Reviewby Carlo Santos, Nov 6th 2012
After years of trying, former schoolmates Moritaka Mashiro and Akito Takagi have finally created a successful manga, Perfect Crime Party (or PCP). However, an artist named Tohru Nanamine has resorted to shady methods in trying to replicate PCP's success, secretly crowd-sourcing story ideas from the internet. But Nanamine's plan is collapsing as his series loses readers and his cronies ditch the project. Will he finally listen to his editor's pleas? Meanwhile, Nanamine's chief art assistant Nakai—a former colleague of Mashiro, Takagi and friends—sees his life spiraling downward as his weakness for women overpowers his passion for drawing. With Nakai's behavior growing more erratic, his former crush and collaborator Ko Aoki may be in danger. Then, Takagi and Mashiro face troubles of their own when the mass media catches wind of a real-life "perfect crime" that imitates the very series they've created...
Now that Bakuman has taught readers how to come up with manga ideas, how to get published, and how the business works on the inside, it's time for "Advanced Topics in Manga." Volume 15 begins with the end of the Nanamine arc, showing how the arrogant artist gets his comeuppance. Not only is his downfall incredibly satisfying, but it comes with action and excitement as his long-suffering editor finally stands up to him. However, the swift collapse and abrupt ending—Nanamine simply strolls off after declaring defeat—suggests that the creators' personal biases are coming into play here. After all, Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata have thrived under the Shonen Jump system, so they probably see their way as the only "right" way, not allowing for any alternatives. Thus, they quickly cast the villain aside after proving a point—even if his crowd-sourcing idea simply needed more refinement.
A different lesson awaits in the next segment, where Nakai tries to salvage his fractured career. Like any much-despised "nice guy," he expects women to love him just because he exists; this warped sense of logic forms the basis of the drama that unfolds. Nakai's drunken quest to get even with Aoki leads to more action in the middle chapters, this time in a fight between him and Aoki's sort-of-but-not-really-boyfriend Hiramaru. Obviously, the idea of two guys fighting over a girl is an archaic, sexist image, and indeed, the series portrays the showdown as an embarrassing farce. In the end, Aoki emerges as the victor rather than either of the two men, as she forces them to arrive at a compromise. And so we get the cautionary tale on how self-indulgent personal desires can be a danger, both emotionally and professionally.
With the side characters getting all the attention, the leading duo doesn't re-enter the spotlight until later on. First we have Mashiro and Takagi reaffirming their artistic dreams in a cute little school-reunion chapter, then there's the sudden media fuss over a PCP copycat crime. It's a clever autobiographical nod to Ohba and Obata's own experiences—remember when everyone got into a panic over schoolkids creating real-life Death Notes? The resulting struggle, where Takagi questions his own writing abilities, reveals a useful truth: even manga artists who have "made it" suffer from creative slumps. The ending, though, happens a little too neatly and quickly: just like in the Nanamine saga, the story rushes to its black-and-white moral conclusion ("Stand by your beliefs and everything will be fine!") when in reality the issue is more complex.
Although the typical manga lifestyle consists of 90% studio work and 10% visiting the editor's office, this volume manages to come up with plenty of entertaining visuals—mostly because the characters' behavior is anything but typical. Whether it's the altercation between Nanamine and his editor, or Nakai and Hiramaru's fistfight, physical action does play a role in this slice-of-life chronicle. Exaggerated poses and angular anatomy give the scenes a strong, dynamic look—while at the same time reminding us not to take them too literally. Even in more mundane scenes, like Mashiro and Takagi discussing their life goals or arguing about what to put in the next PCP chapter, the characters' passion comes through in their gestures and facial expressions. Intense attention to detail is also clear to see in the background art, although Obata understands when not to include them for the sake of clarity. However, the ultimate battle for page space will always be the one being waged between images and text.
That's right: the biggest weakness in Bakuman continues to be wordy dialogue, and the series still drags when the characters start blabbering. Thankfully, this volume keeps the technical talk to a minimum: Akito and Takagi are now successful enough that we don't need to read about them dissecting ideas for 40 pages, and the much-dreaded editor's meetings are condensed to just final results ("This series is being dropped, this one is being added, and so-and-so is ranked 15th"). In fact, there are even times when wordiness can be a good thing: heated arguments and passionate monologues prove that a good choice of words can be just as thrilling as action-packed drawings. The translation takes a straightforward approach to the script, using simple vocabulary (but often long sentences and paragraphs) to bring out the characters' emotions and opinions.
Achieving success in the manga business is like scaling a challenging mountain—and as Bakuman shows, staying atop that mountain becomes its own set of challenges. The storylines in this volume highlight the dangers that can trip up even the most talented: hubris (Nanamine), earthly pleasures (Nakai), and media sensationalism (Takagi and Mashiro). But this isn't just some dry how-to manual: each segment is presented in entertaining fashion, with lively arguments, dynamic artwork, and even a fistfight. The story conclusions can be a little ham-handed with the Lesson of the Day—"Follow your dreams! But stay within the mainstream creator-and-editor system!"—but overall, Bakuman has the right ideas in mind, and makes something engaging out of it.
Overall : B
Story : B
Art : B+
+ Touches on some of the more advanced aspects of the manga business, while keeping the stories, characters, and visuals interesting.
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