Can a manga about characters aspiring to be mangakas be interesting? I had that doubt about Bakuman manga. However, I took the plunge and bought the manga because I like the art style and I did not regret it. Although the synopsis is not too appealing, the story itself is quite engaging thanks to the interesting characters and behind-the-scenes moments behind manga industry in Japan.
When I heard about the live action, I have mixed feelings. I feel excited because Bakuman is unique and I would love to see it as a movie. However, similar to the manga before I read them, I feel apprehensive as I don't know how they can make actors acting to draw mangas to be interesting to watch.
The main story of the movie follows the manga: 2 high school students, Moritaka Mashiro and Akito Takagi, team up as mangakas by combining their talents with Takagi as the story writer and Mashiro as the drawer. Mashiro likes his classmate, Miho Azuki, who is aiming to become a seiyuu. Despite liking each other, they make a promise to be together when Mashiro is able to produce top manga and Azuki will be the seiyuu of the female character of the anime version of the manga.
The live action gives me the same sense of wonder as the manga to see the Shonen Jump office and the manga making process. The manga drawing scenes are not as boring as I imagined as the movie tries different ways: from real pencilling, 'fake' pencilling in which the drawings on the papers are changed to animated graphics, to the martial art fights to depict the friendly rivalry between Money and Intelligence (by Mashiro and Takagi) vs Crow (by Eiji Nizuma).
Other than those, everything else falls flat. Why? The biggest 'failure' of the live action is the poor chemistry between the actors while what makes Bakuman manga unique and exciting to read, despite the rather simple and unexciting plot, are the characters. Mashiro in the movie is not talkative like in the manga so the balance and dynamic between him and Takagi is somewhat missing in the movie. Nizuma in the movie is not eccentric like in the manga. The relationship between the people in the movie are professional and awkward instead of a more personal friendship like in the manga.
I think the main reason for the poor characterisation in the movie version is because the actors are way too old to depict 14-15 year old high school kids. They are not bad actors but they just no longer have the innocence and spontaneity to act as teenagers who may exhibit some over-the-top expressions. In the movie, Mashiro is too 'cool' and it makes Takagi's enthusiasm around him rather awkward. In the manga, Azuki is pretty and sweet but in the movie, Azuki is pretty but not sweet. I find her expression rather cold at times. Nizuma is just like any ordinary guy as he does not have everything that makes his character so unique in the manga. My biggest disappointment, however, is Mashiro's uncle. He is a friendly and likeable uncle in the manga while the movie version is too crude. In the movie, he looks unkempt rather than overworked.
The movie ends with a one-time success when Money and Intelligence was ranked number 1 -while Crow at number 2- and there is no follow up on Mashiro and Azuki!!! Mashiro was undecided to do a manga and he decided to do so because of the promise with Azuki and the movie does provide the closure on this aspect. Bleah...
I think the movie does not do justice to the manga. It is still bearable to watch though as the elements which make Bakuman manga unique and likeable are still present in the movie, especially if the main reason of getting hooked into the series is because of the behind-the-scenes of manga industries. Watching the movie is like a self-justification for me to splurge my money on anime-manga related things, especially artbooks I find even more appealing than figurines. I am actually supporting the mangaka for all their hard work so it is money well spent, okay! Lol. Say no to piracy to respect and appreciate these mangakas! Although at the same time I also hope manufacturers of figurines and merchandises also price their things appropriately. They are charging too much for sub-par quality and that is why there are people buying pirated stuff etc.