Bakuman. (2015)
Nicholas Driscoll
February 29, 2016
Note: review may contain spoilers

Bakuman. the manga is quite possibly my favorite manga of all time. Created by Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata, the same team behind the enormously popular Death Note (which also got a movie adaptation—several, in fact), Bakuman. is a celebration of comics, creativity, hard work, and ludicrously idealized romance. But mostly comics and creativity—and I LOVE that. I used to draw hundreds of comics as a kid—comic books, one-shots, ongoing stories, strips, and more. I love the creative process, and I just delighted in Bakuman. the manga from start to finish.

So when Bakuman. became a movie, I was there on the first day. Actually, I wanted to see Ant-Man, but when I saw Bakuman. was out, I about imploded with excitement, got my ticket, and plomped down in my designated seat amidst a nerdish haze, clutching my complimentary comic that came with my ticket, and wondering just how much the movie was going to mess with my favorite manga.

The story: Moritaka Mashiro loves drawing—at least when the subject of his sketches is the resident bombshell Miho Azuki. One day the local brain Akito Takagi jumps Moritaka and manipulates him into collaborating on a comic submission for Shonen Jump magazine—and in the process Moritaka and Miho manage to get engaged, on the condition that each of them fulfills their individual life dreams BEFORE getting hitched—Moritaka to become a top manga artist, and Miho to become a top voice actress. But Moritaka and Akito really don’t know how difficult becoming successful manga creators really is, and with rivals such as the brilliant and bizarre Eiji Niizuma appearing, will they ever become the top manga creators?

Bakuman. the movie is directed by Hiroshi Ohne—a director who I have no experience with, but he does a reputable job here. The film is easy to follow and has an electric, celebratory quality—the creators of the film, much like the creators of the comic, seem to revel in manga, which is shown most effectively in a wonderful credits sequence utilizing a library of manga. Sometimes the celebration of manga and the creative process is translated a bit awkwardly to the screen, such as when Moritaka and his rival Eiji spar with enormous ink dip pens, but even that scene highlights the energy of the movie.

The story itself, where the love of manga materializes into action and emotion, is satisfying, though only just. The manga stretches out over 20 volumes, and the movie makes the wise decision not to try to tell that whole story. This means, of course, that many plot details from the manga—such as some of the failed manga projects that Akito and Moritaka attempt. For me, one of the greatest pleasures of the manga was the exploration of the creative process, from character design to developing exciting stories, and much of that is perhaps inevitably absent from the film version. Still, most of the popular characters from the comic are stuffed in, and Hiramaru (creator of the fictional otter comic) especially got some giggles at the opening-night screening I attended. Still, these ancillary characters don’t get much room to actually do much. Nevertheless, the characters come and share sparks and passion with the mains, and everything is decidedly quite watchable, and supported by a lively soundtrack.

The acting, too, for the most part is fine—the leads, Takeru Sato (Ruruoni Kenshin) as Moritaka and Ryunosuke Kamiki as Akito, are both invested in their roles and show something of the wonder of creation and the dogged determination necessary in their individual characters. Shota Sometani I felt was less successful as the quirky Eiji Nizuma—somehow I just didn’t buy into his acting, no matter how loudly he whooshed and whooped while drawing manga. Part of my disenchantment, though, may have had more to do with my difficulty in separating him from his role in the Parasyte films. The worst acting award, though, has to go to Nana Komatsu as Moritaka’s love interest, Miho. One gets the feeling that she was cast due to her doll-like features, which unfortunately are accompanied by doll-like artificial acting abilities. Whenever she appeared to vacantly smile or deliver another emotionally-distant line, I just was saddened a bit, given my love for the source material. I hope she continues to grow as an actress.

Honestly, I liked Bakuman. the movie. Unlike many anime/manga adaptations, this one stays pretty faithful to the comic AND remains entertaining for a wider audience, which is a challenging balance to hit. Sure, the manga is more substantial, and the movie has a few marked weaknesses, but it’s nowhere near the disappointment of the Attack on Titan films. If you loved Bakuman. the manga or the anime, or if you love manga in general (especially from the creator’s perspective), this is a fine film for an evening watch. Recommended.

Disclaimer: I saw the movie in raw Japanese. As a result, I didn't understand everything in the film, though the gist was clear based on my understanding of Japanese, the source material, and the action on screen. Nevertheless, I may have misunderstood or completely missed some major plot points given my weaknesses in the language. Reader discretion advised.