I’ve always felt that the true situation on Bakuman at any given time could be read on Mashiro’s face. That’s why it’s so hard to watch now, because every time he appears in close-up it looks like he’s dying inside.
Is this really the same series whose “slow pace” everyone used to complain about? This season has moved along at a breakneck rate, and this ep was no exception. It started out with the long-teased visit with Miyoshi’s parents, and I ended up getting more wrapped up in that than I expected. It takes some suspension of disbelief to accept all the coincidences in this series, but the fact that Miyoshi’s father was Nobuhiro’s best friend certainly brought some poignancy to events. Anything involving Nobuhiro is welcome, as we haven’t seen much of him this season, and seeing him in middle school (looking heartbreakingly like Mashiro) and as a struggling young mangaka really reconnects the viewer to the heart of what Bakuman is all about. The irony is that Kaya only exists because Nobuhiro never told the woman he loved how he felt about her, and in a way sadness over that tragedy which brought him his own happiness is what leads Miyoshi’s Dad to approve of the marriage. Of course his observation – “we should be with the one we love as soon as we can” – is another irony, given the way Mashiro and Azuki have decided to live their lives. It’s amazing how much the nephew is like the uncle, indeed.
In the world of manga, events are speeding past Ashirogi Muto, leaving them in the dust. +Natural premières to huge buzz, generating a first place ranking and causing the issue to sell out in one day. Crow has an anime and Otters 11 is headed for one (late-night… And poor Hiramaru has a big picture of Aoki over his desk, blissfully unaware he’s lost her to Fukuda). It’s obvious to me that Ashirogi – especially Mashiro – know that Tanto is a blind alley, and can see the handwriting on the wall. But it’s at the New Year’s party that the reality of it really hits home. The editorial department is buzzing about “Natural”, Hattori is the rising star of the department, and most painful of all, Niizuma barely acknowledges Ashirogi’s presence. They’re second-class citizens at their own magazine, despite just having gotten their second serialization, and that makes their “success” all the more hollow.
Niizuma may act the part of a clown, but he has all the intelligence and instinct to back up his talent and relentless energy. He’s lamped out Hattori’s plan easily, Hattori’s behavior at the party the final clue (but I suspect Eiji had already made the connection on his own). Of course Hattori is horrified, because due to the insipid corporate politics at “Jack” he can’t be seen to be publicly supporting Ashirogi. But he needn’t worry, because supporting Ashirogi is what Niizuma wants too – though not by losing to them. He’s figured out what we know – that the best thing he can do for them is to crush Tanto as quickly as possible and make them realize that it’s a waste of their talent. The final blow – and I suspect the thing that would really gut Ashirogi if they found out, so I hope they do – is when Eiji tells Hattori #2 that he’s not even reading their retch manga any more. I’ll say it again – the smartest guy in the room (though Hattori is close) – I wouldn’t read it either.
Of course Hattori has his own problems, though he might not realize it yet – the vile Iwase has turned her sights on him. After stopping by Miyoshi and Takagi’s new apartment to offer false congratulations and gloat over +Natural thumping Tanto in the surveys, she reveals that she’s no longer interested in Takagi (HA!) because he’s no longer talented, and that Hattori is her new crush. She’s a complete jerk, but perhaps in her crude way this kind of disdain can be as much a motivation for Takagi to dump Tanto as Eiji’s disinterest is for Mashiro. You know it has to be killing Takago not just to lose to Iwase, but to lose because she’s actually doing something much better than he is. Tanto doesn’t deserve to be doing better than +Natural, and that’s the worst part.
The whole atmosphere with Team Ashirogi is pretty grim right now. They have a genki new assistant, Ichiriki, but it’s sad to see Takahama reduced to working as an assistant again after Miura has crushed his dreams. Tanto premières at 5th, and settles into a rut in 11th place, and Miura’s claims to the contrary, that just won’t cut it. Fact is, this is great talent striving for mediocrity – everything Miura is pushing them to do (a running gag is the new magic bullet they need to find) is directed towards just doing enough to survive. It’s like watching a racehorse pull a dung cart. Ahsirogi is going to get to the point sooner or later where they admit what they already know inside – they’re wasting their lives by dumbing down their work for a dumb editor. But it can’t happen a minute too soon for me.