Well, a friend warned about the sexism in chapter 2 of Bakuman, but I didn’t realize how strong it was until I saw it for myself today. I’ll keep reading the series, and I’ll buy the books when they come out, because I’m a Takeshi Obata fangirl and there’s nothing to be done about it. But, wow.
In most ways, it’s nothing we haven’t seen in Tsugumi Ohba’s work before. Death Note was filled with the same stuff–smart boys congratulating themselves on their superiority, that sort of thing. But Light Yagami was a despicable character, and it’s easy to brush off sexism in a sociopath. It’s harder to get by in Bakuman, when the characters are just regular kids.
This chapter features a scene in which the two boys talk about how smart they are (and how stupid everyone else is, of course), which is pretty normal for boys their age, I’m sure. The disturbing part is their discussion of two of the girls in their class, one who they deem “smart” for realizing that appearing too smart isn’t “cute” and only pretending to study, and one who they think is disgusting for being proud of her good grades. Still, this too is probably typical of many teenaged boys, and I might not have bristled so much if it had ended there. Later, however, the main character’s mother balks when her son tells her he wants to be a mangaka, fearful that he will meet the same fate as his dead uncle who “worked himself to death” (even the kid knows he really committed suicide) trying to get published again. Her husband contradicts her, which I’d be happy about if only his reasoning wasn’t that “Men have dreams that women can’t understand.” Ugh. I can hope that these views don’t reflect the views of the author, and that eventually we’ll find that out, but after reading this, I’m not optimistic.
Maddening sexism aside, this is a fun chapter, with an awesome kid fantasy moment at the end, where Moritaka’s grandfather gives him his uncle’s old studio, and Moritaka rushes over there to start his life as an aspiring mangaka. My inner 12-year-old leapt with joy at that moment. I’ve always loved stories where kids get to run their own world, and when Moritaka’s grandfather handed over the keys, it was a truly intoxicating moment. Also, I am glad that this isn’t going to be a standard tale of a child having to battle with his parents over wanting to be an artist. I’ve seen that played out too often over the years, and while there are young people all over the world still fighting that battle, I admit it’s refreshing to see something else for a change.
I said before that I’m a Takeshi Obata fangirl, so probably you can assume I like the art, but I’ll tell you why. I love his gift for expression in character’s faces. These characters really live in every frame. I love his attention to detail in clothing and hairstyle for each character. This comic looks like a cross between the somber meticulousness of Death Note and the incredible freshness of Hikaru no Go, and it’s a pretty good mix. I admit I prefer the writing of the latter, but I’ll take what I can get.
My dog is giving me sad eyes, so I’ll stop here for now, and take her into the glorious-looking sunny day outside. Later!
laurie saysAugust 25, 2008 at 3:05 pm
The boys’ talking didnt bother me as much since such a thing is true in all cultures. I dont agree with it though.
the answer the dad gave… yeah, that gave me a fit. I mean… women in japan dont understand dreams because japan dont let them have dreams? after all, they are all being raised to get married by age 25 and not have a job/career.
now that I think about it, how many manga (japanese only, not including oel nor korean) do you know that just has a girl that strives to be a manga ka? or any career for that matter? the only show closed to that was Genshiken.
Melinda saysAugust 25, 2008 at 3:22 pm
It probably is a little funny that I got so riled up about this single chapter of a single series when certainly, as you’ve pointed out, this attitude is very common in manga. I don’t often see it spelled out so bluntly, though.
I do have some favorite career women in manga. Winry in Fullmetal Alchemist, for one. Nase in Hikaru no Go (I hope)! You know, I do tend to read a lot of fantasy-type manga, and not as much set in real-world Japan, which I’m sure makes a difference. I mean, nobody thinks about whether Rukia Kuchiki is going to settle down and get married, do they? Or Yuuko Ichihara? Heh.
I tend to avoid series that are focused on romance, I think because they are so often about girls dreaming of marriage. I suppose I didn’t expect something like this to turn up so blatantly in a shonen manga, and was irritated that it was messing with my ability to enjoy work by one of my favorite artists.
June saysAugust 21, 2010 at 9:49 am
“or any career for that matter?”
How about manga about women who presumably used to be those girls because they’re in those careers now?
All My Darling Daughters (office, non-OL)
Aqua (gondolier trainee)
Aria (gondolier trainee)
Chicago (police officer)
Forbidden Dance (ballerina trainee)
Nana (punk rock musician)
Nothing but Loving You (model)
Remote (police officer)
Solanin (office temp and looking for better work)
Suppli (advertising, non-model)
Tramps Like Us (journalist)
The Voices of a Distant Star (astronaut trainee)
Yozakura Quartet (mayor)
Anna saysAugust 26, 2008 at 8:28 am
I am glad I’m not the only one who was startled by this chapter’s very… odd comments on girls. A part of me doesn’t want to believe that the authors could actually mean these things in earnest, also because they should be aware that they have a large female following, who would be – or should be – put off by the sexism.
Okay, glimpsing at the LJ community about Bakuman, I see that the general reaction is outrage, though there are people who declare they still love the manga, even though it blatantly insults them. That’s a bit depressing.
If this was another author, I’d hold out hope that the story will prove the boys wrong by presenting a strong, female character who is clearly superiour to them, that this is part of a plan to expose the sexism normal in society and in manga.
But these authors do not have a good track record when it comes to female characters. Not just Ohba, but Obata, too, when I think back to Hikaru no Go. Not to mention Ral Grad…
Man, two chapters, and I still cannot figure out whether the manga wants to be funny or not with the gender-related commentary. All I know is that it *isn’t* funny.
Melinda saysAugust 26, 2008 at 9:25 am
I agree with everything you’ve said here, except for the bit about Hikaru no Go. I actually think the female characters in HnG are great. There’s no getting around the fact that professional Go is dominated by men, so it would have been difficult to have females as primary characters in that world, but I think Yumi Hotta wrote some wonderful female characters. Akari is the most fleshed-out, and I think she’s awesome. Hikaru doesn’t have a lot of respect for her as a girl, but the way it’s written, I think it is clear that is just 12-year-old boy mentality, and she’s shown to be a strong and steadfast character who keeps the Go club going almost on her own after he leaves, despite his dismissal of her abilities. I think Nase is awesome (I hope she passes the pro test one day!), and I don’t know if you read the supplementary story after the main series, but it features a boy and girl fighting on really equal terms as Insei (it is mentioned many times that they are a good match for each other on the goban). Yes, Hikaru’s mom is clueless about Go, but I think that’s probably very, very common, and the text never calls her stupid. Hikaru is pretty cruel to her through much of the manga, but he starts to grow up near the end, realizing finally how lucky he is to have a mom who cares so much about him, and who hasn’t tried to thwart his dreams the way Yashiro’s parents both do. I also love the little jock girl who joins the Haze Go club, even though she’s a minor character. I love her for being pretty good at Go (for a normal school kid), and also for not looking like a typical manga girl.
Heh, okay I’ve gone on a bit here, but I really do love the female characters in HnG. I can’t give credit for that to Obata, though (just as I can’t necessarily discredit him for what’s happening in Bakuman), because as an artist working with a writer, I honestly don’t know how much influence he has over what the characters say and do. I would assume that most of that control is in the hands of the writer, and that the reason Obata almost always works with a writer, is that it is not his strength. I don’t know how they do it over here, but I know that *here* a writer will very often write a complete script with descriptions of what happens in every panel, leaving only visual details up to the artist. The process may be different in Japan, however, I don’t know.
Melinda saysAugust 26, 2008 at 9:29 am
ps: Thank you so much for commenting over here! I look forward to reading your blog!
Anna saysAugust 26, 2008 at 12:25 pm
Yes, I apologize. I have not read Hikaru no Go in ages, and all I really remembered of the female characters was that there were not many and they did not have very big roles. Which is not uncommon for shonen manga, of course.
The two chapters of Bakuman made me wonder briefly whether the authors were trying to make a cynical commentary about the portrayal of female characters in shounen manga, and in this context, I thought that neither Ohba nor Obata were really in the position to criticize anybody here.
“I can’t give credit for that to Obata, though (just as I can’t necessarily discredit him for what’s happening in Bakuman), because as an artist working with a writer, I honestly don’t know how much influence he has over what the characters say and do. I would assume that most of that control is in the hands of the writer, and that the reason Obata almost always works with a writer, is that it is not his strength. I don’t know how they do it over here, but I know that *here* a writer will very often write a complete script with descriptions of what happens in every panel, leaving only visual details up to the artist. The process may be different in Japan, however, I don’t know.”
What I wonder is how Obata picks his series. He has had several successful series, so he should be in the position to reject a work he does not want to do. Yet he did Ral Grad and he is doing Bakuman, and it makes me wonder. I want to see him as an artist, not just an… illustration machine. I would like that he picks a series because he enjoys its themes and ideas, not just because of the paycheck.
(Weren’t there some comments or extra comics in Hikaru no Go about how the collaboration between Hotta and Obata went?)
Melinda saysAugust 26, 2008 at 12:58 pm
“The two chapters of Bakuman made me wonder briefly whether the authors were trying to make a cynical commentary about the portrayal of female characters in shounen manga, and in this context, I thought that neither Ohba nor Obata were really in the position to criticize anybody here.”
Ah yes, I see what you were getting at, and it’s true, there weren’t a lot of women in Hikaru no Go. I just really liked the ones that were there. :)
“What I wonder is how Obata picks his series. He has had several successful series, so he should be in the position to reject a work he does not want to do. Yet he did Ral Grad and he is doing Bakuman, and it makes me wonder. I want to see him as an artist, not just an… illustration machine. I would like that he picks a series because he enjoys its themes and ideas, not just because of the paycheck.”
You know, I don’t know. Writer/artist collaborations aren’t really all that common in Japan, at least not like they are over here, as most series have a single creator, so I’m not sure what all he has to choose from as someone who is not as gifted a storyteller as he is an artist. I think it might be hard to be just good at one or the other in Japan, or at least more challenging. And I would expect that at some point, the paycheck becomes paramount. It is likely, I suppose, that he enjoyed working with Ohba, since he’s doing it again, unless it is just a matter of a publisher wanting to repeat a successful product. I’d love to see him draw a shojo or seinen series, but that’s just to suit my personal tastes. :) I feel foolish even talking about this like I know anything about the manga business in Japan. I’m sure there are plenty of people who could give real answers to these questions, instead of just guessing like I am.
(And yes, there were! I’d have to dig around to find them, though! I’ll come back if I do. )
Lianne Sentar saysAugust 29, 2008 at 9:22 am
Sexism from Ohba and Obata? You don’t say!
Good review, by the way.
Melinda saysAugust 29, 2008 at 9:27 am
And thanks. :)
Badtz saysAugust 31, 2008 at 9:25 pm
Ugh…expecting to ohba and obata to CRITICISE sexism in any form?! they are THE sexism!!!Look at death note…there’s plenty of it,plenty! All girls are dumb,useless or simple puppets for the great,brilliant males….Eek!!!
I think that ohba is really overlooked as a writer. Ok DN had a great plot…at the very beginning.But I f you get deeper in the story there’s so many flaws and characters and situations often slipped out of his hands,not to mention that all this sexism,in the age we are living today,is really anachronistic at the very least!(I hope even in Japan?…yeah and in bakuman the main characters are only young boys,but the story is written by an author,that should use his own beliefs to write two stories with the same problem…)
I really think that the success of DN was more due to the fact that the characters were so good looking,thus creating a crazyfangirls fandom really fast…also the story was intriguing,yes,but as I said before if you look at the story in a much accurate,”cynical”and “professional”way you can find so much flaws,particularly about the middle of the story to the very end…What I’m trying to say,is that this point of view about girls show really how much childish and immature authors are,…and if all Japanese culture is like this,well,they really sucks!(sorry I can’t explain in other way how stupid I found all the things said in bakuman…especially that about dreams…-_-)
Melinda Beasi saysSeptember 5, 2008 at 6:11 pm
Sorry I’m so late replying to this! For some reason I never realized it was here!
Heh, I think you are definitely on to something regarding the popularity of Death Note. Though I think it really was a compelling story, at least to begin with.
Badtz saysSeptember 6, 2008 at 11:41 am
Well,maybe I was too harsh,being upset from have finished reading that infamous dialogues in bakuman…well about DN i’m not against their popularity,but against how they’ve f*ed up a story so great,disappointing so many fans…I am one of them,I BOUGHT all the DN books so contributed to their success,in fact!
But I really feeled betrayed at the end in some way,I can’t explain well,but…After reading some good analysis and thoughing about the story more deeply myself,me and other people founded that the story at a certain point was like rushed up but more important they maked some bad mistakes building up the story too carelessly(and we noticed fully only after reading author’s interviews in how to read,so they’re facts not our convictions)…They’ve ruined what can be the better story in manga history,that’s my opinion.SO,take my rant as a disappointed fan’s one!!!
Plus,I simply can’t stand those silly prejudices about girls,and after DN I know it’s not only a coincidence but somewhat they believe,and being them adult people I simply cannot stand they are “teaching”those prejudices to young boys that are the main target of Bakuman.OK,they’re in Japan but if you choose to being openminded and better than that old prejudices you can teach young people to be better and somewhat changing Japan’s current culture.Well they’re already opening themselves as well,maybe slower so we can’t simply excuse such words as “it’s their culture”…even our culture was worse than what it is now many years ago!
Oh well sorry,my rant goes long XD
Oliver saysAugust 31, 2008 at 10:32 pm
Speaking of “Being-too-smart-is-uncute-for-girls”, that instantly reminded me of Naru from Love Hina. In Vol.1, she changes her appearance and wears baggy clothes and glasses to school (while maintaining top marks in the class). Was this because she was hiding from Keitaro, or because she wanted to fit the uncute, smart girl role?
The sexism in Bakuman is typical, but it gets subdued in the newly released Chap. 3. In this manga, there’s something in the air that keeps gnawing at the reader. It’s quite an absorbing read. It would be interesting to see what new characters pop up later. I sense a rivalry/competition happening. Anyone else feel it?
Melinda Beasi saysSeptember 5, 2008 at 6:10 pm
How on earth did I miss this comment coming in? Geez. I agree that the sexism gets subdued in Chapter 3. I’m definitely interested in the story. It’s hooked me. And I think you’re right about the budding rivalry.
Blade saysSeptember 5, 2008 at 8:13 pm
Heyyy. I’m a guy, and I don’t know about all this… I’m sorry, sorry to tell you [[Most of you are girls, I’m guessing?]] But I really, REALLY, never noticed ANY sexism at all. I mean, now that you point things out it makes so much sense, but in the story, while reading it, I couldn’t see any message of sexism. I’ll like bakuman no matter what, because even though I’m in America, my dream is to become a mangaka, too. To be honest, as a guy, the whole thing really doesn’t matter to me, but it’s nice to know what other people notice when they read it, and what the mangaka was trying to say, even the parts I didn’t notice at all.
Melinda Beasi saysSeptember 5, 2008 at 9:58 pm
I admit that I’m surprised you could have missed it, since it was stated so blatantly in the text, but it’s certainly interesting to know. Thanks for stopping by!
Manga Therapy saysNovember 11, 2010 at 4:33 pm
The sexism in Bakuman isn’t as bad as it is in other series, like Death Note. It just gets singled out because it’s a “slice-of-life” series.
I did write about the issue of sexism in Bakuman. You can read it at: http://www.mangatherapy.com/post/1543578362/sexism-in-japan-bakuman