A Movie With Pens and Ads and the Sounds of Pens

Today I took our youngest out on a Daddy/Daughter Date (whilst our oldest stayed home and “studied” for her mid-term exams tomorrow). By request, we saw the movie Bakuman, which is based on the manga of the same name.

I was struck by three things in the movie: 1) how reliant it was on  sound even though it was a movie about visual images; 2) how it may be the most effective example of native advertising I’ve ever seen; and 3) how much of a pen nerd I am to try and figure out what pens and pencils were being used.

Bakuman is the story of two high school students who come together to create a manga worthy of being included in Weekly Shōnen Jump magazine. The movie tracks their trials and tribulations and although you’ve probably seen this movie before in other forms and know what’s going to happen, the way it happens is often done surprisingly well.

For the uninitiated, Jump and its publisher Shueisha are the grandfathers/grandmasters of all manga magazines in Japan (and probably the world). Jump‘s history includes Mazinger-Z (which came to the USA as Tranzor Z and spawned the Shogun Warriors toys), City Hunter, Dragon Ball, Hunter x Hunter, Yu-Gi-Oh, Naruto, One Piece and Death Note, and those are just the ones people in the West might know.

(Note: If you recognize none of these you are either completely normal and/or don’t have young kids or relatives.)

Jump‘s earlier incarnation also spawned MahaGoGoGo, which came to the USA as Speed Racer, and one of its affiliates spawned All You Need is Kill, which begat the Tom Cruise movie Edge of Tomorrow. (At one point, in the closing credits, the camera spends two minutes scanning over a bookshelf full of Weekly Shōnen Jump titles.)

Jump and its offices are major stars in the movie, but the other stars are the pens they use. After the protagonists have decided to collaborate on the manga, Mashiro Moritaka, played by Takeru Satoh, picks up a dip pen that used to belong to his manga artist uncle–the uncle’s death years before is a major plot point in the movie–and begins to draw with it. He’s immediately impressed by how much more expressive it is than a ball-point pen or a pencil. (The pen geek in me was going “damn straight, brother, damn straight” and trying to figure out a way to bring She Who Must Be Obeyed to the movie, if only for that part.)

The best part about that scene is the excellent sound design as the pen scratches across the paper. It was enough to bring chills to the spine of this pen addict. In fact, one of the movie’s best accomplishments is the different sounds of the different pens and pencils on paper. At one point, the scratch of the nib serves as the snare drum part in a music video sequence where the anime they are drawing is projection-mapped onto the paper and the room around them. (You can see bits of it in the trailer here. Note: it’s all in Japanese.)

Of course, the whole time any pens were on screen I was doing a Rainman monologue: “I think it’s a Copic, I don’t think it’s a Pigma Micron. I think it’s a Copic. It’s definitely not an Ohto. I think it’s a Copic.” Given that there were no complaints from other viewers, including our youngest, I’m pretty sure I kept that internal monologue internal.

The movie’s weakness is that it relies too much on its Sakanaction soundtrack. The music is excellent, but it’s often overwhelming as if the director were saying “Listen! This is awesome!” as it stops moving forward for a short (with one exception) music video.

It also suffers from a noticeable lack of women. Weekly Shōnen Jump is apparently staffed completely by men and the only woman to get a speaking part disappears early. Nana Komatsu plays Miho Azuki, Moritaka’s love interest and muse. In the few scene’s she’s actually around, Komatsu does a good job, but she’s mostly there to smile and look radiantly beautiful. As such, she is always shot in glowing, angelic soft focus (which you can even notice in the trailer). There were comic moments where she is in angelic soft focus and the person she is talking to is shot in regular light. At first I thought she might be imaginary, but she was apparently real.

The rest of the actors are well cast. However, because they are based off a manga, they walk the line between wacky and good. One manga artist has a brass knuckles phone case and gets his accurate fight depictions by having his friends take pictures of him being kicked and punched. However, when his work is accepted by Jump, he giddily announces his acceptance over the pachinko parlor loudspeaker. Another strips down to work while another drinks lots of sake and acts depressed.

For no particular reason other than soundtrack filler, there is a manga style fight between Moritaka and his collaborator Akito Takagi  (played by Ryunosuke Kamiki) and their rival Eiji Niizuma, played by Shota Sometani. They fight with ink and pens to excellent music and at first it’s kind of funny, but it goes on way too long.

The most impressive acting happens near the end when Niizuma and Moritaka come together over the latter’s drawing table. I won’t spoil it too much, so let’s just ask “what would you do if your rival was scribbling on your true love’s face?” Satoh’s reaction is brilliant–and proves he can act–and it was not even close what I was fearing was about to happen.

I was glad our youngest dragged me to it and I would happily take our oldest and/or She Who Must Be Obeyed to see it. I think it’s also worth seeing, even if you don’t like manga. (Also, pen and stationery addicts should definitely stay for the closing credits. There’s a taste at the end of the trailer.)


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  1. Pingback: Conan, Popcorn, and Creepers | Mere Blather

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