Bakuman 25

I stress that it would have been truly shitty of the producers of Bakuman to not let Mashiro and Takagi get serialized in Jack after all of this effort. But after Koogy turned out to be a bit of a red herring, The duo known as Ashirogi Muto surged past both Nakai/Aoki and Fukuba to become one of the four manga that won. This was a great ending to the first season, and now the real story begins.

This final episode itself detailed how the editors’ meeting goes down and how they make their selections. The Editor-in-Chief is pretty clear-cut on this process: if the manga he reads is interesting, it’s a “yes”; if it isn’t, it’s a “no.” As they go through manga one by one, we experience the same anxiety and impatience as both the authors and their editors. No matter what they try to do to kill the time – play cards, chess, smoke, or just sit and mope – their thoughts are consumed with the results of the meeting, which will determine their ultimate fate.

Not to be overlooked is the whole reason Mashiro is doing this: for love. Miho finally calls him on the phone and talks to him, and they both discover that it isn’t nearly as scary as they thought it would be; in fact, it’s the tops. Forgive the cliche, but you can really feel the love here. It’s a patient, slow-burning, deliberate love, a love still conditional on that anime, but they’re certainly on their way, and I’ll be rooting for the fulfillment of their dreams in season two, fully cognizant that that won’t happen easily. The easy part is probably over. Rating: 4

Series Mean Ranking: 3.654

Bakuman 24

The excitement continues to snowball as Niizuma’s original prediction comes true: there’s a tie for first place in the Golden Future Cup, between Ashirogi and Fukuda. Koogy’s grin at the end of last week was a red herring; he lost out big, finishing fourth in the running. I suppose some of his fans didn’t want to be seen picking up a copy of Jack; either that, or they simply didn’t show up to vote in the numbers he’d hoped for. It would have been easy, lazy even, for Koogy to win, but thankfully they didn’t go down that road. Still, he’s down, but not out; I wouldn’t rule out him showing up sometime in the future, even if it’s next season (I haven’t read the manga, so I don’t know). If he’s sincere about “changing manga” being his dream, that is.

Anyway, Aoki and Nakai’s manga got third place. Predictably Aoki doesn’t flinch at the news, and Nakai would have been happy anywhere but last. In any case, the three manga will move forward for another round to determine which will be serialized. The results, rather than bumming everyone out, seems to have reinvigorated and energized them to a man (or woman, in Aoki’s case). Jack has a difficult job on their hands: all three entrants in contention are good manga; even the readers couldn’t quite decide who to vote for.

News of their win garnered a response from Miho in the form of a phone call to Takagi, which marks the first time I can recall hearing her call a boy. I’m glad she got some minutes in this episode; especially her exchange with her mother proves how dedicated she is to Mashiro, and how resolved she is to properly wait like they promised. These two lovebirds must be kept apart for them to be productive. After all, if the prospect of Miho on the other line petrifies Mashiro (Miho bails him out by hanging up), imagine what having her hanging around the studio will do to his work ethic? Rating: 4

Bakuman 23

After the fruitless-yet-fruitful mangaka meeting, everyone improved their stories and art and submitted manuscripts for the “Golden Future Cup” on schedule. Even Koogy got his manga finished, despite waiting until the last minute to belt one out after an exhaustive PR campaign.

If this cup is all about votes, he may not have even had to put that much effort into his entry; at the end of the day, he has legions of loyal fans, and name recognition that many are eager to latch on to. His wry grin at the episode’s end suggests that he did well with both early and real deal results.

The thing is, so did everyone else. The results somewhat mirrored Niizuma’s prediction of a two-way tie for first, but otherwise, everyone was asked to write a serialization name. This looks to be a fierce battle. And the show does a great service in showing a taste of everyone’s manga up close; Koogy’s overwrought, pretentious, dialogue-less effort was particularly funny. Rating: 3.5

Bakuman 22

In hindsight, I didn’t really expect anything to come out of “Team Fukuda” protesting the fact they’ll have to compete against a celebrity, namely Koogy. Remembering what the chief editor told him that all manga need to be is “interesting”, Mashiro decides he’ll face Koogy anyway. If Koogy wins, so be it; it will be a hollow victory forged from his previous success as a rock star; not necessarily because he has the superior manga.

As to that: when everyone’s plans to make the contest fairer are deflated, they all decide instead to have a collective name-reading and critique. They choose Niizuma’s place as the venue, and he joins in as a neutral voice. Naturally, everyone thinks their own manga is the best, but when Aoki first blurts this out, she kinda sounds like a bitch. This shouldn’t be a meeting to determine whose is the “best” (that’s for the readers/editors to decide anyway), its about sharing suggestions, like Fukuda, Nakai, and Mashiro did with Niizuma’s “Crow”.

That can’t really happen here: everyone’s poured so much of their souls into their own works, it’s impossible to contribute to mangas they’re competing against, however much constructive criticism they may harbor within. To offer too much assistance would be to risk torpedoing one’s own chances.

Meanwhile, Miho is progressing along her rather odd lfiepath of becoming a seiyu. I like how Miyoshi is more honest than kind when it comes to critiquing Miho’s singing ability; I myself find it a bit lacking compared to say, Maaya Sakamoto’s. Still, however silly it seems for her to cosplay and perform in Akiba, it’s all for the dream. Rating: 3.5

Bakuman 21

Shounen Jack’s Golden-State-Future-Prize-whatever is up for grabs, and Mashiro finds the artists he worked with are now in direct competition with him; that is, they are impediments to the realization of his dream. We haven’t had much indication of what hardships or competition Miho is enduring at the same time; in fact, we know about as much as Mashiro knows, which isn’t much.

So Mahsiro and Takagi strike out and bump into Nakai, who is clean-shaven and now doing the art for Aoki, a she-mangaka who is the first person to say she didn’t like “Money & Intelligence”, and for that, I already like her (they need to learn to take criticism, even if it’s harsh.) Nakai seems a bit smitten with his new partnet, perhaps to a fault, but I’m sure glad he’s not lying on some tatami mat somewhere sobbing himself to sleep anymore. Sheesh…

Anyway, neither Nakai and Aoki, nor Fukuda are the real problem here. All of them will in all likelihood lose out to a friggin Rock star who is taking a break from music to draw manga…and asked his legions of fans to vote for his manga in the Jack questionaire. The deck is stacked; and this leads to a coalition of Mashiro, Takagi, Nakai and Fukuda. They’re not taking this sitting down. I wouldn’t…shit ain’t fair at all. Rating: 3.5

Bakuman 20

With Ashirogi Muto whole once more, Mashiro and Takagi are pleasantly humming away at their new detective manga. Miyoshi is legitimately helping out by going through the six boxes of detective anime and films sent by Hattori to help Takagi find his groove. When they go to Hattori with eight names, he admits he’s been had, but is excited they reunited on their own.

He also agrees to submit their manga, “Shady Detective TRAP”, for serialization if it’s accepted into the Golden Future Cup. They also have to bang out chapters at the same pace they would if they were already serialized; a rehersal, if you will. This is a lot of work Hattori is asking of a couple high school kids, but if they can’t do it, they can’t be high school mangakas, period.

This makes me wonder: if they are in high school, how in the hell are they ever awake for class, let alone ever have time for studying and homework? I know, that stuff’s boring to show, so they don’t, but considering how ramped up the level of manga work is getting, It’s almost as if their high school duties are an afterthought. I know Takagi is an academic ace, but Mashiro isn’t. In any case, when the random classmate approached Takagi and Mashiro asking about Miyoshi, both their cool responses and her frightened reaction were priceless. Rating: 4

Bakuman 19

I kinda had a feeling this would happen. The dilemma that caused the rift between Mashiro and Takagi – a mere misunderstanding – wasn’t going to be enough to keep a writer and an artist who need each other apart. Hattori meets both separately and can’t believe what’s happening, but rather than get the two back together at once, he tries to manipulate both into doing the words and art separately – at the pace he’d prefer.

The problem with that is, Miho has made it clear to Mashiro that they have no future unless he gets serialized. True, she has her end of the bargain to maintain as well, but there it is. They made a promise to each other, and it won’t change. Mashiro briefly considers doing the art for the second-ranked Story King, but when his good times with Takagi flash back in his head, he just can’t do it. Similarly, Takagi refuses to let Hattori stal Mashiro’s progress while he carefully crafts a name – doing so would torpedo Mashiro and Miho’s dream.

So just as we knew last week that they had zeroed in on the same new idea – a mystery manga – we knew that this week that if the group fractured, all it would take would be a couple steps back and some explanations to bring the group back together. It would have been awfully cheap for a group that’s been through so much to remain split up over nothing, especially when they’re both on to something but can’t do anything without the other’s skills. Rating: 3.5

Bakuman 18

Mashiro’s confidence in his own abilities as a mangaka swell just at the time his patience with Takagi is growing thin. From his perspective, Takagi has been goofing off with Miyoshi all summer long. Meanwhile, he’s been assisting Nakai and Fukuda on Niizuma’s manuscript, gaining new insight by the day into how the system works.

Once Niizuma is on-track and focused, the entire team is pumped up. Fukuda openly questions Shonen Jack’s publishing policies to Niizuma’s editor, while reiterating his determination to get his own stuff serialized. So inspiring is the young combo of Niizuma, Mashiro and Fukuda, even Nakai snaps out of his melancholy and starts naming again. It’s great to see how far this group’s come in seemingly so little time. They’ve also become increasingly fun to watch as they debate and collaborate.

But once Mashiro grabs hold of an idea – to do a mystery, not a battle manga – he decides he has to quit assisting Niizuma. The team – Niizuma included – gives him their best wishes. So determined is Mashiro to get this off the ground, he decides if Takagi doesn’t finish a name by the set deadline, he’ll go it alone. This, following their most uncomfortable phone conversation yet: Takagi can’t deny he’s with Miyoshi, and his name isn’t done. What is Mashiro supposed to think?

Furthermore, he refers to Mashiro and Miho’s relationship as not normal. This triggers him to send another inquiring text to Miho, who sends back exactly the reply he needs. It’s the same reply as before, but seeing it repeated, and containing the words love and joy (rabujoi?) have a big impact on Mashiro. Rating: 3.5

Bakuman 17

For Moritaka, this week is a illuminating lesson in mangaka collaboration. While Akito hangs out with Kaya half the time (while staring at an empty notebook the other half), Moritaka swallows his pride and checks in with Niizuma, whose other two assistants are much older; Fukuda in his mid-twenties, Nakai is a thirty-three year old who cries in his sleep over not being published.

Needless to say, Moritaka has much more success interacting with Niizuma than the older guys, and rather than being an asshole, Niizuma genuinely respects Moritaka (and Akito, as he’s half of the “Money & Intelligence” everybody seems to like.) But Fukuda assistant warns that if Niizuma only draws what he is interested in, his readers will eventually get bored and his ranking will drop.

Moritaka gains indispensable insight into both Niizuma’s creative process and the critical thinking all mangakas must cultivate in addition to their skills. The older dudes are still trying to get published (it’s probably never going to happen for Nakai), so if anything, just because he’s hit a little bump in the road, it could be worse. He and Akito are still quite young, and have plenty of time to reach their potential. Rating: 3.5

Bakuman 16

The drama mounts: Akito is struggling with coming up with a good enough name for a mainstream manga, while becoming continually distracted by Kaya. Moritaka, meanwhile, is buoyed by Miho’s appearance in an anime, and then asked by Hattori to be Niizuma’s summer drawing assistant.

All of these events have repercussions. Moritaka will be working separate from Akito, which will create a rift between them, whether they like it or not. Then again, perhaps being apart will help Akito focus and come up with something before summer’s end. Only problem is, his girlfriend isn’t going anywhere, and he kind of likes spending time with her.

I love it when Kaya asks him: “I’m not getting in the way, am I?” His response is to kiss her. In reality, she is getting in the way, but in the way of Moritaka and Akito making a manga...not in the way of Akito finding happiness. Even though he was the one who dragged Moritaka into this, he could be the one starting to tire of the constant work and rejections, and may just want a normal high school life with his girl.

Even if he wants to stay on the manga track, he may not have a choice…he and Kaya aren’t as patient and disciplined as Moritaka and Miho… Rating: 3.5

Bakuman 15

Bakuman continues steadily progressing as a year has passed in the series timeline. Moritaka and Miho have both made strides toward achieving their goals. Miho doesn’t believe herself either pretty or a good singer, while Moritaka is well aware that there are better artists out there than himself. Still, they work hard, and both are gradually getting results.

I like how Moritaka didn’t immediately reciprocate Niizuma’s invitation to friendship: he’s their rival, after all. He is honest and forthright and makes his position clear: his goal is to surpass Niizuma. Niizuma, who became a much more interesting character last week, reacts exactly as I’d hoped: nothing petty or immature, just a firm, enthusiastic “you’re on.” Even in private, he says he liked their work (proving he wasn’t patronizing them), and probably likes the idea of a direct challenge.

Then again, Niizuma and Moritaka/Takagi’s approaches can never be the same, so it will be intriguing to see how both attain success with their wildly different methods of creating manga: Niizuma’s visceral, spontaneous, freeform style, or Moritaka and Takagi’s calculating, precise, by-the-book style. The latter will have to get a move on though, as Miho has entered the world of voice-acting. Rating: 3.5

Bakuman 14

No sooner does the second half of the Bakuman saga begin do Moritaka and Akito come face-to-face with their rival, Eiji Niizuma. It’s a disquieting scene, watching him suddenly belt out twenty pages of manga in a half-hour before their eyes…but it doesn’t discourage them as a naysaying Hattori hopes. He’s their rival, after all. If he was easy to defeat, it wouldn’t be interesting, would it?

Eiji is definitely an oddball, and possibly a high-functioning autistic, but he seems to take to his mangakas instantly. I don’t believe he’s being facetious when he says he liked their NEXT story and wants to be their friend. He may well realize that his weakness is their strength and vice-versa. He certainly has the edge in mainstream battle manga right off the bat, but Moritaka is certain that if he and Akito get their ducks in a row and face Niizuma apples-to-apples, They can win. They have six months to convince Hattori.

I’ll be pullin’ for ’em. One nice scene has Kaya mentioning to Moritaka that Miho, like him, has also been hitting some hurdles in the process of achieving her dreams. I’ll wager that neither of them knew how tough it would actually be, but nor do I think either will ever give up. One more aside: the ending sequence is much better than the first half’s…it seems like a lot more thought went into it and it introduces a few new characters. Rating: 3.5

Bakuman 13

Bakuman’s first season ends with a veritable nor’easter of developments. Hattori is impressed with their manuscript and okays it. They are confident they can beat Niizuma, and they actually do in the early returns, but the final results place them not second, but third. These guys were due for a defeat, and they got one. In this business, however, defeats must be taken in stride, and one must feed off adversity.

Even more unexpected than their third place finish? Moritaka actually texted Miho. She responds to his extremely long text almost instantly, and he learns a lot about who she is by her surprisingly short replies. This may not seem like much, but for this particular couple, it’s a huge step. Actual communication. Yet again this series contrasts their bond with Takagi and Kaya’s. They’re at the same school and enjoying each other’s company, while don’t even see Miho, nor does Moritaka.

I’ve really been taken in by Bakuman’s roller coaster of ups and downs, defeats and victories, and all the built-up suspense in between. After trying to play to their strengths and appeal to that odd 20%, Moritaka is convinced the only way they’ll get an anime by 18 (and hence the only way he’ll get Miho) is by going mainstream. I can’t be sure, but I’m guessing that mainstream manga they’ll come up with next season will be called Bakuman. Rating: 4

Series Mean Ranking: 3.654 (Ranked 3rd out of 15 Fall 2010 Series)