Original Title: バクマン。
Genre: Comedy, Slice of Life
Director: One Hitoshi
Bakuman is a hit manga born from the talents of Ohba Tsugumi and Obata Takeshi, the creators of Death Note. The series made such an impact that it spawned an anime series three seasons long, and a game for the Nintendo DS. It was only time before it came to be adapted to live-action.
The story follows two high school boys, Mashiro Moritaka aka Saiko (Satoh Takeru), and Takagi Akito aka Shujin (Kamiki Ryunosuke). One day, Shujin sees Saiko’s notebook of doodles. Shujin is so impressed by Saiko’s drawings that he tries to convince him to create a manga together. Saiko refuses and tries to walk away, but Shujin pursues him until they run into Azuki Miho (Komatsu Nana), Saiko’s crush.
Knowing Miho’s dream is to become a voice actress, Shujin tells her that he and Saiko are aspiring to be manga artists. He also says that if their work would be adapted into a manga, it would be perfect if Miho was chosen to voice the heroine. Saiko, overcome with emotions, blurts out that if they become successful as manga artists, if Miho would marry him. A flustered Miho confesses that she has a crush on Saiko as well, and that she will be waiting for him as everyone works hard to make their dreams come true.
Saiko is more than motivated to join Shujin. They arrange so that Saiko does the drawings and Shujin writes the story. They work hard so that they catch the attention of Shueisha, the publishers of the renowned Jump magazine. But first, they must win over the approval of Hattori (Yamada Takayuki), one of the editors, and then aim to win the prestigious Tezuka Award.
As the pair work hard to fulfill their dreams, we are treated to what seems like a backstage to the production of manga. Not just anyone can be a manga artist; it takes talent, will, and determination, and we feel all of that leaking from our two heroes. We are taken through a journey of ups and downs, where rejection and replanning are all part of the process.
Focusing on the creation of manga, there are a lot of montages that show the two busy at work in their studio. The montages of manga creation are fascinating, accented by the music of Japanese band Sakanaction. They are also very well done, gradually evolving from very basic, where the two are simply drawing on their tables, to fantastical, where the ink seem to leap out of the pages.
A wonderful thing about Bakuman is that it almost feels like a backstage peek into the manga creation process. The audience gets introduced to the steps that artists in the manga industry have to go through to get serialized. Needless to say, we experience the struggles that they go through, from encountering rejection from the editors, to having to adapt to dire situations by making sudden changes to their story.
Satoh and Kamiki are very lovable as the underdog leads of the story. Their facial expressions really make it feel like manga characters have really jumped out of the pages and come to life. Though the story is centered on the two heroes, Satoh’s character goes through the most development, taking charge as the central focus of the story. He is charming from start to finish, with the audience cheering for him as he revs up his engine of motivation.
Another one who deserves praise is Sometani Shota, who plays Niizuma Eiji – the rival to the film’s heroic duo. His performance is as quirky and charming as it is daunting, adding both tension and comedic relief to the mix. His charisma and strange mannerisms are very similar to those of L from Ohba and Obata’s other hit Death Note.
With a long-running manga being the source material, it was obvious that in order to make a successful adaptation, changes would have to be made. The changes made in Bakuman are numerous, and they range from small minor changes, to big ones that fans might get picky about.
Listing and nitpicking all the changes would take up so much time, and is another discussion on its own. But we will say this – every single thing that was changed for the adaptation made the film work. The final product differed from, say, that adaptation of Assassination Classroom. In that film, you can clearly feel where each story arc started and ended, as they were all attempted to be kept intact. Because of that, each arc felt rushed and, overall, insignificant. It also felt too episodic, making audiences feel that it was better off staying a TV series.
However, the arcs of Bakuman were adapted with care, made to flow together into one seamless story. It was very catering even to fans who have never enjoyed the original manga or anime, as they could watch the film as an experience on its own.
Bakuman is a shining example of an anime adaptation done right, joining the ranks of greats like Rurouni Kenshin. Coincidentally, the two leads of Bakuman met face to face in Kenshin, though they were on opposite sides of the fight. Seeing them fight together in this film was a whole lot of fun. And just like a proper shounen anime story, you’ll be cheering them on from beginning to end.
Watch this film…
…if you’re a fan of manga and can appreciate the process of creating it.