October 2nd was this year’s 24 Hour Comic Day, a day where comic artists everywhere break their backs and their wrists by attempting to produce, in its entirety, a 24-page, standalone comic in twenty-four consecutive hours. And, by amazing coincidence, it was also the debut of the highly anticipated, at least on my part, Bakuman anime — the animated adaptation of a manga about some kids drawing manga.
The Bakuman manga, licensed by VIZ Media, recently made its US debut. I picked up the first volume and intended to write some kind of review, but at this point it probably isn’t going to happen. However, with the first volume relatively fresh on my mind, I approached the anime with every bit of my usual neurotic purist caution. I was psyched about the anime, but I have a tendency to be disappointed by adaptations, even when I try my hardest not to be. Surely the anime would lose something on the meta level, now as an anime about manga, rather than a manga about manga.
Opening with the theme of “Super Hero Legend” followed by the short flashback of Mashiro as a kid was cute. It was also surprisingly effective in setting up the middle school Mashiro’s perspective on life, despite everything not being explained immediately. The opening theme of Bakuman itself was oddly nostalgic in its generic simplicity: the music is mellow and romantic; there are shots of the characters around school, traveling to and from, hanging out — it could be the opening of any school-oriented series. Except it also included shots of our protagonists working in the studio. I noticed rather suddenly that Mashiro’s posture is terrible and if he pulls as many all-nighters as the story implies, then he is going to have serious back and neck issues later… like most real-life mangaka and comic artists! Naturally, Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata know what they’re depicting here.
It was clear from the start that Bakuman would not have the production values of Death Note. This series doesn’t have the insane universal appeal of its creators’ previous work, and NHK VS Madhouse is no contest. The animation is very average, and while it’s clear they tried, I don’t think they quite captured the meticulousness of Obata’s style. In fact, I feel that the animators overcompensated in some aspects, such as the shape of Mashiro’s face, which comes to too sharp of a point, but were not ambitious enough in other aspects, such as the various exaggerated perspective shots. Many scenes are panel-for-panel, but the dynamic and energetic feel of the manga is greatly subdued. Perhaps this will improve when Mashiro actually picks up a pen? I am definitely hoping that we’ll get some ridiculously dramatic pen swishes a la Death Note… especially since, as a dip pen, we can have ink flying everywhere too!
On the plus side, the pacing in this first episode was excellent and matches up exactly with the first chapter of the manga, which shares the title. As with the manga, everything flowed naturally, despite Takagi recklessly pushing things forward halfway in. The characters are amiable, their aspirations and doubts relate-able. It’s an excellent way to start a series. Seriously, the first chapter of Bakuman is one of my favorite first chapters ever, and that the anime’s first episode mirrored it so perfectly has definitely put it on my good side, regardless of the animation.
The voice acting hasn’t wowed me yet, but I’m pretty pleased with how the actors are handling their characters thus far. A few people seem to be surprised/put off by the deepness of Takagi’s voice, but when I initially saw the 30-second trailer, it was Mashiro’s voice that surprised me more by sounding so young, even if he is supposed to be in middle school (this might just be a side-effect of me knowing that he’s university-age in current chapters of the manga though). In the actual episode though, Mashiro’s voice sounded fine — it suited him, and Takagi’s did as well, being the more ambitious and motivated one at the moment. I was also pleasantly surprised by Azuki’s voice! It didn’t annoy me! She’s a cute girl character and her voice didn’t annoy me! Hell yes. I was less pleased with Miyoshi’s one-liner this episode, but I’ll postpone judgment until she has some more significant lines.
I think the Bakuman anime’s off to a good start. I do wish the animation could be a bit better, but if they at least manage to make things more visually dynamic and interesting where it really counts, then the characters and story themselves, along with the voice acting can carry the rest of the weight. So far they’re doing a good job.
However… I have my usual concerns that they’re adapting a manga that’s not finished yet, though I do feel that the Bakuman manga can wrap up in the next 20-30 chapters. It is currently on chapter 103. Death Note was only 112 chapters, and while I don’t think there are many things comparable between the two series, I want to believe that Ohba knows when to end his comics, rather than dragging them out indefinitely. The Bakuman anime will probably be 26 episodes… which gives the manga that many weeks to wrap up if they want to finish first. I hope it does.