Have you read Bakuman, the Shonen Jump manga about a pair of kids who try to become published manga artists?
If there’s a single criticism I had to make of Bakuman, it’s that it could be more realistic. The main characters approach the task of creating comics with youthful passion and verve, but that enthusiasm emanates from the fact they’re supposed to be take charge shonen protagonists. There isn’t a lived-in motivation, an insatiable desire to express themselves. They aren’t their own worst enemies. They don’t seem like genuine artists or teenagers.
There’s an eighteen chapter manga about students who create manga, and it cuts right to the chase, brimming with the passion-fueled madness of adolescence. It’s called G Senjou Heaven’s Door and I think everyone should read it.
Heaven’s Door was published in Monthly Ikki, the seinen anthology with a slight alternative vibe that was channeled in the creation of Viz’s now-abandoned digital manga site sigikki.com. Though Monthly Ikki is known for being experimental, the beauty of Heaven’s Door is it’s a straightforward unrelenting drama filled with the teenage pathos adults find embarrassing in retrospect, but undeniably shape them. At the same time the manga weighs heady philosophical ideals, as the characters struggle with their own identity, peace of mind, and artistic success.
Perhaps part of what makes G Senjou Heaven’s Door experimental is that it takes the subject of creating manga so seriously. Creator Yoko Nihonbashi doesn’t just show us that manga is hard work, she shows us how it can destroy you.
Heaven’s Door is about two boys, a writer and an artist, who join forces to enter a manga contest. It precedes Bakuman in publication by about eight years, and while I wouldn’t assume it was the template, there are interesting parallels. Tetsuo, the artist, is a quiet boy whose eyes are perpetually hidden by his hair, for reasons I won’t reveal. Machizo, the writer, hates manga.
The story begins plainly, but very quickly the characters’ histories are at the forefront. Machizo hates manga because his father is a hugely successful mangaka he rails against for being so negligent. Tetsuo used to draw manga all the time, but is only inspired to pick it up again after reading Machizo’s prose. Their pasts are intertwined in ways that aren’t fully revealed until the manga’s end, but it seems they’re doomed to overcome their differences and understand one another.
Machizo is the audience proxy of the story. We’re meant to feel his frustration, both at his circumstances and his own petty nature. We’re also meant to feel his confusion at how put together his contemporaries appear, despite his pompous belief in his own heightened intellect and ability. I totally felt nothing of these things growing up. I’m able to rattle them off out of sheer skill.
Heaven’s Door smartly avoids details about the manga Tetsuo and Machizo work on. Omitting such information prevents you from disagreeing with the characters’ understanding of what they’re doing, and perhaps encourages a bit of projection. The details of what’s being created don’t matter. What matters is how everyone in the story responds to it. So the author casts all the light on her characters, for the good of the story.
G Senjou Heaven’s Door is about the teenage dilemmas of self-expression, paternal stifling, and burgeoning sexual energy. It weaves a compelling story out of complex tragic histories and presents them with an emotional maturity that heightens their impact. I don’t use these words lightly: this comic gave me goosebumps.