Film review: live-action Bakuman takes affectionate look at Japan’s manga business
Film’s keen observation of the cutthroat publishing business and the struggle of most dreamers in the field leaves a vivid impression
The joy and sorrow at the pinnacle of Japan’s comics industry is delicately conveyed in Hitoshi Ohne’s Bakuman, a much abbreviated but suitably stylised adaptation of the eponymous manga series written by Tsugumi Ohba and illustrated by Takeshi Obata – better known as the authors of Death Note. A metafictional work on multiple levels, its keen observation of the cutthroat publishing business and the struggle of most dreamers in the field leaves a vivid impression.
Growing up as a first-hand witness to the dedicated craftsmanship of his uncle, a well-known manga artist who died of exhaustion eight years earlier, high-school student Mashiro Moritaka (Takeru Sato) has been reluctant to realise his own drawing talent until classmate Akito Takagi (Ryunosuke Kamiki), an aspiring writer, persuades him to form a professional partnership. They aim high for their first goal: to create a hit series for the national magazine Shonen Jump Weekly.
What starts out as a plan to impress Saiko’s campus crush, the neophyte voice-over actress Miho Azuki (Nana Komatsu), soon turns into genuine career ambition for the creative duo. In a story that champions the camaraderie of rival artists as ardently as it portrays the harsh reality facing most of them, the two excitable teenagers in the lead would get their shot with an unsolicited pitch, refine their work with finicky editors, and work tirelessly to climb the popularity charts.
Although the pair have a formidable editorial chief (Lily Franky) to win over in the publisher’s office, as well as a quirky and far more accomplished teenage rival (Shota Sometani) to compete with outside it, the film refuses to villainise any of its characters even during its more disheartening passages. Delivered with a visual inventiveness that its source material certainly warrants, Bakuman may well be one of the best portrayals of the manga writing process to have been put on film.
Bakuman opens on January 7