Bakuman is a twenty-volume shounen manga, adapted into a seventy-five episode anime series, which chronicles the lives of manga writer Takagi Akito and artist Moritaka Mashiro as they strive to become top-level manga creators. Aoi Honoo, or Blue Blazes, is a still-running eleven-volume shounen manga, currently being adapted into a live-action TV drama, about Moyoru Honoo’s troubled college life as he strives to become a manga creator himself. Besides being about wanna-be manga creators, these series feature similar elements, such as a rival prodigy who the main characters want to beat, and storylines that clearly draw a lot of inspiration from the real lives of the manga authors. However, the stories presented in these two series are total opposites: Bakuman is a story about massive success, whereas Blue Blazes is a story about a lot of tiny failures.
See, whereas Bakuman is about the characters struggling in their rise to become the most popular manga authors around, Blue Blazes is about Honoo just trying to actually get anything done. Bakuman isn’t meant to be a relatable story about passion and art, so much as it is a motivational story. Right from the beginning, the Muto Ashirogi duo have the right mindset to become superstars, and the odds are really stacked in their favor. As readers we are made aware of just how lucky these two creators get at every step of the way, but all of that luck is backed by an iron will and crazy work ethic. These kids are meant to show us the maximum potential of what a creative person can be. They’re meant for us to look up to and aspire to live up to ourselves. Moyoru Honoo, on the other hand, is what we actually are.
It’s not that Honoo doesn’t have talent, or that he’s ultimately going to fail, but unlike the kids from Bakuman, his work ethic is weak, his mindset is all wrong, and luck is not on his side. Honoo is just as desperate to become a big deal as any other artistically minded college kid, but he’s easily distracted, a little bit entitled, and is more concerned with pride and appearances than he is with working hard. He has plenty of passion and desire, but he simply is not the real deal, the way his rival, Hideaki Anno, is.
Bakuman is a fictional story, but anyone with enough knowledge of the creators behind it and manga in general will see how a lot of it parallels the real world. It’s impossible not to notice that Muto Ashirogi are basically striving towards the ultimate conclusion of creating something identical to Death Note, when you know that the duo who wrote Bakuman were the same duo who wrote Death Note as well. Even though their lives were clearly very different from those of the Muto Ashirogi duo, it’s obvious that the creators of Bakuman not only have tons of industry knowledge and experience, but also know how to become a gigantic success in their own right, considering that Death Note is one of the most popular anime and manga series of all time, and Bakuman was popular enough to receive three seasons of anime.
Meanwhile, Blue Blazes seems to be more like a fictionalized autobiography of the manga creator, Shimamoto Kazuhiko. He really did go to college with all the guys who formed GAINAX, and made his manga debut with a comedic blend of sports and school romance tropes in the form of the fourteen-volume Blazing Transfer Student. Which, and this might paradoxically be a spoiler for future events in Blue Blazes if you don’t already know your history, was adapted into a two-episode OVA by GAINAX in 1991. We can expect that Honoo really will meet with some success in the end, but given that you’ve probably never heard of any of Shimamoto Kazuhiko’s work, except for maybe Anime Tenchou, thanks to his presence in Lucky Star, or his character designs for Mobile Fighter G Gundam, I think it’s safe to say that his success is more humble in comparison to the likes of Death Note.
Among the interesting differences between these series is how both handle their big rivalries. In Bakuman, Muto Ashirogi’s big rival is Eiji Nizuma, a kid their age who becomes a superstar with his very first series, and is regarded as a manga prodigy, being able to create perfect stories and art without even thinking about it. Eiji is a world-class genius, and the only person who could possibly put up competition for Muto Ashirogi, who otherwise would be leagues above anyone else their age. The competition between Eiji and Ashirogi is often very direct, as they both vie to be the number one author in Weekly Shounen Jump.
Meanwhile, the rival in Blue Blazes is real life anime director Hideaki Anno, one of the best-known anime directors in history. Besides his series Neon Genesis Evangelion pretty much being a household name in Japan, Anno himself is weirdly famous, both in otaku culture as one of the original otaku anime creators, but also for being the star of his wife’s comedic manga series about, well, being the wife of the crazy otaku director Hideaki Anno. Anno is portrayed pretty similar to Eiji Nizuma, as an oddball, anime-obsessed creator who feels uncomfortable if he isn’t drawing at all times. Around episode seven, Anno and his friends start getting propositioned to make legit anime productions even though they’re still in college, which those knowledgeable about anime history know is how GAINAX eventually formed. This is even framed at one point as Anno and friends trying to become quote, “the real deal.”
But Honoo isn’t really competing with Hideaki Anno in any meaningful way. He recognizes Anno as someone more talented than he is, and seeks to compete with him only to prove to himself that he’s the most talented person in his class, and not just someone who’ll be crushed under the heels of Anno’s true talent. At first, Honoo wants to become an animator as well, but when Anno beats him horribly, he gives up and decides to prove himself as a manga artist. When he isn’t successful at that either, he even at one point tries to beat Anno by getting his driver’s license first. Throughout all of this, Anno is barely even aware of Honoo’s existence, and is progressing handily with his group of friends in ways Honoo can’t even imagine. These two aren’t even really competing outside of Honoo’s mind, but if nothing else, Anno at least provides the drive for Honoo to keep struggling to not get left behind.
At its heart, Blue Blazes is really about acknowledging the mistakes of one’s youth, just as the famous Char Aznable quote from Mobile Suit Gundam claims that one doesn’t care to do. This quote is brought up in the show many times by enemy manga author Kentarou Yano, who shows up to kick Honoo whenever he’s down. If Bakuman is meant to inspire creative minds to do their best, Blue Blazes is meant for us to laugh at ourselves and how silly we are, while also giving us hope that in spite of our shortcomings, we might still make it in the end.
For the very reasons I’ve described, I think both of these series are something any creative person can appreciate. Bakuman is a must-read for any young creative, as it teaches the proper mindset of hard work and perseverance while providing amazing role models for any creative person to look up to. Blue Blazes is a must-watch for those of us still trying to make it, to hold a mirror up to ourselves and see all our faults and laugh at ourselves while we try to get better and hope for success.
Because Blue Blazes is essentially a period piece and relies a lot more on references, it might be more difficult to appreciate if you don’t know why GAINAX is important, or haven’t heard of Ultraman, Captain Harlock, Mitsuru Adachi, or Space Runaway Ideon. However, I think there’s plenty to love and tons of hilarious moments whether you recognize Char’s theme or not. Likewise, Bakuman is very enhanced by knowing about manga, but can easily be appreciated without, and will most likely give you a much larger appreciation for manga on the whole. Both of these series are very worth looking into and highly recommended!