It really felt like this week’s episode of Bakuman was a payoff for a lot of reasons – patience rewarded. We had the most Eiji-centric episode yet, and it really focused on the dynamic between he and Masahiro. We finally had the long-awaited introduction of Fukuda, one of the most popular characters in the manga. And it delved into the world of the assistant for the first time in any real depth.
Fukuda is an interesting one. He’s introduced alongside a character we’ve fleetingly seen – Nakai, the 33 year-old assistant. Fukuda is neither the failed manga artist in decline or the up an coming teenager – he’s in his early 20’s, had some success, but struggling to get beyond “Next” and holding down two jobs to support himself. Arrogant he is – impatient with dealing with Eiji’s quirks and dismissive of Nakai’s status in life. In fact, it’s Fukuda’s treatment of Nakai that’s his most unappealing trait in the episode. Nakai is a veritable fossil by the standards of the industry – ten years removed from a one-time publication and acting as a full-time assistant while still clinging to his dreams. Fukuda respects his skills as a background artist but generally treat him as a pathetic failure.
Into all this walks Masahiro, looking for inspiration in the work of the genius Eiji. He’s too kind to join in the abuse of Nakai but represents another youthful rival trying to get ahead. Eiji continues to work in his bizarre, erratic manner – bypassing names and drawing all his own effects and backgrounds. That renders assistants useless, of course, so Fukuda spends most of his time working on his own name. But when Eiji realizes who his new assistant is his interest perks up – this is Asharagi Muto after all – and Masahiro eventually talks him into rewriting the new chapter of “Crow” and even writing a name. After much feedback from Msahiro and Fukuda Eiji responds as only he can – soaking it all in and churning out a name in 5 minutes flat.
That entire sequence in Eiji’s apartment was fascinating for a number of reasons, and among the best of the entire series. The entire ep bar a short cutaway to Takagai and Miyoshi focused on Eiji’s apartment and the manga process. Eiji proved himself willing to take feedback and adapt, and he even apologized to his editor – he continues to evolve as a character from the bizarre caricature he started out as. I really enjoyed the dynamic between the three young guys and Nakai – you could really feel his frustration at feeling like his career was over before it had even had a chance to begin. Will he end up chasing his dream after all, I wonder? There’s a lot of pathos to his character and I don’t think it will be wasted.
Fascinating – and perhaps the most ominous moment of the episode – was when Fukuda suggested Masahiro write his manga himself. Problem is, everything he said was true: Masahiro does know a ton about the industry and had great suggestions for Eiji. Solo authors get to keep all the money, and working as a partnership is really hard. Msahairo certainly doesn’t see the worth of those arguments, but if the seed is planted surely he’ll think about what Fukuda said – if he wasn’t doing so already. This marked the first time that Masahiro and Takagi were never together for the entire episode, and Masahiro is going to grow in confidence as he experiences what being a professional artist is like. Sure they’ll work it all out eventually – but for now the ride may get a little bumpy.