Welcome my pretties. Welcome to the ever-enjoyable read through of Bakuman. Today we are going to quote Gurren Lagann to illustrate a point about why stories matter….and scrupulously overlook puns, genius that they are, as we react to Bakuman Chapter 3: Pen and Storyboard. And man, lemme tell ya, today’s chapter is great. And I react to a lot of it. Woof.
The previous chapter’s read through can be found here, and an index is forthcoming. Should be pretty easy to keep up though, only three chapters.
Also, please please please consider joining Shonen Jump’s digital vault, or buying the Tankobon volumes from Viz Media. The subscription is 1.99 and you’ll get access to all this content. I am not sponsored by Shonen Jump in any way, but I want you to support Manga-ka, because it’s a good thing to do.
For today’s chapter, I will be referring to Mashiro and Akito as “Saiko” and “Shujin”, as that is how they refer to each other this chapter.
Without further ado: Chapter 3: Pen and Storyboard.
Picking up directly where the previous chapter left off, Saiko and Shujin head to Uncle Taro’s Studio. Upon arrival they see his massive collection of superhero action figures, and all the copies of Weekly Shonen Jump in which Taro was published. Saiko notes that, because his uncle wrote a satire of the Superhero genre, he bought action figures for the purposes of “research”. The figures are, therefore, “Business Expenses”.
They soon move from the ante-chamber to the studio proper, where Shujin is impressed by the sheer amount of Manga available to read. They also find Taro’s original drafts, storyboards and drawing materials. Shujin, in awe, asks to look at the drafts, which Saiko agrees to without issue.
Shujin examines the art, which after more careful review is better than he thought. Saiko notes that his uncle used a dip pen, which he is not used to, and will have to adjust to in place of a more standard G-Pen. As Shujin looks over the storyboard, Saiko explains to him that the story will have to be written with a storyboard.
Shujin, confused, asks whether he can just write it as sentences. Saiko tells him he’ll have to draw storyboards and that Saiko will not join him if his storyboard’s aren’t good enough. Shujin expresses admiration for Saiko’s work ethic, and gets excited.
Scene 1 Part II
At this point, they discuss what kind of story they want to draw. Saiko wants to draw something “Manly” like the classic sports manga Tomorrow’s Joe. Shujin is worried by the age of the story, but agrees: it’s classic. Shujin wants to avoid “Sex, Rape, Pregnancy and Abortion” and notes that, to prepare, he’s read a ton of manga – even stuff he doesn’t like – and those topics come up regularly.
Saiko approves of the tactic of Market Research, and notes his Uncle decided to draw a satirical manga after looking at all the classics that one the prestigious “Akatsuka Award” and dissecting them carefully. The practice helped Taro to win an award, which Shujin finds underhanded. Saiko thinks of it as one of many tactics.
Saiko asks which Manga are popular. Shujin says that sports manga don’t top the list, and that escapist fantasies with battles tend to be most popular. But by far the most common element are swords, which appear in all the most popular manga including One Piece, Bleach, and Gintama.
Problematic statistical analyses notwisthstanding, Saiko says he doesn’t want to make a Manga with swords. Shujin doesn’t either. Shujin says his favorite Manga is Dragon Ball. Saiko makes fun of him for his taste in older Manga – like him – but Shujin plays it off as loving the work of Genius. He wonders about non-genius Mangaka, but Saiko notes that if you can make a one hit wonder, you’re set for life.
Scene 1 Part III
Shujin asks to look through storyboards, and requests to take some home, to which Saiko agrees, assuming he brings them back. Saiko notices Shujin getting into the process, and worries about using a dip pen. Saiko then wonders whether they can get published by 18. Shujin says no.
Saiko then clarifies that Miho will likely be a famous voice actress by 18, as the situation is like being an Idol. They decide they want to be big Mangaka by the time they are 18. Shujin tells Saiko he wants to not only be a Mangaka, but see Saiko and Miho marry.
Saiko then looks into the closet at all the storyboards, and observes that only a tenth of them were ever finished. After some thought, he asks to make a call
Saiko calls his father, and apologizes to him for thinking his Uncle had committed suicide. Thinking about the studio, he realizes that his death was from overwork, as he was told by his parents. His father tells him harshly that his uncle wasn’t a coward. Saiko reminisces about the fact that he was always drawing something.
His father then asks if he’s read Star of the Giants and refers to a quote by the main character. Saiko understands, and thanks his father.
The quote in question is:
Saiko muses over his dad using Manga as a motivation to continue. He resolves to be like his uncle, and go into this business with his whole heart and spirit, to be the best mangaka he can be.
Stories Matter: Who the Hell Do You Think I Am?
This chapter hit me where I fuckin’ live man. Holy mother of fuck.
So Gurren Lagann has been a recent obsession of mine. I watched the show all the way back in September, and have been obsessed by it ever since. It’s one of the few shows – outside of Mob Psycho 100 that have left an indelible impression on me as a person, and inspired my to change.
While I want to – and probably will – do a broader analysis of why Gurren Lagann is so fucking great, my obsession lately has swirled around a few things in particular.
First: the theme. Do the Impossible, Defy Logic and make shit happen. The GL in a nutshell. But that’s a lot of shows, so what?
Well, Gurren Lagann teaches Simon to do the impossible, and defy logic, and that kids a fuckin’ pussy at the start; but that man is a fuckin’ champ.
And watching the progression of cowardly child to badass man is believable emotionally, and, in many ways, sells the importance of its theme of doing the impossible. Gurren Lagann – using the power of a reflexive fractal narrative – tells a story about how to do the impossible. The simple answer? You have to do it and have faith. Tough sell, I know.
It doesn’t have to be Gurren Lagann that sells that message. Lord knows that there are bajillion different shows that say the same thing. My Hero Academia and most Shonen Manga are all about the indomitable spirit of man. But in GL, for me, it worked.
I’ve been in a pretty deep pit of self-doubt lately. Whether it’s questioning my choices in profession – which happens from time to time – or whether I should continue my endeavors as a writer, or even hold onto my dreams. I’ve sat in this darkness for a while. And in this pit it’s hard to see light, and things look dour. I don’t know what to do.
But when I see Simon become a man, and Simon learn from Kamina, it’s easy, and it makes sense and it’s something that digs past the logical part of my brain to that stupid part that is doubtless and free and knows exactly what to do, even if the odds are almost certainly impossible.
I don’t have an excuse to pursue the impossible when I see evidence of cowards pushing past their cowardice to do the impossible. Even if the logic is…well, questionable, and the narrative is condensed. The message resonates. It is a truth that transcends tangible reality. The story matters because it tells me something that I would disregard if it were just cold, dead advice.
Aesop’s fables are fucking important.
Same with Mob. Mob’s story is significant because he shows me what it means to Grind. Saitama shows the value of discomfort. It’s a regular Anime Aesop’s Fables. And culturally – at least in America, we don’t really celebrate stories as things to learn from.
It bums me out. We treat stories like candy and entertainment and little else. It seems we have evolved past the need to use stories as emotional lessons. Today we use things like…science textbooks, and pop-psychology screeds to tell ourselves how to live our lives; Clickbait articles and listicles. We don’t really rely on fictional characters to make healthy life decisions. And that’s kinda bullshit. For me at least.
I’d say at least 70% of the best decisions I’ve made have been the product of reading fictional characters doing shit and wanting to be like them.
So when I see Saiko convinced to pursue his dreams because of a Manga quote, my heart skips a beat, and I pump my fist in my mind.
That is the shit I live for. That is what I do
Stories are the truths that need to survive, stripped of the logic that makes them unsustainable in the real world.
Saiko and Shujin’s Geek Out
Which brings me to this chapter. This shit was beautiful. This is a chapter that marries the unreality of stories, with the reality of life. This series, to date, has done a really good job with that. But this particular chapter pinged all my sweet-spots.
I love the mundane overlooked stuff that stories cut out, and this chapter focused on them – hey look, tax write-offs – and it was about artists who are inspired to create art, when faced with the banal or terrifying realities. I like how excited Saiko and Shujin are to explore manga craft. The way they get so involved with it and excited at the prospect of doing something they love. Well, it’s exciting.
I like it because…
I feel like this story was written for me, but in a more specific way than Gurren Lagann. This story is about the brass tacks of making Manga, including market research, and distinguishing between Dip Pens and G-Pens. This kind of ephemera is all boring prima facie, and most people would not want to see how this all happens.
But as someone who wants to make art for a living, I am eating this. shit. up. I light up when I learn about Screenwriting tools or tricks or processes, and not just the type like the actual craft. Meetings, and revisions, and coverage and all the dull minutia of margin setting for Dialogue tags. Which kinds of brass tacks do you want to get when submitting? How long should the query be? I flick on like a light bulb.
Because, to re-iterate, art is a craft, and it takes work. I love seeing how the sausage gets made. And in this particular Manga, we can see some of the tropes of Shonen shine while the meat is being put through the grinder.
There is mega-trope 1: Blonde Haired Rival to Dark Haired Quiet Kid (Or Vice Versa): Check
Then Trope 2: Unrealistic Goal to be the Very Best (Be a successful Mangaka by 18): Check
And of course Trope 3: Getting a training space, and likely preparing for Shonen Manga training montage?: Probably check, we’ll see.
This Chapter 3 feels very much like any other Chapter 3 of other Manga. The Meta-fiction doesn’t kill the framing. I dunno, part of me just loves seeing real manga being referenced regularly. Especially that bit about swords, which leads me to two realizations:
Pens are Swords & Oh God Japan Why
So the creators of this Manga being the authors of Death Note, I am endlessly amused by the Sword shaming. There is that old chestnut about the Pen being Mightier than the sword, and seeing them swing their dicks like that takes the piss out of me. Light Yagami ain’t no swordsman, but that don’t mean there wasn’t a sword in Death Note of a kind.
But the other thing, that’s quite a bit less fun, is the whole “Sex, Abortion, Pregnancy, Rape” thing being common in…woman’s Manga? Seriously? Come the fuck on.
The weird sexist overtones continue to bug me. Not, perhaps, as violently as the previous chapter did; but also, ick. Get it away from me. Just as GL and this story can inspire things, Stories Matter in other ways too, including representation. And well, I guess it’s a good a time as any to mention that this is going to be a problem moving forward.
I get that Japan’s culture has these hang-ups collectively, and Anime is hella problematic in this regard. Yoko in Gurren Lagann is well…uhm, a problem. But it gets perpetually frustrating to see these issues so nakedly.
Like, why do they need to include those types of stories. Why why why why. I get that those are sensational plots that can yield some dramatically compelling fruit; but women are like…people.
Why I mentioned Gurren Lagann
At the end of this chapter, I felt one with Saiko. Seeing him use Manga to push forward is just what I did. I’ve been in this pit for a while, and Gurren Lagann has brought me out of it. I’m working to get where I want to go, and I’m going to do the impossible, defy logic, and evolve. I’m not going to be a coward anymore.
And so is Saiko.
Which is why this chapter was so great to read…and why Stories Matter.
For now though, find some story that fills you with inspiration, and go do inspirational shit with it.
Until I’m like Saiko (or Kamina)