Akiko Hayashi has been called a great artist her whole life and dreams of one day becoming a famous manga creator. As she prepares her applications for art school, she’s roped into an art class that’s run like a boot camp. Her new instructor is a no-nonsense unconventional artist who uses a bamboo sword to keep his students in line. Through a grueling experience in his class, Akiko learns that she has much to improve with her drawing skills if she ever wants to make it to art school.
Plot and Story
Blank Canvas is an autobiographical manga by Akiko Higashimura, who is known for Princess Jellyfish and Tokyo Tareraba Girls. The first volume of her Blank Canvas series details her earliest days as a manga artist, beginning when she was a naive sophomore in high school. At this point of the series, the adult Akiko reflects on her past and dedicates much of what she has learned to her strict sensei: Hidaka Kenzou. An important aspect about the series is how Akiko uses her story to connect who she thought she would be when she was younger to the person she eventually becomes.
To do that, the manga places the young, carefree Akiko into a space she’s unfamiliar with. Hidaka sensei has no patience with artists – whether young/old or professional/amateurs – who think their drawings have merit. His harsh assessment forces Akiko to face reality, who can’t accept such an outcome. However, after rejections from two of her top art schools and some failed applications, the story leaves Akiko’s fate on a relative cliffhanger. She enters her own endgame with one last school to apply for.
Throughout the story, the adult Akiko laments not taking the advice of her sensei to heart and feels she never truly understood him while taking his classes. I really like her honesty in these moments because it shows how hard her struggles were. While the younger Akiko is relatively the same person, her outlook gradually shifts to one of humbleness and maturity towards the end of the first volume. There’s plenty of story left in the series and the first part does a great job of getting me involved in her life story.
Art is everything to Akiko. She understands it’s a passion she wants to turn into a successful career. She’s bad at everything else academically, but shines in her school’s art classes. Nonetheless, her first experiences of rejection and self-doubt are teachable moments she uses to better herself down the road. If the competition is stiff for applicants trying to get into art school, then it won’t be much easier for rookie manga artists trying to get a work serialized. Her sensei’s teaching style is harsh and borderline inappropriate for someone with authority over people. Nevertheless, it’s understandable why he’s hard on people like Akiko: he’s passionate about art just as much as Akiko is and wants nothing from them but their best work.
Overall, I enjoyed reading the first part of Higashimura’s autobiographical work. I really like how she frames her career beginnings not from her start as a rookie manga artist, but from her perspective as an amateur high schooler trying to brush up on her art skills. It only leaves us more invested in seeing whether she’ll be enrolled into art school later on. This down-to-earth approach makes her story much more relatable.
The second volume of this series comes out around August in North America. If you’re interested in knowing more about Higashimura’s journey as a manga artist, then pick up a copy when you have the chance.
Thank you to Seven Seas Entertainment for providing a copy of Blank Canvas to review.
The first volume is available to purchase on all retail outlets and bookstores.