As much as I liked Bakuman’s first season, it’s just astonishing how much better this show has gotten. It’s become genuinely exciting each and every week, and furthermore, it really gets my blood boiling in righteous indignation. I love the realism the show brings to Ashirogi Muto’s struggles against corporate incompetence, and I’m actually astonished that Shounen Jump was willing to print some of this stuff, because it makes them look pretty bad. Often in anime we see the negative side of youth – stubbornness, stupidity, arrogance – but this is a show that really celebrates it in a way that – it could be argued – shounen manga is really designed to do but rarely does.
It was obvious from the beginning that this was going to be a story about dreams, and the challenges faced in trying to make them come true. While we usually see the negative, childish side of youth here we see a celebration of the childlike side of our nature. Nobuhiro was in many ways a childike man, always smiling when his adoring nephew was with him, drawing gag manga for a living. But life ground the child out of the man and left him prematurely old, used up and eventually dead. Mashiro’s quest could be seen as an attempt to live out Nobuhiro’s potential, to try and maintain that about himself that was creative and optimistic and idealistic in the face of an adult world trying to destroy it. We’re seeing the story really circle back to that idea now that things are getting heated between Ashirogi Muto and “Shounen Jack”.
Here’s a case where I think Mashiro’s youthful exuberance and self-righteousness worked to his benefit, even if it did get him into a bit of trouble with the brass. Frankly, I trust Mashiro’s judgment about manga more than Miura’s. Well, I trust most people’s judgment more – certainly Hattori, and Eiji, and probably every other editor on staff. Miura is truly pathetic – not only has his advice proved wrong at almost every turn, but he’s failed as an advocate of Ashirogi’s interests with the magazine and he’s failed even at being a responsible adult when the boys’ impetuousness got the better of them. He’s just as immature as they are, but they have an excuse – they’re boys. He’s supposed to be a man and a professional, but he’s so wracked with insecurity that he’s incapable of inspiring or reassuring and even of making his questionable priorities successful.
That’s why every scene with Hattori is heartbreaking, because it’s so clear that he has a better sense of what sort of writers the boys are and how to manage their energy and passion in a positive direction. Even his simple advice to them – “It’s OK to disagree with your editor” – was the most useful thing anyone at the magazine has told them this season. To be honest, I wish Takagi hadn’t even suggested the dual storyboard idea and simply backed Mashiro to the hilt when he was arguing for a serious manga. But Takagai is a peacemaker at heart, and not the bull-headed idealist that Mashiro is. That has it’s uses but I think it was misplaced here, and it’s ended up with what both he and Mashiro believe is the weaker serialization draft going up for submission. The ploy about going to the monthly contest with a third manuscript was a clever one, but it was always going to be a disaster when Miura found out – as Mashiro will learn, weak bosses hate nothing more than having smarter employees go over their heads.
But there it is – Mashiro and Takagi are smarter than Miura, and Mashiro knows more about the manga industry. Miura is doing what weak bosses do – trying to manage from the position he holds rather than from the force of his intelligence and integrity. That childish threat to quit editing was pathetic, a low point even for him. What I wonder is why Ashirogi don’t consider one other option that’s surely open to them – take their work to another magazine. There are other shounen titles in Japan – Shounen Sunday is almost as popular as
Jump Jack – and I’m sure they’d be very interested in teenagers who’d already managed to get a manga into serialization. I’m not sure what their contractual status is, but it seems to me that Ashirogi Muto would be free to shop their work if they haven’t signed a new deal for serialization.
In the meantime, I guess “Two of Me” is on the scrapheap (too bad, sounds like a great idea) and it’s “Hitman 10” on to the serialization draft, with “Future Watch” kicked upstairs for the one—shot contest. It’ll be interesting to see which one the editors choose, and I’m betting on Hitman 10 – because politically, it would be very hard for them to back the one-shot when the editor is pushing the gag manga. Companies that put people like Miura in positions of authority almost never side with right over position, and it would be embarrassing as hell for them to back a writer over an editor, even if they know the writer is right. So it’ll probably be up to the talents of Ashirogi Muto to make the weakest of their three ideas good enough for serialization, and to make their bad editor look smart by doing so.