Bakuman has always had a special place in my heart. The story itself is, in my opinion, a bit flawed. The romance element is overdone and, frankly, Obha-sensei should just not try to write female characters (see: DeathNote.) BUT, I have to love a shounen story about writing and creating. I have to. In fact, I think I might be contractually obligated by my membership in SFWA… which is a round-about way of saying that the struggle to become a professional writer (and stay in the game) is a story near and dear to my heart.
Being a mangaka in Japan and being a professionally published novelist in America are two very different dreams, but the ways in which I found the struggles of Moritaka Mashiro and Akito Takagi similar to my own were Legion. I pretty much loved all 21 volumes of Bakuman and occasionally re-read them for inspiration.
So, when I found out that Obha and Obata were reuniting to give us a special two-chapter prequel, I literally ran out and re-upped my Shonuen Weekly Jump subscription that day.
There’s only so much that can be done in a prequel to this particular story. After all, the Ashirogi dream team met up in junior high school. And, there are not a huge amounts of ‘time skips’ in the manga itself.
So, the story follows Akito (the blond writer dude) and tells the story of how it is he became so single-mindedly focused on becoming a manga writer. In the beginning, we see Akito being his usual self with some friends he walks to school with. They’re complaining that a lot of the people they knew in elementary school have gone off to different middle school and now they face the “hundred friends challenge,” (which may or may not be a real Japanese thing.) Akito gets philosophical (and again, is a lot like myself in this way,) and tells his walking to school buddies, basically, “hey, why not focus on finding just one really good friend.”
They argue about this for several panels. Ultimately, Akito is able to convince his friends that life SHOULD be like a manga, and it’s actually wicked cool to have the kind of friend you’d die for (though one of his buddies points out that sounds more like what you should be saying about a GIRLfriend.)
They also discuss their life dreams at this point and we discover that Akito randomly put down “novelist” on the form because he’d just had a huge fight with his mother and told her not to oppress him, he’d be a salaryman NEVER.
So, you know, middle school.
But, Akito remains angst-ridden about his impulsive outburst/choice on the questionnaire and tries to decide what the hell he was thinking. Eventually, by chance, he discovers that there are manga where the mangka are two people: one writer and one illustrator.
And… thus Akito finally knows what he wants to be when he grows up.
I’m not sure this was a particularly amazing chapter. I mean, the thing about Bakuman is that for a shounen manga, it’s kind of not about much. I mean, we get some nifty insights into middle school life. They apparently have a term, not unlike our own “sophomoric” in English, which roughly translates to “being like an 8th Grader” which is to be pompously philosophical and generally feeling like you know everything. I love crap like that.
Similarly, poor Akito, who doesn’t want to join any clubs, ends up being forcibly conscripted to the Japanese middle school version of student council because he’s the top scorer in the school.
There is a mysterious female student who begs to be Akito’s rival and contrives to get his phone number, who is not the girl who later becomes his wife (there is the obligatory, “why is that stupid girl in the way?” shot of Kaya Miyoshi, which is the manga version of a walk-on cameo, I suppose.) I don’t *think* I’m supposed to recognize this young lady, but perhaps that will be revealed in the final chapter.
There’s a lot of “you sounded cool just then, you should be a writer” moments with Akito, which only work for him because he is one of those rare beasts: the extroverted writer. (I am also of this sub-genus, we are extremely rare.) I’m sure most writers have the opposite experience. No one would guess from the way they TALK that they’re any good at writing. In fact, at a lot of cons I hear writers say things akin to, “Well, if I were any good at speaking, I wouldn’t be a writer.”
However, there are a select few of us extroverted writers out there. We do exist. And Akito is our spirit animal. Mostly. Because he’s surprisingly un-empathic for a writer. He is casually cruel to his walking-home buddies, by telling they’re not his FRIENDS. Because friends do more than walk home together. Which is accurate, but not something you’re supposed to say out loud. This isn’t a dis of the story, though, because I feel like it’s very true to the character we see later on. Akito is a blurter. It’s what saves their career several times in the future. He says what he’s really thinking, even at the expense of other people’s emotions.
So, I guess this is a thumbs up. Nothing much happened, but that’s Bakuman. I can’t imagine reading this if you didn’t already like Bakuman, so while it’s not for everyone, it’s an easy win for fans.
Which given that I believe they’re running this to promote a new live-action film, I’d say it does its job admirably.