I got a chance to read Bakuman vol. 1 today. I've been eagerly anticipating its English translation for well over a year now, ever since I first heard about it during the early research for my book.
The basic premise that two teenagers, Moritaka and Akito, decide that they want to become mangaka. Obviously, with manga being so popular in Japan, it's a competitive field and they know they have the odds stacked against them. But they're very determined and begin working extremely hard to get their collective foot in the door.
My initial interest in the story was the meta-textual aspect of it. The creators, Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata, had already created the popular Death Note and were familiar with the industry. Bakuman, then, promised to provide a glimpse of how Japanese comics are actually made. Not just the creative end, but the entire process. How editors work, how works are chosen to continue within the confines of an anthology format, all the aspects of production. While there's some obvious similarities to Western comics, I wanted to see that whole process to see where differences might lie.
On that front, I was not disappointed. Even within this first volume -- which all takes place before the protagonists ever meet with an editor, much less have their work published -- there's a fair amount relayed about the process of manga production. I would happily buy at least the next few volumes on that alone.
Ah, but then there's an actual story going on, isn't there? As I said, Moritaka and Akito are teenagers. As such, they're susceptible to the trials of most teenagers like school and early (awkward) romantic encounters with the opposite sex. I caught another reviewer (can't recall who offhand) who thought this felt hollow, but I found it surprisingly engaging. I honestly was not expecting any additional drama beyond the trying-to-create-manga angle, but those life details really sung for me. At a basic level, I strongly identified with the notion of having a deep crush on a girl who I was too embarrassed to even talk to. But then the relationship Moritaka has with his parents -- one which was quite unlike my relationship with my parents -- still caught my attention.
I had dreams of being a comic book artist when I was a kid, but it wasn't something that I seriously pursued. It seemed like too much of a gamble (to borrow a theme from Bakuman itself) and, being largely only familiar with American superhero comics at the time, the idea of drawing Spider-Man six times a day every day seemed awfully damn tedious. Bakuman speaks to me first on that "what if" level but, more importantly, it also speaks to me as one of those guys who was shy around girls and would sooner dive into the bushes than have to talk to one.
These are the guys who created Death Note so it should go without saying that they know how to write and draw a comic. The storytelling is spot on. But it also seems like they tapped into the male adolescent mind and drew out his psyche. I made the mistake of trying to read this on my lunch hour, and it easily slipped into my lunch hour-and-then-some.