If you’ll permit me a moment of chauvinism, I’m strongly of the opinion that Bakuman is a series that’s going to appeal to males a lot more than females. To quote Moritaka’s father, “There are dreams men have that women just can’t understand.” Now, I don’t know if that’s true – and I may end up being wrong and this series will be a bigger hit among girls than guys – but what I can speak to from experience is that Bakuman really captures what it feels like to be a boy with a dream. We get lots of series – maybe a majority – that have teenaged males as the lead. But this is one of the few that really gets what it’s like to be a teenaged boy. The emotional extremes that you whipsaw between, the exuberance that comes from getting together with a friend to chase a dream, the sheer panic at allowing yourself to think about being with the girl you’re crushing on. That feels so real here, it’s scary.
Yes, I admit it – the obviously low budget is a distraction. This is not detailed, rich Moribito styled animation. But I can live with that. Bakuman fills several niches that need filling. A series about having an ambition and chasing it down that doesn’t shy away from the grit and pain and hard work involved. A series about family love as much as romantic love. And a series that really looks seriously at the world of manga writing – not a satire or a spoof, but grounded in the reality of that fascinating and brutal world. Finally, this is a coming-of-age story – a bildungsgroman – in the best sense of the word. Moritaka is going to face some serious heartbreak and challenge as he pursues his dream, that’s for sure.
One reason I think this works is that it’s clearly authentic to the experience of the mangaka – in this case written by Tsugumi Ohba and drawn by Takeshi Obata. I have no doubt that Ohba was a 14 year-old dreaming of glory as a mangaka once, and that really comes through. We’re seeing this story play out literally from the beginning – the child Moritaka’s love for his Uncle, the retreat after his death, the rebirth of his interest. We’ve just gotten to the point of parental approval by the end of the second ep – too slow-paced for some I’d guess, but I think it fits the tortoise vs. hare mantra of this show. It will lose viewers because of the lack of fantastical elements and mediocre animation, I don’t doubt – but I suspect those that stick with it – and I hope there are enough manga readers to make that a large group – will be rewarded with a compelling and moving story.