I believe I’d be hard-pressed to find a lot of series that improved as much from start to finish as this one did. Was that the case in the manga as well? I can’t answer, but I do know this – even though I enjoyed the first ep a lot for it’s focus on being a boy with a dream, the first cour was pretty inconsistent. Pacing was certainly an issue, as was animation quality. Both of those came into line in the second cour, and by the end this was a lean, taut storytelling machine.
For all that, I’m glad Bakuman didn’t forget what it was supposed to be about. While the last ep was tense and dramatic, it basically covered some of the same turf as the premiere. Masahiro’s love and admiration for his Uncle. The disagreements with his Mom about following in Nobuhirp’s footsteps. The dream of being a mangaka. The difference of course is that the conclusion was about that dream finally coming true, and that allowed it to be much more pointed and action-oriented. But looking back now, it’s easy to see how this series was slowly and calmly putting the pieces in place, developing the characters in a slow but realistic way. Some of it seemed slow at the time but it was for a greater purpose.
There was a lot about this show that really hit home with me. For starters I loved the way it dissected the manga industry starting with middle-school boys with dreams, and following them right through the entire process. In addition to giving the audience a really interesting and thorough take on how the creative and business sides of the industry work, it delivered a lot of really interesting relationships. Shows like this are nothing without characters you care about, and this cast was excellent. Starting with Masahiro, whose childhood days in his Uncle’s studio started all this in motion, through his relationship with his family and with Azuki. Takagai and Miyoshi, both boys with Hattori, the assistants group with Nakai and Fukuda… These were really interesting threads to follow.
I’m a great admirer, too, of a show that can make a character turn out to be so different and so much better than you expect. Of course I’m talking about Niizuma Eiji, tops in the SJ character polls and mine, too. Starting off as a freak and ending up as a complicated and surprisingly considerate kid, he’s the inspiration and rival for Ashirogi Muto. Together they’re three teenagers looking to re-shape the business. The series did an artful job, too, of introducing new characters from the manga in small doses – even Eiji was teased mercilessly with short vignettes before we really spent any time with him.
I liked the supporting cast here – Miyoshi was an interesting addition to the cast, interesting ending as the female lead though she’s dating the sidekick. All of the editors were a blast, and it was fascinating watching Hattori try and mold his young charges who often seemed two steps ahead of him (so where’s he going, I wonder?) But in the end the series works much better if you appreciate Masahiro and Takagi. Everyone seems to like Takagi but no one seems crazy about him, and I can see why – he’s rock-solid as a character but not terribly exciting. Masahiro has elicited much stronger reactions, and though a lot have been negative I’m a fan. I think he’s an odd and interesting lead – an old-fashioned guy trapped in a 21st Century boy’s body. He’s a romantic through and through – about his relationship with Azuki, and about his manga too – he’ll throw away weeks of work and start over because he feels it’s not as good as it could be. For all the complaining about his relationship with Azuki I enjoy the fact that it’s so radically different from anything else in anime. There’s a thousand conventional teenage romances in manga – why do we need to piss all over one that’s unique and different.
By the end Bakuman was a consistent winner – offering well-paced, thrilling and suspenseful episodes one right after the other. Not having read the manga I can’t say for sure, but it looks to me as if the second season will be more like the last cour – things have just started to happen and there are names to write, deadlines to meet and rivalries to culture,. The show left us in a good spot after a good final episode, so my anticipation for the new season is quite high.