This week, Moritaka, Takashi, Kaya and Miho all graduate, but the ceremony is of minimal importance. Moritaka and Takashi’s name is approved and its finally time to write the manuscript for the piece to be published in Shounen Jack NEXT. They have every intention of beating Niizuma in the popularity questionnaires, but there’s no guarantee of that. While he’s glad the boys are happy, Hattori is a little concerned that they’re rushing things so far.
The reason for that is Miho. It’s clear as day now that they’re not interested in dating, not even once before graduating. They both made a promise and they’re going to stick to it. Kaya, in a much more conventional relationship with Takashi, simply can’t understand, and tries to play the yenta and meddle to get them together. This doesn’t go over well with Moritaka, who claims to understand Miho better than Kaya (and he very well might, at least in some areas). Their shouting match and subsequent make-up was really well done.
Moritaka and Miho’s love and trust in one another has this mysterious power to it; they hardly have any contact, but that’s because such contact causes such profound reactions in them. Even when Moritaka chases her down on the way to work, neither of them can say much – save exactly what they need to hear: they’ll wait. I’m not sure such a romance is for me – Kaya and Takashi’s seems a lot easier – but ultimately, with greater hardship comes greater reward. The series definitely has me believing in and pulling for them.
Victory at last! Moritaka and Akito will finally be published in NEXT! Magazine. The moment the news hits, I couldn’t help but swell up with excitement right along with them. After all, it’s been eleven weeks of ups and downs; it was time for a breakthrough. The high school hurdle is cleared too, as both of them pass their exams. There’s a catch of course; Nizuma will dominate the issue they’re published in. This will surely test their mettle as manga artists.
This episode also explored the very different approaches to romance Moritaka and Akito are taking. Though it’s through fault of his own, Akito has a flirty steady in Kaya, and if he’s not careful, her charms will steal away more and more name-making time. This is why Moritaka and Miho are holding off on dating, or indeed any excessive contact: if they did date, they’d have absolutely no time.
Akito tells Kaya, M&M’s love is deeper than they can imagine. Perhaps, but M&M’s interactions remain excruciatingly timid affairs. But for the purposes of this series, one must suspend belief in such a idealistic romance, because Bakuman may just successfully deliver one. Things are certainly on the right track for that outcome. Rating: 3.5
Every week is a learning experience for Moritaka and Akito. Their work is good, but it’s not the right kind of good, not yet. When they meet up in the editorial department with Hattori, the Editor-in-Chief interrupts and corrects Hattori, saying good manga will be published. This guy knew Moritaka’s uncle, and was the one who let him go from Jack due to lack of new work.
To take an interest in Moritaka’s future shows that he sees promise in the duo. This meeting also acknowledges Eiji Nizuma’s incredible talent for marketable manga, but they doubt his stuff will ever be deep or mature enough for older readers. After sending the guys off to make more Jump-like names, Hattori realizes the error of his strategy: he shouldn’t be pressing them to make universally appealing manga, but rather a niche manga, something that just over half of readers like, but 20% love. This will make it publishable without sacrificing their individuality.
This week is devoid of Miho but features plenty of Aiko hanging around. She wants to go on dates with Akito despite agreeing to a relationship in which dates would be few and far between, due to his workload. It’s interesting to see the contrast between Akito and Aiko, who are a far more conventional couple, than Moritaka and Miho’s far more conservative gameplan, which Aiko calls “super-weird.”
She may have a point; where’s the harm in them hanging out from time to time? But Moritaka won’t budge: if she’s truly his soul mate, the course they’ve decided on will prove to be the right one for them. Rating: 3.5
For punching Ishizawa, Akito is suspended for a week, which is fine with him, as it means a week to make names. Moritaka is stuck in a loop of self-loathing, convinced he’s holding Akito back with his substandard art. Still, Miho, impressed with how far he’s come, prods Moritaka to go check on him. When he does, he discovers there’s no reason for excess dread; Akito is fine. Well, fine on the manga front, anyway. It turns out Moritaka isn’t the first or even the second person to have come to check on Akito.
Kaya and Aiko are there as well, and both believe Akito is their boyfriend. Moritaka can only fade into the background as the battle unfolds: both girls make valid points, but Akito insists that both misunderstood his gestures; he never agreed to date anyone. Then it comes down to who he likes more; he doesn’t dislike either. The difference between the two girls finally comes out: Kaya says she’ll support him with his dream, while Aiko insists he quit playing around with manga and shape up. Akito has long since resolved to follow through with this dream, so he cannot be with Aiko. Kaya is victorious.
So the air is once again clear, Mashiro and Akito have their maidens-in-waiting and their priorities in order, and they have no choice but to keep “fighting the fight”. Hattori is ready and willing to meet with them more to critique their next work. Meanwhile, Nizuma has arrived in Tokyo, and he ain’t there to sight-see. The heat will be on. This was a terrific characterization episode for all involved that still kept the story moving and my interest high. Rating: 4
Whew…Bakuman can be harsh with the building-up and anticipation of great things, only to deal Mashiro and Akito yet another defeat – this time after submitting for the Tezuka award. Akito feverishly fills notebook after notebook with ideas until Mashiro finally finds one that clicks – a more traditional shounen manga with lightsabers or something. They belt it out and meet with Hattori, who likes it much better than their last work.
Having improved in both story and art, and made a tight deadline, they submit it for the award…and the waiting game begins. Meanwhile, the price of their hard work: Akito has fallen two places in class rankings. Doesn’t seem like much, but academics are a slippery slope. Worse still, the two are so distracted and excited about the prospect of winning (and all that entails), they can’t concentrate on school or writing/drawing. The suspense is excruciating, and really draws you into their state of mind.
Even though I was certain they’d lose again, I couldn’t help but get just as all worked up as they did, and when the hammer came down, I was just as deflated. This defeat stung more because Hattori gave them a lot of hope. Their classmate Ishizawa finds out they submitted to Jack, and confirms what Mashiro fears: the artwork is holding back the better story. This is a knife-twist to Mashiro’s confidence, but Akito isn’t having it, socking Ishizawa in the face in front of the whole class, including Miho and Kaya. You really get the feeling things just aren’t going to get any easier from here. Rating: 4
Moritaka makes significant progress in his relationship with Miho – by his standards, at least. Now that they’re sitting side by side, he can communicate with her through notes and drawings. But they still haven’t uttered anything to each other since the promise they made. Moritaka gets a little impatient, one badly-phrased question puts Miho in tears. However, she gives him his e-mail (without him needing to ask) – testing him, in a way – and he appears to pass. If they get too serious now, before they achieve their goals, her voicework and his art will both suffer for it. So for now, they must maintain a degree of separation.
That’s got to be tough, as if sitting next to your true love for a trimester isn’t tough enough. Back at Shounen Jack, Hattori wavers over whether he’ll submit “Two Worlds” for the monthly prize; he only does so when his superior insists. When it doesn’t even make the finalists, he too tests Akito and Moritaka, and thanks to some quick thinking, Akito passes this test by saying all the right things to assure their future editor. They aren’t about to be discouraged by one small defeat; the war has only just begun. The episode ends with Shounen Jack’s Editor-in-Chief visiting Eiji Nizuma, who is a bit eccentric and lives a sheltered life, but makes an odd request that could one day affect Akito and Moritaka – in exchange for moving to Tokyo, he wants authority to remove a manga he doesn’t like from Jack.
This is another good incremental episode that opens up the complexities of juggling a love that must wait with the need to keep moving forward. They have no choice but to quickly write another manga and submit it for another award. Last time Moritaka was able to maintain his grades, but drawing 2-6 pages every day is sure to take its toll. Rating: 3.5
Mashiro and Akito score an appointment with an editor of a manga magazine, and this appointment makes for some of the tensest moments of the series thus far. Hattori (the editor)’s character is very shrewdly written not to be too praising or too critical. Long story short, their manga shows promise, but it isn’t a “golden egg”. They get his e-mail however, and his encouragement for them to keep working and return when they’ve improved.
In hindsight, the critique went pretty much how I expected: leaving Mashiro and Akito anxious, but not downtrodden, and eager to whip up another, better manga, this time with more collaboration between the words and the story. This could have huge implications if their opinions on each others’ work clashes, but the rewards outweigh the risk.
Almost as a reward for being bold about following through with the goals he’s set out for himself, when the school trimester resumes, Mashiro finds that he and Miho are now sitting right next to each other — not an ideal situation when you have mutual crushes on each other. Still, her sustained proximity should definitely help motivate them both: for him to master the pen; for her to master her voice. Rating: 3.5
Mashiro and Akito work long hours during the summer break and make some steady progress. In fact, more than some: they complete a manuscript by episode’s end and are on the phone to submit it to a magazine for publishing. For a 25-episode series, this is faster progress than I expected.
Meanwhile, Akito learns he may be on the ‘same wavelength’ as his female friend Kaya, in the same way Mashiro and Miho are locked in. I’m still concerned that Mashiro could fall into the same trap as his uncle and let the girl slip through his fingers through inaction, so I maintain my hope they interact more.
There were also nice little touches, like the screentone clippings, the perils of drawing in ink while extremely fatigued, and the victorious feeling of completing a phase of a task and moving on to the next. Thus far, Bakuman has been steadfastly solid. Rating: 3.5
Again, the sheer magnitude of work necessary to become a mangaka hits Mashiro and Akito like a ton of bricks. A ridiculous amount of work is involved in preparing a manuscript, and a high schooler can’t go long without sleep; believe me, I know. Being a trained artist myself, I shared Mashiro’s frustration with being unable to instantly master a certain type of ink pen; in his case, knowing full well he doesn’t have a future unless he does. He needs to practice; but if his grades fall, he’s toast.
This episode is also where the two aspiring mangakas realize they’re not alone; others have the same dream they do. When Akito flips through a magazine and discovers a 15-year-old published mangaka, the pressure is on, and it’s felt. Neither of them are peerless prodigies, and must rely on hubris, effort, and luck in their venture.
I do worry that Mashiro has a good chance of repeating his uncles mistakes re romance; he doesn’t even have Miho’s email yet. Still, it was reassuring to see them pass each other on a street – Mashiro with Akito, Miho with her mom and sister – and pause and look back at each other not once, but twice. Rating: 3.5
Moritaka and Akito are granted access to Moritaka’s late uncle’s studio, the base from which their goal of having an anime by age 18 commences. There were many moments of unease for Moritaka as he looked through the untouched studio, as it seems to hit him in these moments exactly how hard he’ll have to work in order to fulfill his dreams.
He also realizes that it was precisely that work that killed his uncle; he didn’t commit suicide. A call to his father (the first time he’s ever called him) is surprisingly poigniant and reassuring. Despite his father’s distance, he still remembers reading manga to his son, and fully supports his choice to become a mangaka.
It struck me how open and unconcerned Miho’s hottie mother was when two high school guys show up and tell her they read all her letters. She even wishes Moritaka good luck with her daughter. Things are going according to plan so far, but there still a manga to be written and drawn. Presumably called….Bakuman? Rating: 3.5
Things move briskly in episode two as Moritaka clears his first hurdle in becoming a manga artist: parental approval. He speaks very little to his father (who isn’t even shown in the episode) and even on issues like this, has to speak through his mother, who’s obviously against the idea (her brother was a manga artist and worked himself to death).
However, Moritaka lucks out when its relayed to him that his dad will allow him to do what he wants, stating “men have dreams that a woman wouldn’t understand.” This could either be considered a sexist remark, but you could turn it around and say the opposite is just as true. And while his mom is against it, the father is clearly the lead authority in this household.
In another stroke of luck, his grandfather gives him a key to his late uncle’s studio, which is the ideal venue for starting up a career in manga. The grandfather, who obviously sensed Moritaka’s past apathy and listlessness, is understandably relieved that his grandson actually has hopes and dreams for the future. Another episode of solid storytelling, though unfortunately Moritaka made zero progress with his future wife, Azuki. Rating: 3.5
Switching gears from corrupted angels and iron men, the third series of the fall is far more down to earth. Despite having to endure not one but two opening sequences (the first a fictional anime, the second the real one) and what must’ve been the 5,987th “electric pole pan” I’ve seen in anime, Bakuman quickly picks up the pace and charges forward with what it’s going to be about.
Specifically, this dude Mashiro is going to become a manga artist, it’ll become an anime, and he’ll marry the girl he loves. Of course, the episode doesn’t begin with these lofty goals – the episode serves to propel him to make them after a change of heart and sudden burst of motivation. You see, at first Mashiro is perfectly content to coast through life as an unexceptional salaryman or some such. He learned from his manga artist uncle (whom he alone believes committed suicide) that in his line of work, 99% of the artists are little more than ‘gamblers’, hoping against hope that they’ll make it.
Afraid of the consequences of having such strong dreams and making decisions that one cannot turn back on, he would prefer to avoid making decisions, and simply live an easy, comfortable life, shunning his artistic talent. However, by the end of the episode, egged on by his classmate Akito (the class genius who wants to write the manga and wants Mashiro to illustrate is) and inspired by his crush, Miho (an aspiring seiyu) He decides to become a gambler himself – only unlike his uncle’s muse, Miho actually agrees to marry Mashiro should their venture turn successful. A very promising start to what looks to be an intriguing story. Rating: 3.5