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Blue Moon Reviews — Bakuman, Vol. 1

The creators of the best-selling manga Death Note have reunited for Bakuman, a series about two middle schoolers trying to make it in the manga-publishing world!

Bakuman, Vol. 1
Story by Tsugumi Ohba, art by Takeshi Obata
VIZ, 208 pp.
Rating: Teen

Score: 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.

Volume one of Bakuman is available now.

11 Comments

I think Bakuman’s sexism infuriates me so much because this is a series set in contemporary Japan and runs in Shonen Jump (meaning lots of boys *and* girls read it) so I can’t even say to myself, “oh well, those attitudes existed during that time period blah blah blah”). I just felt kind of overwhelmed by how the sexism really whittled away at everyday women’s agency, independence, identity, etc. (for example, the marriage pledge seems incredibly sexist to me because it view romantic love through this idealistic lens, where god forbid you actually get to *know* the woman you are going to marry beyond the surface…because in that character’s mind the surface clearly speaks for the whole. And I don’t even care that it is “her” idea in the story, its written by a man who clearly has very deeply held sexist attitudes.)

Yeah. I have a lot of dander to spare over this one. Perhaps because I really think I would have enjoyed the story about two middle school boys who want to become great comic book creators otherwise. After all, I adore the medium myself.

I had the same thoughts about the marriage pledge occurring when neither of them know each other and don’t seem poised to rectify that, but the thing is… these are 14-year-old morons! They think this kind of thing is romantic! We grown-ups know that it isn’t. I dunno, I guess it could be sending the wrong sort of message to the kids who’re reading it, but from my perspective their VAST inexperience made their foolish actions understandable.

For some reason I decided to google more on sexism in Bakuman, because I found the issue somewhat interesting and I’m a masochist like that I guess. I ended up on a forum used by what I hope were bubbly 15 year old kids with a lot of free time. Originally, I was posting because I wanted to share some of the highlights of their discussion, but instead I’d just like to take this time so say I blame you for my brain exploding.

On a completely random other note: I’m not really familiar with Death Note or Hikaru no Go. Am I missing out?

Hahaha. Sorry about the explodey!

I have not actually read the Death Note manga, but I’ve watched about 2/3 of the anime so far and like it. If you wanted to dabble without investing, the anime (in its entirety) is free, legal, and subtitled on Hulu. For what it’s worth, I’m enjoying the anime enough that I plan to go back and read the manga at some point.

Hikaru no Go, which has the same artist but a different writer, is one of my absolute favorite manga. It’s the rare manga that’s suitable for all ages but doesn’t talk down to its audience, and chronicles the Go (a board game) career of its protagonist, Shindo Hikaru, from the time he’s in around 6th grade until he becomes a pro (around 9th grade). Over the years, the character designs age with subtlety and you don’t even realize they’ve grown up so much until you happen to catch a glimpse of an earlier volume. I really cannot say enough good things about it. (It looks like the Hikaru no Go anime is also available on Hulu. It follows the manga through vol. 17 (there are 23 total) and does so pretty faithfully.)

So, to answer your question… I don’t know whether you’re missing out by being unfamiliar with Death Note but I think you definitely are by being unfamiliar with Hikaru no Go. :)

Yeah, they are 14, but the thing is, they are now 20 where the series is in Japan and they still do not know each other beyond a handful of emails containing a few lines each. It’s not like they even write long, deep emails to each other. And they are still planning to get married as soon as their dreams come true. Bleh.

But that is actually one of the things that bugs me least about the manga. I could list all the things that make me feel like this is an author who truly hates women, but it would take me forever (and of course be totally spoilery). It’s not just things the characters say, but the entire way the story is constructed and the roles and personalities given to women in it.

It makes me really frustrated and sad because I love the premise of the story and I like a lot of things about it (who would have thought you could have a manga about manga that mimics a battle manga?), and of course Obata’s beautiful art, but it is just so frustrating to read.

By the way, since you don’t seem to be posting anything to LJ except round ups of links to your blog, and I’m trying to cut down my LJ flist, I think I’m just going to defriend you there and add your blog to Google Reader.

Yeah, they are 14, but the thing is, they are now 20 where the series is in Japan and they still do not know each other beyond a handful of emails containing a few lines each. It’s not like they even write long, deep emails to each other. And they are still planning to get married as soon as their dreams come true. Bleh.

Oh, bleh indeed! I was hoping they’d wise up eventually and realize what a stupid idea it is! I guess I’ll just have to wait and see whether the rest of the story irks me, too! :)

And that’s cool re: LJ. Thanks for the heads-up!

Hmm, but you know, having read Death Note I already had a pretty good idea what conservative values the authors must have about women (though I have a lot of respect for the series nonetheless). After reading the shockingly sexist lines in Bakuman I just put it down. It just isn’t worth it for me, even if it does have a good story, to have to read stuff like that.

I do like the series and yes, there’s sexism. I think it’s just a reflection of how the creators may feel about certain things. Like krkr, this is the same duo that did Death Note & Hikaru No Go.

RE: SEXISM…

One thing none of you guys have attempted to address is the reality of these views in contemporary Japan. Japan is still a male dominated society despite advancements in equality for women. “Arranged” marriages without regard of knowing the other partner STILL HAPPEN. My girlfriend is Japanese and her mother recently wanted her to marry a man who owns a successful business…he wanted to have children to carry over his business after he died. She didn’t want to do it because she wants to marry a man that she actually loves, not to have his children. Very sexist view, but the fact is, this was initiated by her MOTHER. Point is, it exists and isn’t as much sexist as it is traditional (although fastly growing outdated) culture.

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