Miura reads Ashirogi’s manuscript for Perfect Crime Club. While at first he finds its crimes petty, the realistic art and serious tone draw him in. He believes it will be a hit. While at any other serialization meeting, it would easily pass, the editors have to determine whether it will be able to beat Crow and +Natural, right now. Their deliberations go on a long time, as Mashiro has a Christmas get-together with Takagi and Kaya. The resulting vote at the meeting is tied 3-3, and the Chief editor with the tie-breaking vote. He believes it’s good, but not enough to win. With the final vote 4-3, Perfect Crime Club will not be serialized by Jack.
Bakuman is full of foolish promises. The idea that Mashiro and Miho cannot possibly be together unless they achieve their dreams is getting to be a major problem. Huge chunks of their youth have been spent away from each other. Yes, they love each other, but the idealism of their promise is starting to strain credulity. Case in point: Takagi and Kaya have Mashiro over for their first Christmas as a married couple. Why isn’t Miho there? Because of that silly promise, made when they were still kids. We know this issue has been covered exhaustively and they both seem to be committed to keeping the promise, but these constant drawbacks make the dreams they seek to achieve seem more like mirages; impossible to ever reach. Time will tell, we guess.
That’s beause of another dumb promise: to create a manga that can defeat Niizuma Eiji, or leave Jack for good. Ashirogi Muto has been through the pressure cooker enough; there was no need to gamble themselves into a corner. We held out hope Perfect Crime Club, which is the most original and best-thought-out manga Ashirogi’s created to date – would at least be given a shot to compete, but the Chief Editor took their gamble to mean that they the editors – and they alone, not the readers – would be the arbitors of the manga’s fate. With that, it seems like Ashirogi Muto’s Jack days are finished, unless Hattroi and Miura have any other tricks up their sleeve.
Rating : 3.5
When Aoki comes to Ashirogi seeking help drawing panty shots, Kaya suggests she meet with Ishizawa, but that proves a bad idea, as he turns out to be worse than Nakai. When Fukuda hears that Aoki and Nakai were in a fight, he drops by Takahara’s to confront Nakai, who tells him he’s “comfortable” where he is, and working with Katou. Rather than leave it there, he decides to coach Aoki himself, giving her pointers while he draws and having her fax him work to look over. Her resulting work gets her a shot at serialization in the same time Ashirogi’s Tanto is up for it. Meanwhile, Iwase meets with Hattori, vowing to draw a manga based on her novel that will surpass Takagi.
Fukuda can be loud and obnoxious, but he’s also kind (in his own way), and fiercely loyal to his fellow mangakas. We see a lot of him this week, juggling his own Kiyoshi Knights manga with the new task of helping Aoki essentially loosen up. This isn’t just about inserting panty shots; it’s about showing the right imagery at the appropriate time. It’s not simple. Fukuda’s direction really perks Aoki up, as she’s put Nakai and even Takagi past her and is going for it. We like this new, more emotional, more assertive Aoki a lot; she’s just got this spark right now, and her heated conversations with Fukuda are very fun to watch.
Fukuda isn’t just doing this for her. For him, doing what he does just isn’t fun if Niizuma, Mashiro, Takagi, Nakai and Aoki aren’t doing it too. He wants everyone trying to outdo the other, because that will result in everyone putting out their best work. Friends are the best critics, because they can communicate feedback to you in a way someone else may not be able to. Takagi and Mashiro may have had a better chance of being serialized if they put Aoki’s request on hold, but they didn’t; they helped her because she was a friend in need, and because Nakai really was a bastard. We’re not sure what to make of Iwase yet; she’s just starting out like Ashirogi Muto did with Hattori; but she’s a bright cookie, and it’s not unrealistic to think she’ll rise fast.
Mashiro and Takagi are working on two different works, the humorous TEN and the serious Future Watch. They want the latter to beat the other out, though Miura wants them to do a gag manga. The editors leave it up to the readers, who choose Future Watch by ranking it 9th after TEN was 10th. Takahama warns them about Miura’s changes lowering his rank, so their doubts about their editor only increase. Nakai gets over Aoki’s rejection right quick upon meeting Kato.
It’s a pretty tough week for Ashirogi Muto. Not only to they have to at least make an appearance at college, but they also have to work on two series as if they’ll both be serialized, despite having chosen a clear favorite. Worse still, they’re at odds with Miura, and get outside criticism of his editing that may lead to them dropping him in the future. After all, they expected both of their works to rank at least fifth, and neither got close.
Regardless of their percieved lack of quick success, they’re in pretty good shape. Every episode they’re not serialized feels like an episode they get further behind the eight ball, and at least they had their work published, and it ranked fairly high for new material. But their lack of faith in Miura could prove poisonous. By the end of their manuscript, they weren’t even sure themselves what was funny or not, and relying on Miura’s sense of humor proved harmful. It’s telling that Mashiro, Niizuma, Fukuda are all on the same wavelength as far as what Ashirogi should be doing.
After their seventh chapter drops to 13th in the rankings, Takagi plans on stepping up his game by adding some lightheartedness. Even before the revisions come into effect, TRAP begins a surge from ninth for chapter eight to sixth for chapter ten, then a tie for third with Crow, finally challenging Niizuma. Miho is getting more and more anime roles, and Miura gets TRAP the color cover for their 20th chapter, plus an edition of 100,000 for their first volume. But as they continue to succeed, Mashiro is getting thinner and not sleeping, which culminates in his collapse.
First of all, Miho got a voice role in SKET DANCE? Sweet! Time is moving faster now, and this series continues to pull no punches when it comes to setbacks potentially fatal to Mashiro and Miho’s dream, But with TRAP enjoying consistently high rankings, their first volume getting printed, a team that’s happy and in synch, and the fan mail pouring in, this newest setback is a much more basic one: Mashiro’s health. He knew going into this that balancing school with the manga was not going to be easy, but three hours of sleep most nights and none on others simply isn’t going to cut it, especially when he’s not eating.
Now that Takagi is in a writing groove (and Kaya is basically his personal assistant), he’s under a lot less stress. The amount of labor Mashiro puts out easily eclipses Takagi’s, as is exhibited by his always working while Takagi and Kaya are hanging around. But this industry won’t let Mashiro take a break, and if he does it will be seen as weakness and an inability to cut it. He’s not alone in this; Hiramaru is pissing blood, after all. But I’d hate to see The Dream be taken down by something as simple as eating and sleeping. So the question is, how is he going to get better without interrupting school or TRAP?
TRAP drops from third to eigth to ninth, worrying both Mashiro and Takagi. Takahama confirms their suspicion that Miura can be overoptimistic at times, and when another manga that kept sliding is cancelled, panic nearly sets in. Back at the editors’ office, Miura gets five different opinions by five other editors, and is initially unsure on how to proceed, but he ultimately warns against big changes to the manga. Mashrio agrees, feeling Takagi’s position hints of desperation. They’re all convinced that TRAP needs to be loud and proud about being a decent mystery, which sets it apart on Jack.
This week doesn’t let us forget that Ashirugi Muto aren’t out of the woods just because they’re serialized. One bad week could spell cancellation; there’s a crapload of manga waiting in line to be published. Case in point: both Fukuda and Nakai/Aoki’s manga are approved for serialization – on the same day. The pressure is truly on for TRAP. This episode was a quick succession of splashes of cold water, and also exposed not only the inexperience of the still very young author and artist, but the relatively green editor Miura as well.
Being inundated with multiple contradicting possible courses of action is always going to happen. Someone who’s good will take the course that is closest to matching what their gut instinct is telling them. One cannot operate without instinct in this industry – take Hiramaru: he’s loathing drawing a manuscript every week; he has all the talent and instincts, but the motivation and passion are lacking. Niizuma is pretty much pure instinct, an unsullied natural talent. Nakai and Fukuda have kept themselves going with hard work determination, and of course luck, like Takagi and Mashiro. What they really need next week is a jump in the rankings: something to reignite their confidence.
TRAP’s first chapter ranks third in the Jack polls, which is fine by any measure, but disappointing for Takagi. Mashrio says the only thing for it is to keep plugging away. But their work on the fifth chapter is interrupted by news that Aoki has dumped Nakai to write for NOOGY. Rather than heartbroken, Nakai decides to win her back by drawing outside her window every free minute he has. Just when everyone is about to stage an intervention for Nakai, who is drawing in a snowstorm, Aoki cracks and decides to keep working with him after all. The second chapter of TRAP falls to eighth.
For side characters, Aoki and Nakai are pretty complex. Aoki isn’t just the stone-cold bitch she appears to be on the surface, nor is Nakai a desperate, creepy stalker he appears to be. It’s more complicated than that. There’s no doubt that Nakai likes Aoki very much, and a lot of his actions are stalkeresque, but he has also bet everything on her manga, hideout door. He wants to prove himself to her. But she decides to work with KOOGY so she can tell the story she wants to tell – not bend to the will of Jack editors. Their standoff dominates this episode, and it was fun to see them back in action, along with Fukuda.
That standoff resolves itself without cheating. Aoki isn’t going to call the cops on Nakai, because part of her must know that he’s the best artist for her. Koogy’s all flash and no substance, but Nakai has been finely honing his art almost as long as the likes of Koogy have been alive. The scene where she finally comes outside to apologize is an awesome culmination of all the emotions expressed so far. She admits its her work she feels is inadequate, not his, and promises to do her best for his sake. Then Nakai gets overexcited about her inviting him in, that even manages to elicit a teensy scream from the stoic Aoki. There’s clearly unrequited love at play here, but the manga is more important than that.
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