Bakuon!!

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Tonight, on JK x Top Gear

Bakuon!! (ばくおん!!, lit “Roar!!”) is a delight. It is an affectionate blend of K-On! parody, the spirit of Top Gear (a comedic show about cars, in case you didn’t know), an immense love of motorcycles, and the unique, cynical/absurdist humor of author Orimoto Mimana (おりもとみまな). Orimoto-sensei is one of my favorite authors, and he is perhaps best known for his fairly significant body of pornographic works. Even his first series, Mahou Shoujo Neko X, had several “official” pornographic doujinshi drawn by himself. Aside from porn, he also has many comedic one-shots under his belt, and pretty much all of his work is comedy-first. This all said — Bakuon? Not really a fanservice series. Not at all, to be honest with you. There are a few somewhat service-y cover pages or scenes, however the focus here isn’t really on the girls, but on the bikes. Orimoto-sensei friggin’ loves motorbikes. You can see it even in things like his H-work (that is, his porn), some other one-shots, and most clearly Bakuon itself. Bakuon basically comes straight out of Orimoto-sensei’s heart and soul and it’s amazing. Lampooning generic slice of life tropes while transcending them at the same time, Bakuon is a superb work.

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Huh. That cover looks familiar.

Bakuon was conceived as K-On! x Top Gear x South Park x bikes. That’s not speculation, it’s fact. That links to some concept art from before the manga began being published, outlining just that. Now, I can’t say I really see where the “South Park” might come in, but everything else is spot on. Bakuon begins with an idiot named Sakura Hane (an obvious caricature of K-On!‘s Hirasawa Yui), whose eyes are opened to the wonder of motorcycles after seeing one on her first day of school.

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The standard for these “four girl slice of life” series is that a highly enthusiastic girl interested in [the interest the premise is founded on] will meet the daft one and awaken her to the pleasures of the interest in question, after which generic slice of life things occur like eating sweets and blushing around each other, while the actual interest is largely ignored. In Bakuon, the enthusiastic girl — Amano Onsa — is somewhat interested in converting Hane to the joys of motorbiking, but isn’t highly eager and has some really strange ways to go about trying to recruit Hane/tends to make riding motorcycles sound like the dumbest idea ever.

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This is just a little hint of the things to come. There’s a trend in “interest-based slice of life” series to make the interest sound like THE BEST THING EVER (like video game development, for example). Orimoto-sensei obviously loves motorcycles and we will see over time girls and others (which is important: there are a number of characters who aren’t high school girls) interested in motorcycles as well, but the truth of the matter is that when you’re really into something, you aren’t only aware of the positives, you are more than aware of the faults. Just here we have Onsa saying that only idiots ride motorcycles, implying an awful lot about the truth of riding them. More on that later.

First, Onsa and Hane decide to check out the school’s motorcycle clubroom.

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Some say she weighs about the same as three apples and has ridden motorbikes for over 50 years. All we know is she’s called Raimu-senpai.

Inside they find The Stig, a mythological being from the Top Gear television series; a tame racing driver able to drive anything to the absolute best of one’s abilities, among other things. Always equipped with a racing helmet, their true identity remains unknown. Of course, this girl isn’t actually The Stig, but rather a very obvious shout out to the character. Kawasaki Raimu is a mysterious senpai of the girls’ school whose skill with riding motorcycles is unparalleled. Like The Stig, she never speaks, but she does write things down sometimes and is generally surprisingly adorable.

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At first, Onsa wants nothing to do with her, but despite her oddities and tendency to perform completely ridiculous stunts, Raimu eventually turns out to be a very responsible and reliable senpai, taking care of the girls of the club, both the inexperienced and not.

Before that, the series spends some time showing how a person gets a motorcycle license by following Hane at riding school. I’ll give brief mention to this ridiculous joke based on Onsa telling Hane to “listen to her bike”:

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in which Hane’s bike seems to literally be talking to her, and also seems to be an experienced prostitute from constantly having crotches in its face. I don’t know what to say. That’s just funny.

At driving school Hane encounters a fourth main character, representing no commonly-seen slice of life archetypes, but very much representing the quintessential “fangirl/boy”.

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If you’ve spent a significant length of time as part of any sort of fandom, I’m sure you’ve heard something just like this before.

This is Suzunoki Rin, a diehard Suzuki bike otaku. She has a firm belief in businesses and brands and supports everything to a fault. She will even accept obvious scam BS that people sell because she refuses to believe corporations would lie. Writing that, I think it makes it seem like she’s a pure and innocent girl, but she mostly comes across as horribly obnoxious (in a good way, I swear). Rin is the butt of many jokes in the series, often from her own actions. She prefers the idea of bikers being loners, doesn’t actually join the bike club, and is quite violent and insulting to anyone who goes against her opinions. She’s actually very similar to Onsa for her passion toward bikes (and some childish behavior), but since Onsa isn’t a brand whore and will insult any brand or kind of bike largely without bias Rin considers the girl (who she calls “Shaggy” for her hair) a mortal enemy (as the bikes she will insult include Suzuki bikes).

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With Rin’s appearance the manga really gets into the swing of things. Top Gear-esque banter abounds, insulting brands and models and people who actually like them, insulting each other based off of things not at all related to bikes, and many completely off the wall events or journeys (like jumping ramps or riding cross-country). If you know nothing about motorcycles, worry not; like with Top Gear your knowledge of the vehicles being discussed is not necessary. Passion is universal and comes through with any language. You don’t actually have to “get” what’s going on, because every discussion is so thorough, many discussions so fevered, that you’ll “get” what’s going on anyway. This is made especially clear during this one small arc where the girls all race, while the rest of the school places bets on the riders. The average student at their school doesn’t know the first thing about bikes, but even they manage to get into it by the end of the race. It’s hard not to laugh about engine displacement jokes or jabs at the Ducati brand when every major character in the series is so into it. It’s easy to smile about the discomforts (like the pain of making a long trip) or joys (the freedom of the road) of motorbike riding.  There’s also Hane around to be helpful as a character who doesn’t understand much, so you can learn along with her if you really want to.

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Anyway, the only other things I could mention in terms of just “explaining the series” are this Mugi-equivalent character, Minowa Hijiri, and a late-introduced Azusa-equivalent character named Nakano Chisame (she’s introduced quite late in the manga — thus, I won’t talk about her). Hijiri is a rich girl (like many girls at the school, but she’s one of the richest) who is obsessed with the “bad boy/girl” angle of biking. She thus encourages a lot of bad actions or preaches the idea of camaraderie through surviving hardships/facing off against one another. With her very old, very skilled butler riding her around in a side car (at the start of the series and for a while, she’s too young for a license), she can experience many thrills. She’s a bit of a wild card, really.

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Hijiri, disappointed she couldn’t get a chicken race going for the school festival.

The ultimate vibe of the club (+Rin, who is not part of the club) is unique to slice of life, but familiar to fandoms. While the series has moments I would call “comfy”, it’s not like usual with slice of life. Sometimes the girls eat sweets or something, yeah, but it’s pretty much coincidental (unlike say, K-On!, which was basically about tea and cake instead of music). Also, moments of relaxation usually come along on the ride, not just day-to-day. Lastly, when the characters hang out together, it’s in ways you can relate to.

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In terms of anime and manga, Bakuon!! is its own beast.

Now at this point in writing I’ve realized I have a lot I want to say about this manga, but if I proceed as usual (writing as it comes to me), things could get messy and hard to explain. Bakuon is unusual, as I have made clear, but since it’s unusual that makes explaining more of its positives pretty difficult. This is a series with casual, totally nude mixed bathing where nobody complains.

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Absolutely embarrassing moments of (seemingly private) joy.

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Jesus Christ.

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Mad Max references.

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Bluntly depressing, but utterly hilarious scenarios.

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And this mocking of slice of life standards is merciless.

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Yes, somebody as stupid as Hirasawa Yui with an overly responsible little sister would be horribly pathetic.

Chapters are long and the series has been around for quite a while, so there’s basically tons of good stuff here, with a shocking amount of variety given the very simple premise of “high school girls riding motorcycles”. If I even listed half of all the great stuff featured in this manga, I’d be here for a while. Orimoto Mimana-sensei…like I said, his sense of humor is unique. There’s almost a detached, “straight up” quality to it that goes incredibly well with his often rather cartoonish art style.

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On top of all that, there’s this interesting kind of slightly ironic, slightly genuine feeling to some of the speeches some characters say that feel both funny and heartfelt. It’s just like…damn, what a strange and wonderful series.

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Honestly a lot of Orimoto-sensei’s work is like this, but a lot of it is thoroughly not safe for work so look into it at your own risk.

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What else to say… I think I’d best end it here, and just hope I’ve gotten across what makes this such a good manga. I guess I can also say “I love the art”, because I do. Aside from all the bikes on display, the character art is pretty great. A wide variety of body types is featured and everything just looks good (by the way, two character designs are actually lifted from Orimoto-sensei’s earlier works, try finding them yourself; I find this fact to be quite cheeky and humorous). The backgrounds are strong as well. Orimoto-sensei also has a weird but adorable way of drawing mouths, especially those open in surprise/anger.

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If I could draw, I’d want to be able to draw like Orimoto Mimana.

That’s it! You should read this series, I highly recommend it. You may also like to watch the anime; the animation and general visual quality are a bit shaky, but it’s IMO a pretty strong adaptation, giving you voice, color, and animation to some of the better moments and leaving a lot out for you to find through reading the manga.

Alright. That’s it. I want to talk about more, but I shouldn’t. See for yourself. You may purchase Bakuon!! from Bookwalker (guide), CDJapan, honto (guide), or ebookjapan (if you’re logged in there’s some NSFW content on this page, in thumbnails). Thank you for reading what was almost my rambling. Next time, a very short, but very good manga.

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