This series has been on an incredibly strong run for most of this season, but it seems to be in a bit of a trough at the moment. It was probably inevitable, and might even be a necessary element to drive the story in the long-term. Ashirogi have to experience failure and frustration in order to grow as artists and to appreciate their success, and the two main couples have to experience strife in order to grow closer as couples and transition into serious adult relationships. The fact is, though, that frustration and failure aren’t quite as compelling from a viewer standpoint – this viewer, at least – as the highly-charged thrill ride of competitive fire and determined resistance we’ve seen for most of the season.
I’m surprised not one bit that Miyoshi decided to call Azuki to vent her frustrations with Takagi, as that seemed to be the logical next step. Alas, this has created an even bigger mess among the four of them, driving a wedge between Mashiro and Azuki. None of these kids seem to have the maturity or experience to swim through troubled relationship waters at this point, but Takagi is the one I’m most concerned with. In the first place, I think one reason Miyoshi reacted so violently to the letter was that he’s effectively been taking her for granted. And what’s with not calling her for weeks after she disappeared, or trying harder to explain himself to her? Fact is, though Takagi is totally innocent of doing anything improper with Iwase, he’s still created a lot of the mess he finds himself in. There’s a school of relationship thought that says “If you can’t tell your mate about it, you probably shouldn’t be doing it”. Do you think Takagi would want Miyoshi to know about his endless conversations with Aoki?
There’s a lot of irony in that situation. First off, what Miyoshi suspects – totally falsely – Takagi is doing with Iwase he may be doing with Aoki – showing a preference for a talented girl he can relate to artistically. Aoki herself is clearly smitten with Takagi, though she knows he’s with someone and that Iwase is also nuts for him. And Miyoshi gets into trouble with Azuki over the Iwase situation not because there’s anything to hide there, but because Takagi won’t let him explain to her about Aoki. Aoki, of course, compounds things terribly by taking the things Takagi tells her in confidence – Mashiro’s life pretty much verbatim, mostly – and puts it directly into her one-shot, along with her “relationship” with Nakai. The whole thing is a betrayal of trust and totally inappropriate on every level, and just about the only one who isn’t guilty of doing anything wrong here (even Aoki jumps to unwarranted conclusions) is Mashiro, who’s a victim caught in the middle of all this.
Things aren’t much better on the manga front, either. The man-child Miura is leading Ashirogi further down the garden path of gag manga, fueled by his own narrow tastes and juvenile competitiveness. Eiji (as usual) sums it up best – Ashirogi’s gag one-shot is a “model” gag manga, but what if Ashirogi becomes a jack of all trades and master of none? Even Hattori #2 is worried, seeing the impact Ashirogi’s downfall is having on Eiji’s competitive spirit. The coffee conversation between the two Hattoris was very telling, both of them realizing that a great talent is being abused and wasted. I really think the worst thing that could happen is for the one-shot to be successful – it would be the best thing long-term if it fell flat, and disabused Mashiro and Takagi once and for all (Mashiro won’t need much convincing) of the notion that gag manga is a good idea. A serialization would be doomed to mediocrity and probable failure, a detour in Ashirogi’s career path at best and a derailer at worst. Better to face the truth now, and hopefully never have to take Miura’s bad advice again.
I see the way all this impacts on the anime in much the same way. All of this trial is probably necessary, but I’d just as soon the pain be over quickly even if it’s severe – rip that band-off quickly, hair and all, and be done with it. We need to deal with this relationship angst and I want to see the pairings move forward, but I really don’t think that’s Bakuman’s greatest strength. And we need to see how TakaShiro cope with professional failure, but it isn’t nearly as inspiring or exciting to watch as success. I want to get back to seeing them writing a dark story manga, and trying to make it not just a success, but a classic. That, for me, is Bakuman at its best and I hope we get back to that before too much of this second season has passed us by.