The Bakuman anime has launched in Japan premiering on the NHK channel. Not to be confused with the merchandising juggernaut Bakugan, Bakuman is the most recent manga created by the artist/writer combo of Takeshi Obata and Tsugumi Ohba, the same team responsible for creating the international hit Death Note. For those of you not familiar, Death Note has sold over 26,500,000 copies worldwide, spawned an anime, and three live action movies that were international blockbusters. Right now Warner Brothers is in the process of adapting the series into a localized movie for the US (kind of like the Americanized remakes of Japanese horror movies The Ring and The Grudge).
Death Note is so bloodtacular that it was been banned in China in order protect "physical and mental health" of children. The Chinese government even goes as far as to claim that Death Note "misleads innocent children and distorts their mind and spirit." When your previous work is so good it's banned by the Chinese government whatever comes next is bound to be awesome.
While Bakuman is completely different beast in both tone and story from Death Note, it's still an excellent piece of work that shares many of the qualities that made Death Note so compelling. Bakuman is, quite literally, a manga about manga. The story follows two high school students, Moritaka Mashiro and Akito Takagi. Mashiro has no idea what he wants to do with his life, but when Takagi notices his artistic talent he asks him to pursue a career in manga together. Mashiro initially declines, until Takagi uncovers that the girl of Mashiro's dreams, Azuki Miho, is harboring a secret aspiration to become a voice actress. Mashiro makes a promise that he'll marry Azuki by fulfilling their respective dreams by creating a manga popular enough to become an anime which she can voice. From then on Takagi and Mashiro team up to create an original series in hopes of getting serialized.
What makes Bakuman so brilliant is that it's a fantastic piece of metafiction. In other words, it's a story about storytelling. The series provides a fascinating deconstruction of various manga, explaining their fundamental components from both a story and artistic perspective. As the series progresses, Takagi and Mashiro go from amateurs to working for one of Japan's largest publishers. The series really hit its stride as it explores the internal company politics and logistics that go into manga publication. What makes Bakuman work is a strong cast of likable, well developed supporting characters and a sort of hyper-reality that makes the more mundane activities carry as much weigh and drama as any of the big moments from Death Note.
In fact, the many fictional manga that take place within the pages of Bakuman are as compelling as anything out there. Otter 11, one of the manga within the mange, is about a human sized Otter who tries to make do as a salary man, but moonlights as a vigilante using his transforming rock hands to beat people (because think about it, that's what otters do in real life, they beat things with rocks). The fictional manga of Otter 11 was so well received it got its own One-Shot.
The question is when will we be seeing it in the states? As of right now Viz Media has the license to publish the manga, but no one has picked up the international rights of the anime, something that will hopefully change soon. There's always hope that one of the streaming anime web venues (are you listening Crunchy Roll?) will start airing it soon. In the mean time check out the manga, and if you really want to get some serious otaku street cred go to the New York Anime Festival this weekend dressed as Otter 11 and when someone asks you who you are you can tell them "I'm a manga character that's from a manga in a manga!"