Thursday, January 5, 2012

Anime review: "Bakuman"

Today I finished watching "Bakuman". Most of the time I give myself a few days of rest before posting a review, but since I am still on vacation and have some free time on my hands, I decided to do it today.

"Bakuman" has been on my wish-list for some time now, based on its high marks, but only on moderate importance. I was feeling a kind of dread whenever I thought about watching it - just look at that image! Especially on the upper-left corner! Include to this words like "middle-school", "marriage", "becoming a mangaka" - how could this be a good anime? Well, it turned out that I was pretty much wrong and this is a great anime!

Mashiro Moritaka is a typical middle-school kid, moderately good student, but without any particular dream or purpose. One day he loses a notebook where has was secretly making drawings of Azuki Miho, a girl who he likes. After coming to school to retrieve it he is confronted by another kid from his class, Takagi Akito, who has found his notebook. On the basis of drawings from there, Takagi tries to force Mashiro to become his partner in drawing manga. Since Mashiro has some bad experience regarding manga (his uncle was an unsuccessful one and died from overexertion), he initially declines. But Takagi tries again, this time in front of Miho (who incidentally, aspires to become a voice-actor), and this time Mashiro accepts - but even more surprising, Mashiro proposes to Miho. Even more surprising, Miho accepts - to become married after they realize they dreams and she plays a role in anime made after his manga.

This anime combines some realistic approach and themes with ridiculous stuff typical for shounen anime - but in perfect combination. For example, the plot: basically, this is a show about two kids who aspire to become mangaka. I obviously can't know what really happens on a road to becoming one, and I presume there is much more than showed in here, but everything that was presented sounded logical and realistic. Our protagonists have troubles in coordinating school, working on manga and private lives; they have to fight prejudice for being too young for this enterprise; they have to deliver their mangas to editors, have to discuss it and remade it; these editors have their bosses to respond to, have to take care of things like pools, formats and schedules; and myriad other small things that make this (in my humble opinion) a realistic representation of young manga authors' life. On the other side, we have a such plot elements that can be found only in shounen anime: the reason why all this is happening is because a 15 year old kid wants to marry when he is 18 (!!); they have friendly rivals who will give everything they have to become mangaka; there is even a genius high-school mangaka who draws them like a machine... But even with all this simplifications and jokes, this anime's first and foremost subject is about what it takes to become a mangaka.

Characters are great, simply said. Mashiro and Takagi are obviously mostly developed, but most of other got a pretty good realization. Mashiro gets a bit more coverage, especially his inner thoughts, than Takagi, which is little unfair because they are both equally good characters. On the other hand, Takagi has an actual girlfriend, Miyoshi (Miho's best friend) - very normal and realistic relationship for a shounen anime. Mahsiro's and Miho's relationship is anything but normal and realistic - they exchange maybe three sentences in whole season - but this IS a shounen anime so there is no room for complaining - actually they move toward normal at the end. Niizuma Eiji (guy from the upper left part of the picture) is the before mentioned "high-school genius", but he is also very good characters - he grows, realizes mistakes, accept advice and so on. Hattori is another character that fooled me - considering his design I thought he will be one-shot character - is another good and fully-realized character - a grown-up editor in manga-magazine. There is another 10-15 named characters. Interesting and laudable is the fact that some characters come and go - for example Iwase has some importance in first part of the show when they are still in middle-school, but disappears later when they enter high-school.

All characters do a lot of growing up: they learn from their mistake, don't always act rashly, and think about past and future. This is to be expected, since show takes almost two years of their time. Another their property worth mentioning is that they are not frustrating, which is often occurring, especially in shounen romance anime.

Jokes are pretty good and I chuckled at loud at least once in every episode. Kudos for jokes where they make fun of themselves ("Doesn't anyone have a fiancée?")! Also there are lots of references to real-life manga and anime: "Dragon Ball", "Naruto", "Bleach", "One Piece"... Actually, a magazine where they are submitting their works is called "Weekly Shounen Jack", which is an obvious reference to "Weekly Shounen Jump".

One thing that got me confused was Miho's anime. If she works only as voice-actor, why does the character she gives voice to looks like her? I can't get it whether this is a mistake or only simplification...

From technical side, anime has 25 episodes, all original, no fillers or recaps. Animation and design is good, but nothing over-the-top. Characters wear different clothes (although restricted number of sets) - I always notice this and find it laudable where it is so. Music I didn't like much, but voice-acting was very good. I especially liked Takagi's voice (done by Hino Satoshi).

I am happy to say that "Bakuman" was a very pleasant surprise. It doesn't belong to the best anime ever, but it is very good and especially enjoyable. Recommendation too all, except to those who watch exclusively action anime. I just hope that next two seasons will be good as this one.

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