Bakuman 2 – 20

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Our long nightmare is finally over…

I don’t know about you, but the process of watching Mashiro die a slow death every week on Bakuman has been a life-draining, exhausting experience.  His face is always the perfect barometer for events in the series, and it’s heartbreaking to watch all the idealism and confidence being sucked out of him by this hideous Tanto around his neck. Takagi has it rough too, having to come up with the jokes every week – but he never takes things to heart like his partner does, and his concerns have always been more practical and straightforward (like lack of sleep).

I really think Bakuman is at its best when it rails against the injustice of a cold, stupid corporate bureaucracy that sees art and artists only as natural resources to be exploited.  The hospitalization arc earlier this season was my favorite so far, and it had me yelling at the screen more than any anime I can remember.   That’s why it was so hard to watch Ashirogi Muto meekly going along with the incompetent Miura’s ideas, sacrificing their own ideals in order to fit it.  It was out of character for them (especially Mashiro) and out of character for the show to be focusing on it.  I think I can appreciate the larger point of the whole Tanto exercise, and why the mangakas thought it necessary – but it was just too much for me (and I know it went on even longer in the manga).  That’s why this week’s ep had me yelling at the screen, and why I’m so relieved that events finally came to a head.

While Takagi is technically the second lead in this show, I’ve felt almost from his introduction that Hattori was actually the other indispensable figure in Bakuman.  Takagi is Mashiro’s partner but Hattori is his muse, the one that truly understands his artistic temperament.  Mashiro is a complicated kid, and his motivations are complicated too.  He needs Takagi to be his practical side, Miho to feed his romantic ideals, and Eiji to fire up his shounen spirit.  I think it’s really Hattori, though, that ultimately orchestrates all of it.  Hattrori is a remarkable man, someone who knows how to play the system but isn’t afraid to cheat when it suits his larger purpose.  He’s fundamentally different from his colleagues (with the possible exception of Aida) in that he sees his artists as people first, and not just resources.  His refusal to exploit Iwase’s crush as a motivational tool for her writing surprised his fellow Hattori, and we’ve all seen what Yoshida does to Hiramaru.  But Hattori is fundamentally different from them, and that’s why he’s never stopped caring about Ashirogi despite no longer being their editor.

I know some would no doubt criticize Mashiro for disrupting Takagi and Kaya’s wedding by seeking out Hattori, and I can definitely sympathize – it was rough timing.  But I think that’s just a fundamental part of who Mashiro is.  He’s odd, difficult, idealistic and opinionated – and above all, he’s got balls of steel.  He seized upon that moment because he simply couldn’t take it anymore, and Hattori was the only one he could truly go to – and this was likely to be his only chance.  I confess it was pure orgiastic bliss seeing the pants-pissing look on Miura’s face when Hattori and Mashiro left the banquet hall, and it was long overdue.  Mashiro did what he did – he pushed and pushed for a straight answer, and Hattori respects his talent and integrity too much not to give it to him, no matter how “inappropriate” it was according to corporate politics.  He didn’t pull his punches – he told Mashiro that Ashirogi was already considered a “troublemaker” (I’d wear that as a badge of honor if I worked for those people) and that mangaka with two early cancellations can be blacklisted.  But then he told Mashiro the truth, because he knew he could take it.

Of course it’s been Hattori’s aim all along to push Ashirogi (effectively, Mashiro) to take back control of their career path, though even he probably didn’t know it would play out like this.  Ashirogi is lucky to have friends like Hattori and Eiji who care so much about motivating them and respect their talent.  And it was Eiji’s pronouncement during his TV interview that Ashirogi was his “enemy” that finally pushed Mashiro over the edge.  He literally ran home to his room and pounded his pillow in frustration, and then did a surprising and healthy thing – he called Miho.  And she came through with flying colors, telling him to do what he believed him and that she’d support him through it – and so would Takagi and Kaya.  It’s a real step forward in their relationship that he thought of her for solace in his darkest moment – not to mention the significant fact that she told him she loved him.  Mashiro may be idealistic but he’s not stupid – he fully understood the position his desire to quit would put Takagi – newly married – in.  Most people probably would have swallowed their bile and dealt with it as a concession to practicality, and logically that’s the right thing.  But not being practical and logical is what makes Mashiro what he is, and I was thrilled to see him make his stand.

So as you can imagine, I was yelling at the screen pretty good when Miura led Ashirogi into the office to present their demand to quit in person.  Heishi was his usual toadie self, giving them the company line about the kids vote and taking pride in their work.  Of course that’s what this is all about, doing work you can take pride in – and Ashirogi was doing Miura’s work with Tanto, not their own.  So it was on Mashiro to be impractical one last time and go over Heishi’s head straight to Sasaki, who made them the offer I expected – you can quit, but say goodbye to “Jack” if you do.  I would have loved to have seen that happen, though of course it was never a possibility.  But after Hattori jumped in again to attempt to defuse the situation, Sasaki surprisingly stated what was true – this was “a problem with the editing department” – and Heishi (sensing the change in mood, no doubt) jumped in to say that Ashirogi had the talent to challenge Eiji, but hadn’t had the chance to show it (the reflection about Miura’s ability is clear).  Things end up with a deal – a serialization candidate that can beat Eiji by year’s end, or Ashirogi is terminated.  Either way, they – and we – win, because Tanto is no more.

If the aim was to show us how difficult the artist’s path in the corporate world is, Bakuman has done a hell of a job here – I just wish it could have been done a whole lot quicker.  Whatever happens next is almost sure to be an improvement, because watching Ashirogi struggle – even if they fail – is better than watching them churn out something they don’t even like themselves.  Ultimately this is Mashiro’s story, and Mashiro is neither conventional or cautious.  He’s a dangerously single-minded kid who figures to live his artistic life on the edge, and that’s what makes his struggle so interesting to watch.  And I suspect it’s going to be a whole lot more fun to watch that struggle from here on out than the last couple of months have been.

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  1. b

    Yeah you had no idea how hard it was for the manga readers to get to this point. This episode covered 3 chapters I think. Add the other episodes for the Tanto arc that also covered the same number of chapters and…yeah.
    Congrats, you made it past the Tanto arc 🙂

    And this episode was really amazing. Especially the phone conversation and the last parts. Feels really different from the manga. Now for the last stretch until the third season.

    Lol no mention of Bleach in the TV interview.
    Though why Inumaru Dash?

  2. d

    I can not find the right words to describe how overjoyed I was about Ashirogi quitting Tanto. As hard as it was to go through the Tanto arc, I think this is the fastest that they could have done it. Dam, Mashiro sure is lucky to have Azuki as his girlfriend. She gave him advice, support and even a little loving when he needed it the most. My star of this episode is Hattori no doubt. I loved how he mentioned all the mangas that were interesting and left out Tanto during his speech at the wedding and told Mashiro what he needed to hear. Now Ashirogi is back to the position I think they excel best at. A blank slate, backed into a corner with only their talent and guts to pull them through. I really hope this season ends in a high note like last season.

  3. n

    Miura was totally shocked to hear that Ahsirogi Muto can surpass Eiji – he had probably never even suspected they had the potential, and was quite happy with them just being serialized. Hopefully, he is now fired up enough to aim higher then usual – that is, higher then the lowest possible..

  4. Boy Karma, you love giving manga spoilers, don't you?

  5. K

    It won't be a problem here any more.

  6. n

    oh, something that came to me when they were speaking of Nakai – possibly his name indicates his ultimate downfall (for the time being, anyway): put the last syllable first, and you get 'inaka', Japanese for 'country side', that was used to describe where he went home to. pure coincidence, perhaps, but it's in the same vein of Niizuma calling using Maniizu as a pseudonym, so maybe there's something there.

  7. I'm guessing we see Nakai again, but that's just a guess.

    Hattori and Mashiro were both the stars of the ep for me. Hattori is a master of manipulation, but unlike Yoshida he does it with the interests of the mangaka at heart. He's the perfect complement to Mashiro, who's got raw talent, righteousness and no filter. Hattori gently tweaks both the system and Mashiro's psyche to get Ashirogi to a better place.

    Miura can get psyched all he wants, he's still a hopeless turd. If he's still their editor when they do rival Eiji it'll be in spite of Miura, not because of him.

  8. t

    Hattori is easily one of my favourite characters in manga/anime. He fits into no stereotypes, looks nothing like you'd expect and his defining trait is caring. I hate Tanto and Miura, but what it showed us about the characters, particularly Azuki and Hattori almost makes it worth it.

  9. M

    Finally over…

    Now I have a pretty good idea of where they plan on ending this season (ch. 91 for the manga readers). Although I'm curious as to how they plan on adapting the material starting next week since a character the anime decided to eliminate plays a somewhat bigger role here.

  10. F

    I think you can call a lot of characters in this series crucial. After all it wasn't Hattori that pushed things over the edge for Ashirogi it was Niizuma. Not that I don't think Hattori is a great character and important, but not sure he flies above just about every other character either. The whole Hospital arc kind of brought Mashiro down for me in terms of interest. So clearly since I didn't care about that arc this whole second season has pretty much been a rough thing to watch. Only a few highlights like the growth of Aoki's character, Takagi and Kaya getting together, helped keep this going.

    Just glad that Tanto is done and they can work on something good before this second season wraps up.

  11. I totally bought the hospital arc, so for me S2 was great until Tanto came along,

    It's interesting to me that someone would be a fan of Bakuman and not like Mashiro. Totally legit and I can see why someone might not like him, but it always seemed to be that buying Mashiro – with all his faults – was kind of crucial to buying Bakuman. The whole premise of the series is a celebration of his dream, more or less. But that's just me – obviously it's a series that can be enjoyed on different levels.

  12. T

    Phew, it looks like I can start watching Bakuman again. I read the manga and suffered through the Tanto arc, so as soon as I learned of Miura's appearance in the anime, I dropped the show as fast as I could.

    Seriously, I'm not sure if I said this earlier, but I really hate Miura's presence in Bakuman; he's the epitome of an incompetent character that ruins things for others.

    Now then, onwards to the rest of the series :3

  13. Welcome back, Tsuki!

    As someone who has worked for corporations, I've known many Miuras and at least he's fun to hate. But incompetent managers who hurt the careers of young, talented and naive employees have a special place in hell.

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