Hooked on Bakuman

December 4, 2012 in Books, Featured, Philosophical Threads by Amy

Bakuman

This post was drafted and stashed on 10/08/12. I am now much farther in this series than I was then.

I am clearly regressing. Signs of it have been smattered across the last year as the kids and I have worked our way through far too many Disney series and movies. (That I don’t watch TV without the kids, at all, adds to the irony and the oddity how ‘into’ some of these shows I’ve gotten. I can’t even bear to admit some of the ones!)

And now… over the weekend I found myself more than once realizing that I’d like to just curl up for a few hours with a book… a teen book.

When we were at my Mother’s in August, we took a spare suitcase, in part to hold more than a dozen books in one manga series for the oldest. He feared he wouldn’t find anything at the library there. It was a valid fear, since we’re used to even our small branch having huge manga library collections in both the teen and children’s areas. The odds of him finding a series there that he hadn’t read and was willing to read… were slim. I made him take fiction, for when he ran through the manga, which are quick to read. Even so, we took a lot of books.

Then we ended up at the local library for my mother’s weekly knit group. The boys sat out in the main library playing Magic the Gathering with their cousin and then enjoying the gaming console available in the the ‘teen only’ room. As I scouted out the manga shelves, I noticed Bakuman. It’s a story of two middle school students who decide to team up to become manga artists. Unfortunately, only #2 was on the shelf. He doesn’t always take to my suggestions. (It’s true.) And he really resists starting out of order.

But he agreed to take a look.

He started Bakuman before we got home… he read in the car… he read as we got our Dairy Queen blizzards as an after-knit-group treat… he read after we got home. He was hooked. He read and read… and read. He’s read thousands of manga (it’s not an exaggeration), and most I think take between 20 and 30 minutes. This one felt like it took hours… and yet he couldn’t stop talking about it. We logged in and reserved the others, hoping they might arrive at her library during our trip. (I simultaneously reserved the whole series at our own library.) [Note: The entire series hasn't been released at the library yet.]

Most didn’t arrive while we were there. But it was great to have the full series waiting when we got back to SF. He loved the series. He loved it so much that for some reason I decided to read the first one, to see what it’s all about. Even though we had already taken all the others back, I had held on to the first, just in case.

I started reading it with the younger brother… and we’ve gotten hooked. I laughed aloud at certain things, especially the relationship between one of the main characters and his girlfriend. Though it feels silly, I am loving the series. Anyone interested in manga or a career in art or illustration will find the story fascinating, I think. It takes hard work to turn a dream into reality. (Really liking manga helps because this story is full of nitty-gritty details about the publishing industry for manga, specifically, especially via the weekly Shonen Jump.)

My course through the series has been painstakingly slow because I am reading it as a read-aloud at bedtime. Often we’re so tired by the time we finally get to it… that we don’t read much. Over the weekend, we cuddled up a few times during the day to read extra. And as we have started book 4, I’m finding myself grabbing it now and again, by myself, to see what’s going to happen.

I can’t figure out “why” I find it so compelling, so captivating, so engrossing… hence my fear that this is some major sign of regression! But the art is very cool. The story is atypical… it’s not a battle story. Though the main characters are teens (in high school by book 4), they are fascinating in their single-mindedness and determination. They understand that to get what they want will take hard work. The inside look at the editorial offices is intriguing. And, of course, there is a wonderful sense of “difference” in the story for its Japanese context. All of it is making for a very good read even though I am well outside of the target audience!

I love seeing the process of the process, from storyboarding to final drafts, unfold. I love watching the editorial relationship. I love seeing both the writing side and the art side. And I love many of these characters. There are some of them I do not like as well. It’s a full spectrum. And it’s awesome that these manga are full of text… this is manga you read, not just manga full of sound effects. If there was ever a manga series worth buying and owning as a series, this one would probably be it for me.

For those familiar with Shonen Jump, Bakuman actually was a series, of the sort that the Bakuman story describes. So you are reading a successful series even as the characters in Bakuman strive to get their own series and navigate a path towards manga success. It’s wonderful as a ‘meta manga’ tale. And as the cast of characters has grown, I have found many of them to be really interesting and compelling. I am glad I still have a number of books to go in this one.

I am glad we stumbled over the Bakuman series. (I actually found several graphic novels at the library there that I enjoyed and had never seen before, including Skim.)

[Parental warning: the storyline does include a disturbing disregard for school, which translates into a lot of school skipping; and as they get older, there are more 'relationship' themes. I point both out so you can evaluate suitability for your own readers; I find the books fine for both of my kids, but that's me.]

Epilogue: So we are in volume 10 now, and as volume 9 wound down, we were antsy wanting to know what was going to happen and dove right into 10. Some of the mid volumes have been slower. There’s been a long stint of an “editor” we don’t like very much. And the two main characters have definitely grown up. (One is now even married!) That goes hand in hand with saying that there have been some themes that I know some of you might find questionable. But, overall, we’re still jazzed about it and totally rooting for these boys to finally get the hit series they want. Vol 16 is now at the library for the other. And I reserved 11-15 again for me and my sidekick to finish.

For those of you with middle school artists, especially boys, this is definitely a series to consider either as a gift or a library read. We’ve taken the library route, but of all the manga I’ve read, this is a series worth having. (I just noticed that at Amazon, these are part of the buy 3 get 1 free deal.)