When you search titles from Shonen Jump, you’ll find yourself confronted with mainly battle series. The likes of Akira Toriyama’s Dragon Ball, Naruto by Masashi Kishimoto, My Hero Academia by Kohei Hirokoshi, or Blue Exorcist by Kazue Kato. Beyond the obvious fighting series, you also have other forms of battle like food fighting in Yuto Tsukuda’s Food Wars! Shokugeki no Soma, battles of sport such as volley ball in Haruichi Furudate’s Haiku!! and American football with Riichiro Inagaki’s Eyeshield 21. From just an overview, it’s easy to classify stories published under the Shonen Jump title as battle series, of one kind or another.
In 2003, the team of Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata brought the series Death Note to Weekly Shonen Jump. A series that ones again could be called a battle series, but one of minds and ideologies. The series became massively popular to the point that it spawned an animated series, a series of Japanese live action films, spin-off novels, and an American film adaptation on Netflix. The series was strong throughout, to the point that it’s highly regarded the world over, and while it was artificially stretched out with a longer second act just to keep making money. The series ending had one massive question from fans. What would these two creators go on to do next?
Enter 2008 and the release of Bakuman. The return of Ohba and Obata. After such a dark and strange series such as Death Note, Bakuman could be anything. It could be just as messed up, it could be just as polarising in terms of ethics.
Instead, Bakuman is the story of two 14-year-old boys as they try to find their place in the world, and get a series published in Weekly Shonen Jump, while the series itself ran in Weekly Shonen Jump. The series in an intriguing and meta look at the inner workings of not only the magazine, but the lives of those that work week after week in order to have their work published.
Chapter 1: Dreams and Reality
The opening chapter introduces us to Moritaka Mashiro. A 14-year-old just entering the last year of compulsory education. Mashiro is a talented artist and strong-minded kid, but he knows what is expected of him, and resigns himself to an ordinary life.
“The normal path means getting into a good high school, a good college and a good company to work for. So I guess I’m just going to live a normal life. I don’t want to cause any problems for my parents. I don’t want to be called a shut-in. That’s why I go to school even though it’s so much easier to stay at home and sit in front of the computer or play video games. I don’t want to be called a freeloader in the future, so I’ll become a white-collar worker even though I don’t want to.”
Mashiro sits in his class, takes his notes, and quietly draws the girl he loves quietly. Since exams are going on, the class is allowed a half day to study. Upon getting home, he realises that he’s left his notebook in his desk and quietly walks back alone to get it. As he makes his way back to the classroom, he finds Akito Takagi sat at his desk. Akito Takagi, the smartest kid in school, and adored by all the teachers. Takagi reveals to Mashiro that he’s seen in his note book, he knows about the very detailed and well-drawn sketches of Mashiro’s crush, Azuki. Obata and Ohba even make a very casual nod to their previous series. When Takagi holds up the notebook, he notes the expression on Mashiro’s face and comments:
“Come on, don’t look so serious. It’s not like it’s a Death Note.”
Mashiro, already resigned to just living an ordinary life, assumes that Takagi will tell him to back off on his crush. Takagi even follows up by making a comment about how she’s reserved but probably the cutest girl in school. However, he takes Mashiro by surprise by saying that she probably likes him too. Flustered, Mashiro asks how he knows that, and Takagi’s only real response is that he sits in the back of the classroom, so he watches everyone. Mashiro finally asks for his notebook back, but Takagi has one condition.
“I want you to team up with me to create manga.”
Mashiro is surprised that Takagi, a smart kid, destined for a bright future, is so dedicated to something like creating manga. Mashiro even breaks down to him how unlikely it is to succeed in that world. How much it takes from a person, and how the only ones that truly succeed are born geniuses. Comparing those foolish enough to try to gamblers. Mashiro’s thoughts on the industry at this point are very much the harsh reality. Ohba, the series writer, uses this opportunity as a chance to explain to the audience how he feels about it all. Using Mashiro as his mouthpiece for the moment, having him state:
“You’re a manga artist if you create one mega hit or several ones successful enough to live off of. Otherwise, you’re just a gambler. Even the author of Death Note wrote somewhere that he’d probably starve to death in five years if he didn’t keep working.”
Takagi, surprised by how well and much Mashiro knows asks why he has this opinion. And Mashiro reveals that his uncle used to be a manga artist for jump, drawing a small gag comic known as Superhero Legend. An artist that passed away largely unknown to the world but was still a big source of inspiration to Mashiro.
It’s speculated that the series author, Tsugumi Ohba, has been using a pen name for years, and is actually Hiroshi Gamo. An artist and writer who worked on a similarly styled Tottemo! Luckyman, and that the commentary in Bakuman about Mashiro’s uncle, is Ohba talking about his own previous career, and how hard that was for him. The theory comes from the pages between chapters that show Ohba’s doodles and notes to artist Takeshi Obata for each chapter, and the similarity between Mashiro’s uncle’s characters, and Gamo’s Luckyman.
Mashiro tries to leave, and Takagi asks what exactly does he want from life. Is he happy with just being an ordinary business man? If he going to ever use his natural artistic talent, or just waste it? Mashiro comments on Takagi’s persistence, and tells him that he’ll think about it.
Home, Mashiro sits trying to study for the upcoming exam, but just can’t get into the right mindset. He takes a break and starts playing a game, but Takagi’s words are echoing in his mind. He thinks back to the times as a kid where he would sit in his uncle’s studio, watching him work himself to the bone, and a story of why he does what he does. That he was in love with a girl from middle school and wanted to become rich and famous, so he could give her the life she deserved. That they exchanged letters back and forth since they went their separate ways, but by the time Mashiro’s uncle had gotten a series published, and it was about to become a TV show. They were both in their 30s and she had gotten married. He carried on what he was doing, getting published as much as he could, because the more he had his name published, the more she would be able to see his success. Something he wouldn’t be able to do as a regular salary man.
Mashiro thinks about it all, still sat there, game system in hand. As his mother walks in and shouts at him for not studying. Asking if he even cares about his future. As she leaves, his frustration about everything is let out as he punches both his bed and the system. His phone begins to ring, as Takagi voice comes through, telling Mashiro that he’s going to Azuki’s house to confess. Mashiro is flustered, unsure of what he means, as Takagi asks him to come with. Reluctantly, Mashiro agrees and bikes to meet Takagi by Azuki’s house.
As they ring the door bell, and the pair panic. Azuki’s mother answer’s through the speakers. Later bringing Azuki herself to the phone. Takagi asks if she could come to the door, and she agrees. Now face to face, upon seeing each other Azuki and Mashiro blush before looking away. Takagi announces to her that the pair are going to become manga creators, and they came here to tell her that. Takagi reveals that he knows Azuki’s dream is to become a voice actress. A flustered and panicked Mashiro is dragged into better view, and blurts out that Takagi will be writing, while he draws it. Azuki is greatly happy to hear this, and even comments that if the pair get published, and if that series is made into a tv show, then maybe she can voice one of the characters.
Mashiro’s memories of his uncle’s story blair through his head, and in a moment of passion, he shouts:
“So if that dream ever comes true, will you marry me?”
Takagi and Azuki are shocked by his comment, and Mashiro suddenly realises what he had said. Azuki runs back into her house and closes the door. The pair are freaking out for a moment, before Azuki’s voice rings back through the speakers.
“Mashiro? Okay. I promise you.”
- Death Note. (2006 – 2007) Directed by Tetsuro Araki. TV. [DVD] Studio Madhouse: JPN.
- Death Note. (2006) Directed by Shusuke Kaneko. Film. [DVD] Warner Bros. Pictures: JPN.
- Death Note. (2017) Directed by Adam Wingard. Film. [DVD] Vertigo Entertainment: USA.
- Death Note 2: The Last Name. (2006) Directed by Shusuke Kaneko. Film. [DVD] Warner Bros. Pictures: JPN.
- Furudate, H. (2012 – present) Haikyu!! Weekly Shonen Jump, Tokyo: Japan.
- Gamo, H. (1993 – 1997) Tottemo! Luckyman. Weekly Shonen Jump, Tokyo: JPN.
- Horikoshi, K. (2014 – present) My Hero Academia. Weekly Shonen Jump, Tokyo: Japan.
- Inagaki, R. (2002 – 2009) Eyeshield 21. Weekly Shonen Jump, Tokyo: Japan.
- Isin, N. (2006) Death Note Another Note: The Los Angeles BB Murder Cases. Shueisha, Tokyo: Japan.
- Kishimoto, M. (1999 – 2014) Weekly Shonen Jump, Tokyo: Japan.
- L: Change The World. (2008) Directed by Hideo Nakata. Film. [DVD] Warner Bros. Pictures: JPN.
- Ohba, T. & Obata, T. (2003 – 2006) Death Note. Weekly Shonen Jump, Tokyo: Japan.
- Ohba, T. & Obata, T. (2008 – 2012) Bakuman, Weekly Shonen Jump, Tokyo: Japan.
- Toriyama, A. (1984 – 1995) Dragon Ball. Weekly Shonen Jump, Tokyo: Japan.
- Tsukuda, Y. (2012 – present) Food Wars! Shokugeki no Soma. Weekly Shonen Jump, Tokyo: Japan.