga is a female ghetto, marketed to girls and produced almost entirely by women. Shounen manga is a larger and more lucrative medium, marketed primarily to boys but read by both sexes.

But shounen manga is much more male-dominated. It’s no accident that whenever we see Aoki she is always the only woman in a room full of men (except when we see her alone in her apartment.) Fukuda obviously resents her and shouts in her face and otherwise tries to physically intimidate her. She doesn’t blink.

Because her drawing style is considered too girly she is forced to take Nakai as a partner. She needs his artistic skills to succeed, but he’s difficult to work with since he’s obviously attracted to her and would like to date her. He’s much older than she is, not to mention overweight and unkempt, so it’s probably safe to assume that she doesn’t find him attractive. She needs to discourage him without causing him to lose face, which might make it impossible for him to work with her. Acting cold and superior may be just the ticket.