I appreciated the first volume of “Bakuman” more for what it represented than what it actually did. The last thing I’d expect a “Shonen Jump” title to be is a character-driven story set in the real world about two kids trying to make it as manga creators. That was enough to hold my interest despite the fact that the two main characters were pretty vanilla protagonists. Vol. 2 steps things up a notch by narrowing its focus: We’re not learning about what it takes to create great manga in general -- we’re learning about what it takes to create great Shonen Jump manga.
To be honest, I was expecting young creators Moritaka (the artist) and Akito (the writer) to get a cold slap of realism when they showed up at Shueisha’s offices at the beginning of this volume. That doesn’t happen as the young editor who interviews them states that he likes their work and encourages them to submit more to the magazine. What makes the scene work is that Akira, the editor, is honest in his appraisal of their work as he points out that Moritaka’s art isn’t very manga-esque and that Akito’s text is too novel-like. He also only gives them his cellphone e-mail as opposed to his cell number -- the “bronze medal” in first encounters as Akira puts it.
This underscores the central point of this volume which is that these two kids do have the talent to make it as manga creators, but they’re going to have to really work at it. We see this in action as they continue to work with Akira to create a story good enough to be in the Jump spinoff magazine Akamaru. There’s also lots of intersting tidbits about what goes into creating manga for Jump in terms of the ratings from other creators, the popularity ballots, and creating a mega-smash versus a cult hit.
It’s the last bit that determines the manga which Moritaka and Akito decide to create for Akamaru, “The World is All About Money And Intelligence.” To the credit of writer Tsugumi Ohba, he came up with a clever premise for the two to work with as I’d like to know more about this particular story (which involves the buying and selling of people’s thoughts). By creating something that isn’t quite mainstream, Akira feels that the two of them have a shot at being more popular than manga wunderkind Eiji Nizuma. Though they’ve never met, he’s set up to be their main rival and a poster child for the socially off-putting eccentricities that usually accompany genius.
So by specifically focusing on what goes into the creation of Shonen Jump manga, Ohba and artist Takeshi Obata deliver a more entertaining second volume of this manga. The series isn’t without its problems, though they’re the kind that are endemic to just about every series set in junior high/high school. You’ve got scenes of the kids trying to balance creating manga with schoolwork, dealing with the lunkheads who think that creating manga is stupid, and shenanigans centered around the current holiday.
None of this stuff is particularly bad, or grates on my nerves as much as the “romance” between Akito and Miho does. Sworn to never date until they fulfill their dreams, they spend most of the volume making googly eyes at each other and tentative baby steps towards being an actual couple. I’d hoped that their promise in the first volume was made to PREVENT stuff like this was happening, but it seems that this wasn’t the case. At least we get an alternative as Akito winds up with Miho’s very forthright friend Kaya. Their relationship is as energetic as Moritaka/Miho’s is soporific.
As the volume ends with our heroes deciding that a change in direction is needed if they’re going to create truly great manga, I’m encouraged by it. This means that we’ll see another side to creating Shonen Jump manga and hopefully an elaboration on the strengths of the series so far.
Note to whoever wrote the text to the back cover of this volume: Vikings trying to survive the winter while a plague ravages the countryside isn’t “survival horror” unless there’s some actual horror. Usually involving zombies. In Raccoon City. But I digress...
This fourth volume of Brian Wood’s ongoing saga about the struggles of Vikings to survive in the harsh wilds and to adapt to the changes occurring in the world around them is another solid addition to the series. Hilda, the titular widow, finds herself caught in the crossfire between Gunborg, a corrupt village official, and Boris, an outsider with some interesting theories on disease. Boris also has the chief’s ear so when he states that the settlement will be able to survive the plague by sealing itself off from the outside that’s what they do. Now all seven hundred villagers have to work together if they’re going to survive the next seven months.
If my statement about Hilda being caught in a crossfire didn’t spoil things enough already, then let me say this: they don’t. Slowly the village starts to unravel with Gunborg advancing his own agenda at the expense of everyone else. Wood convincingly depicts the struggles of all involved to survive, with Hilda’s efforts to make sure her daughter survives naturally being the most compelling. Still, I would’ve liked to have seen more done with Boris since he represents the voice of science and reason in these dark times. While he’s an interesting characters, he ultimately comes off a mechanism designed to advance the plot than a fully-formed character.
I also would’ve liked to have seen more done with the cast of the village. While we become intimately familiar with Hilda, Boris and Gunborg’s struggles, we never get an idea of how the rest of the village is coping or what they think of the actions of the main cast. It makes the community feel less alive as a result.
Wood is joined by artist Leandro Fernandez for this arc. After his multi-volume tenure with Garth Ennis on “Punisher MAX,” he has become an artist whose work I look forward to experiencing. Here, he proves himself to as adept at depicting scenes of violence and bloodshed in the middle ages as he did in the modern era. Fernandez also shows his skill in creating moments of quiet calm, just before things go completely to hell. I thoroughly enjoyed seeing his efforts here and I hope we see him again on another arc before the end of the series.
While I enjoyed this volume, I was also surprised at how much it had in common with a book I read earlier this year. Stephen King’s “Under the Dome.” Though the time periods are separated by nearly a millennium, the core premise of a town disintegrating after an opportunistic bastard seizes the reins of power is essentially the same. King’s story gets the edge because even though it’s over a thousand pages long (in hardcover) he uses every one of them to make his town’s descent feel as compelling, frightening, and believable as possible.
I bring up the length issue here because even though “The Plague Widow” is the longest arc of the series since the first volume (eight issues), it really felt like it needed another chapter to wrap things up properly. It’s understandable that Wood would want to leave the fate of his cast somewhat ambiguous, but it still feels like a bit of a cop-out after everything we’ve seen of their struggle so far. Still, we eventually found out what happened to Sven after his story, so there’s hope that we’ll get proper closure Hilda’s down the line. Even so, this volume still comes recommended to everyone who has enjoyed the series so far.
While “Slam Dunk” continues to get better and better, the Takehiko Inoue series that got me to give that series a chance isn’t. In fact, these last few volumes of “Vagabond” show that as the series is winding down it seems poised to go out with a whimper than a bang.
Though the series continues to be a real showcase for how Inoue has grown as a storyteller and an artist since his landmark Shonen Jump title, it feels like it’s stuck in a rut at the moment. It’s been apparent for a while now that the series is going to climax with Musashi’s showdown with Kojiro. Inoue has been building up veeeeeeeeeery sloooooooooowly to that battle and one can only take so much pondering from its main character about the nature of swordsmanship and battle. Musashi’s battle with Ito Ittosai in the last two volumes livened things up a little; but, his soujourn with a family in the countryside feels like a needless distraction.
Fortunately things perk up in the last few chapters of this volume as the focus shifts back to Kojiro as he makes his name in the town of Kokura. While he quickly wins over the hearts of the town’s inhabitants, he does so in an unorthodox way as a result of his deafness. As I said a while back, the volumes of the series that have focused on Kojiro have been the most unconventional and entertaining of the entire series. That’s particularly true of this volume, so I’ll be looking forward to seeing if Inoue can make Musashi’s quest as interesting as his rival’s in the next volume.
I’ve been increasingly suspicious of the back-cover quotes on DC’s hardcovers ever since Ed Brubaker said some glowing words about “The Chill” earlier this year. Maybe he really did like the worst entry in the Vertigo Crime line, but I can’t look at these things and take them seriously anymore. Then “Superman: Earth One” arrives and it has Richard Donner singing the usual words of praise along with the exclamation “[‘Superman’ creators] Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster would have thought it was awesome!”
Based on what I've heard about Siegel and Shuster’s conflicts with DC over the years before they were awarded a pension and health care benefits on the eve of “Superman: The Movie’s” release, I find that fairly amusing. Were I a betting man, I’d guess that their response would be more along the lines of “Yeah. Great. Do whatever you want. It’s not like we have a say in things,” if they were alive today.
That might change if their family’s efforts to terminate Warner Bros.’ copyright on “Superman” is successful. Personally, I’m rooting for them. Ideally I’d like it to stand as a lesson for corporations to treat the creators who deal in “work for hire” with more respect -- lest ye suffer the consequences down the road. Besides, it’s not like they’ll stop publishing Superman comics or making films and TV shows if the copyright is successfully terminated. Either Warners will find a (more expensive) way or someone else will.
... and I enjoyed it. It didn’t really grab me, in the way that something truly fresh and exciting tends to do, but it was a faithful adaptation of the comic’s beginning. Not slavish in the way that “Sin City” and “Watchmen” set out to be as there were some additions to the shootout that sends Rick into his coma and the ending scene with the tank was brand new. Yet these additions still felt true to the spirit of the comic. In fact, I’d be very surprised to find out that Robert Kirkman himself didn’t have a hand in the additions to the shootout. There was something very Kirkman-esque in the way it showcases an awareness of the conventions of such a scene before it serves up the twist.
As for the man behind the camera, Frank Darabont delivers up the action and the story in the same measured pace that has served him well as a filmmaker. Some might find the pace of the opening episode slow, but I appreciated the way he took his time in setting up Rick’s character before things go bad. There are also some really nice shots of Atlanta in its desolation, and the zoom-out showing the zombies swarming over the tank and horse was very cool.
Though it’s a faithful adaptation so far, the preview of future episodes suggests that we’re going to get more new material over the course of the next five episodes. I’m also guessing that by the end of this season we’ll have covered only the first volume. Based on what I’ve seen here, the show is in good hands and while it certainly won’t supplant the comic in my mind it should wind up complementing it nicely.