Bakuman – 21

This was certainly one of the most “shounen” of all the Bakuman episodes so far – a reminder that this is indeed a shounen manga in spite of it’s somewhat unorthodox storyline. For one week this was a battle series – all about the fighting spirit and the coming struggle for supremacy in the Golden Future Cup. But the series still maintains the unusual level of thoughtfulness and self-awareness that distinguishes it from most other shounen titles.

The rush of new characters continue fast and furious. This week it’s Ko Aoki, a very pretty mangaka who has been working in the shoujo field and is only now venturing into the shounen realm for the Golden Future Cup – partnering for her fantasy manga with with Nakai, no less, as her drawings are too shoujo for “Jack”. This is a big chance for Nakai and she’s a hottie besides, so he’s pretty much being led by the nose from all appearances. Aoki-san is not shy with her opinions – she didn’t like “Money & Intelligence” because it was too serious, or Fukuda’s manga because it was too mature for a shounen magazine. She has very specific ideas about what should and shouldn’t be shounen.

But she does like Colorfusical, the fourth entrant into the Cup, brought to us by the other major new character we meet this week. That’s Koogy, AKA Koji Makaino. He’s a popular rock musician who fancies himself a renaissance man – he’s done fashion, graphic design and acting already. So manga is just another medium for him, a tool to elevate his public persona – and his fans a built-in ticket to winning the fan polls for the Golden Future Cup. That seems a little underhanded, and we may have our first real villain of the series.

As for our heroes Ashirogi Muto, things are looking up. Master manipulator Hattori – who seemed to be hopped up on about 20 energy drinks this week – told them he’d been gaslighting them yet again, and they should start getting ready for serialization. He wants to win the GFC, but he’s prepared to back them even if they don’t because they proved they could deliver a 19-page chapter every two weeks. Of course it nearly kills Masahiro in the process, but never mind that – mission accomplished for Hattori. He finally reveals to the boys that he told his colleague after their first meeting that they would surpass Nizuma Eiji after three years, and he appears to have totally drunk the kool-aid now. Let the battle begin! And a battle it is – as Fukuda leads a revolt by the other contestants to protest Koogy’s manipulation of the voting. I can’t imagine that’s going to go well – in fact, I think a case could be made that it actually helps the others because the manipulation renders any Koogy victory as tainted. Of course, it’s even more likely that “Jack” wouldn’t care, as for them, the publicity of having a rock star serialized would trump anything else.

It looks like we’re headed towards a less subtle and more conflict-driven time in the story, perhaps permanently. With Hattori’s full backing it’s really about winning at all costs at this point – Takagi seemed to take some motivation from the revelation that Eiji has already earned about a million dollars, and Masahiro obviously has motivation enough knowing that Azuki’s career is taking off big-time. Most of the major players seem to have been introduced, and we know which horse Ashirogi Muto is going to ride into battle with Death Note “Shady Detective Trap”. The pace has obviously picked up tremendously, and with only a few eps left until the show goes on hiatus until the fall we’re clearly headed towards some sort of cliffhager/crossroads moment in the story. All that should be some satisfaction to those who complained about the pacing early on, and I’ve certainly enjoyed these last few eps. I just hope the series doesn’t lose the quirky, introspective quality it showed during those buildup episodes.

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