Considering that almost the entire episode was focused on romantic entanglements and what little that focused on manga was bad news, I liked this episode a lot more than I expected to. Mostly that’s because the romance side of things was handled about as well here as the series has ever handled it. It’s more clear than ever just how much all of the protagonists are still children when it comes to relationships, especially the boys. It manifests itself differently in each relationship – for the main pair it’s stubbornness and a kind of impossibly idealistic purity, but for Takagi and Miyoshi it’s just plan silliness and stupidity. Takagi is really the source of most of the problem here, but I don’t think it was malicious – he just didn’t think about what his relationship with Aoki would look like to Miyoshi. That’s not to say that he wasn’t crushing on her a little, and he knew enough to know he didn’t want to tell Miyoshi about it. But the bigger problem has been the way he’s generally taken Miyoshi for granted, and quite frankly I seriously question whether he loves her – he certainly hasn’t acted like it most of the time.
Indeed, I think it could be argued that Takagi mainly reconciled with Miyoshi not because he missed her, but because he felt guilty (not without reason) for causing friction between Mashiro and Azuki, and because he was worried about how it was impacting Mashiro’s work. Not that coming clean wasn’t the right thing to do, though Aoki’s appearance at the zoo was enough to make things even worse. Takagi’s hail Mary pass of proposing was right in-line with his childish relationship approach, and I’m not at all sure marrying her is a good idea whatsoever. But Miyoshi (though violent) has the patience of a saint, even agreeing to let him keep exchanging ideas with Aoki as long as Aoki can she can “become friends too”, a transparent ploy to make sure she can keep an eye on Aoki.
Of course the nominally adult Aoki and Nakai should know better, and they’re proving themselves every bit the equal of the kids in relationship incompetence. Aoki let herself fall in love with a guy she knew was taken, and used stuff he told her in confidence to sell a manga (something I don’t think has gotten the criticism it deserves). As for Nakai, I lost a great deal of respect for him when he gave Aoki the “date me or I won’t draw for you” line in the family restaurant. That was despicable, frankly, and while I’m kind of mixed on Aoki generally I was pleased to see her give him a sock to the face for that. It leaves them both in trouble professionally, with her one-shot still lacking an artist and him passing up another chance to draw for “Jump” for purely personal reasons. As for MashiZuki, well, they’re back together now that Takagi has come clean – though “together” has to be taken with it’s usual grain of salt where these two are concerned. In their spat I tend to believe Mashiro was right, and that Azuki was applying a double-standard. It’s OK for her to decide what’s OK to keep a secret, but not him? She should have trusted him because he never gave her any reason not to. More than anything I felt sorry for Mashiro, because the level of naiveté and innocence he brings to romance is almost staggering.
Sadly, Tanto did well in the rankings in “Next” – finishing first, in fact, though against a field of lesser talents Ashirogi should really have expected no less. I fear that means we’re looking at more time wasted going down the rabbit hole of gag manga, as it’s hard not to see Tanto being serialized after that. Maybe Sasaki will surprise me and look past the numbers, showing some real wisdom in realizing that gag manga isn’t Ashirogi’s thing and that there’s more to serialization decisions than survey results. I wonder if the authors simply wanted to take some time to explore the world of gag manga and threw this detour in just for that purpose – it does seem as if Bakuman is trying to be a comprehensive look at the manga industry after all. I have no doubt that we’ll get past this sooner or later, as there’s no question gag manga isn’t Ashirogi’s ultimate destiny, but for my own selfish enjoyment I sincerely hope it’s sooner.