The Manga industry is one of Japan’s largest, and one of the few publications that stands almost at the very top of the popularity ladder is none other than Shueisha’s Weekly Shonen Jump. This weekly collection of new Manga chapters has introduced the world to some of the most popular series’ of all times: Dragon Ball, One Piece, Naruto, Bleach, they have all once called the pages of Weekly Shonen Jump their home. Every Shonen Jump Manga shares common themes, those of which have existed from the very beginning, and those of which continues to burn bright well into the new age of Manga-making. Friendship, Effort, and Victory; these are the key components of any good Shonen Manga, but the positive battle attitude these themes represent aren’t just for the characters, nor are they just for the readers, they also give those behind the scenes the courage and perseverance to continue making the series’ we, more than often, take for granted.
Takeshi Obata and Tsugumi Ohba are two names any fan of Shonen Jump should know. Not only are they the creative forces behind the dark thriller Death Note, but they’re also the brilliant minds that have introduced the Manga-reading world to the realm of Manga creation through one of their more recent series’ Bakuman. Based heavily off of the lives of these two renowned Mangakas; Bakuman follows the story of two high school boys with the combined dream of one day having a story of their own featured in the pages of Shueisha’s Weekly Shonen Jump. Featuring the same themes prevalent in almost all other Shonen titles, Bakuman is a meta look at the true hardships of the Manga industry. Being as popular as it is, it makes sense that Bakuman would eventually land it’s very own live-action adaptation, and thanks to the wonderful people at The Japan Foundation, who’re the spearheads at the forefront of this year’s Japan Film Festival, we at SnapThirty were given the chance to catch the film in all it’s theatrical glory.
Drawing manga can be the death of you. Moritaka Mashiro (Takeru Sato) is well aware of this, having witnessed his manga artist uncle work himself to death. He is determined to avoid the path his uncle walked, despite being a gifted illustrator, and spends his days drifting in mediocrity instead.
One day, class genius and aspiring manga writer Akito (Ryunosuke Kamiki) asks Moritaka if he wants team up as manga artists.
The pair tirelessly work day and night to realise their dream of creating a manga series for Shonen Jump Weekly—a considerable milestone for every manga artist. With no shortage of up-and-coming rivals, will they ever realise their dream?! – The Japan Film Festival 2015
Being an adaptation of a fairly long Manga series, I’m sure the first thing any audience member will question is how closely the story is adapted. While it has to be noted that a great deal of the Manga’s story progressions were cut out of the movie and the ending showed a great departure from that of the original series, it still stands on it’s own as an impressive and overly hard-hitting tale that seems to walk almost the exact same line as the source material. Hitoshi One (the Director) and his crew made it so that, even though this wasn’t the exact storyline of Bakuman many people around the globe have come to admire; it is the best version of Bakuman he could get out onto the silver screen without making more of a film than absolutely necessary.
At the very beginning of the film, it felt as though One was going to rush through the story in an attempt to fit as much of the source material in as possible. Thankfully, by midway through the film, this overwhelming sense of calm washed over me as I had just come to realise that what I had witnessed up until that point was a hidden sense of incredible personal development from most, if not all, of the characters up until that point, and even though not everything from the Manga was featured, the film was somehow hitting all the same notes. This, I believe, is one of the better compliments one can give to an adaptation of a Manga of this kind. Despite the fact that it wasn’t the same, it was still just as good.
What I enjoyed more than anything else about this film’s story specifically is the realism behind the Manga-making progress that sends some to early retirement and others to their unfortunate death. The use of adolescent characters illuminated just how hard the life of a Mangaka can be, and I felt as though, quite possibly, the characters were originally written this way for more a reason than to simply appeal to same-aged readers: The process in which a Manga is conceived, critiqued, developed, and eventually published is gruelling. The film features a handful of like-minded characters all striving to have their works published in Shueisha’s Weekly Shonen Jump, all going through the same processes as one another. What I found interesting is the immature nature these men were almost forced into adopting simply to cope with the devastation of having full days of work brutally criticised by editors who deemed it not good enough for the pages of the legendary publication. At times, even the young men of the group seemed the most capable of dealing with the hard Mangaka lifestyle, and I think that came across because of the classic Shonen writing style employed by the two brains behind the source material for this film.
Friendship, Effort, and Victory are just as prevalent in this slice-of-life story as it is in any classic Shonen action title, and it gives the film a fantastic feeling of whimsicality that takes you away from the truth of the situation – that it is indeed one of the harder career paths of the Japanese workforce – and has you imagine this story as one of the creative titles that you grew up with. Bakuman has as much a Shonen presence as that of Naruto or Bleach, and it is hidden behind striking realism that has now informed audiences from around the world to the truly cut-throat world of Shueisha’s Weekly Shonen Jump
There’s something quite comforting about having the live-action equivalent of certain characters looking like their source material counterparts, and it worked very much in Bakuman’s favour as a way to indirectly introduce the audience to the story’s character cast before having to formally do so. When costuming and casting are right, it helps with the flow of a film, especially when you’ll be inevitably comparing it to the series it was based off of. Coming as no surprise, the live-action adaptation of Bakuman perfectly mirrored characters from the original Manga, making it one of the smoother transitions from sequential art to film, and a movie that is overall great to visually experience. Bakuman featured beautiful environments that, I felt, perfectly represented the true-to-life work environments of some of the modern day Mangaka. While a few of the sets weren’t exactly the same as the way they were shown in the Manga, they each still had their own charming qualities, which helped to not take anything away from the film as a whole.
The most exciting visual aspect of the movie came somewhere in the middle during a fragment of the story wherein which the boys had made it into Shonen Jump and were battling for ratings against not only the other stories in the publications but against their own morale. This five minute long sequence essentially teleported the characters, and the audience, into a strange world inside the process of Manga making; oversized stationary products in hand, the characters literally fought with the power of sequential art which was a visually striking representation of the real-life struggle to constantly stay one step above the rest. This was such an enjoyable scene in the movie that has stuck with me for days now, leaving me with the overwhelming sense that I will not be forgetting this anytime soon, that’s for certain.
Like any good film, Bakuman also had a fantastic soundtrack that skipped across many genres, all of which adding to every individual scene in overtly positive ways. Much like that of the visuals, there was one particularly impactful track that was introduced into the scene slowly, beginning with the simply sounds of illustration. The scraping of the pen against the paper, the tapping of a pencil on the wooden desk, the erasing of a mediocre sketch, all these sounds were layered on top of each other and eventually remixed into a semi-techno track that helped push along the scenes of the two boys’ long slog through the night to meet deadlines. The production crew for this film clearly understood what it means to make an engaging film, and they went to every single length to make it so. This scene in question was the one that truly made me understand this.
The live-action Bakuman film hit every single possible note from the original series, making it one of the greater Manga to movie adaptations I’ve ever had the pleasure of seeing with my own two eyes. The series has always appealed to me, as someone with a life-goal similar to that of these two young men, so I was already very much interested in what the movie had in store before I even walked into the cinema. My expectations were high, so high, in fact, that I did catch myself thinking there’s no way it could stand up to my expectations. Walking out of the film, it seemed as though my expectations were nowhere near high enough to truly capture how simply great this adaptation was. Bakuman featured everything I was hoping it would, and a whole bunch of other things I didn’t even think about before watching. It is truly a film that takes you expectations and out does them tenfold, making it evidently clear why it is one of the most popular movies to be featured at this year’s Japanese Film Festival.
Out of all of the more contemporary Shonen Jump titles, it is obvious that Bakuman would be the one to get a film adaptation, simply because it was possible. It featured a fairly down-to-earth story, no outlandish characters, and no strange battle scenes that would stretch the films budget unimaginably thin, and yet I got more enjoyment out of watching this than I have watching any of the countless Shonen Jump films brought out over the past fifteen years. Why? Because director Hitoshi One understood that this type of story could be shown in such extravagant ways without pulling away from the fantastic story. He found a middle ground of wonder, he made a dramatic film about two kids making Manga that still featured those three key Shonen Jump themes mentioned earlier in the review. Once again, Bakuman is as much a Shonen series as One Piece, and this film truly made it’s story shine brighter than any Rasengan, Getsuga Tenshou, Spirit Gun, or Kamehameha. To miss out on this would be a huge mistake…so don’t.
The live-action bakuman film is now showing as part of the Japanese Film Festival. Click Here for more information regarding screenings and locations.