While this was a pretty busy episode, it pretty much came down to Niizuma dominating the narrative. He tends to do that whenever he’s on-screen anyway, but that’s usually in short bursts – when he’s got as much screen time as this week, he’s going to make a big impression. I think it’s pretty clear at this point that Niizuma’s savvy about the business exceeds anyone else in the show, including the editors, and is matched only by his ridiculous combination of talent and energy. There’s just no slowing him down – as he says, “I’ll be a boy forever – that’s why I draw shounen manga.” Of course that doesn’t stop Iwase from deciding to make a man out of him…
About the only person whose talent really seems to get Eiji charged up is Mashiro, and that’s why they make pretty much ideal friendly rivals – each capable of pushing each other to heights they wouldn’t achieve alone. Friendly rivals is very much the theme of this episode, with Takahama having survived Miura’s sabotage and gotten a new syndication (a courtroom manga) and Fukuda launching his racing series. So with the Sasaki’s inane deadline for PCP (which blabbermouth Miura told Iwase about) approaching the competition is intense – especially with +Natural’s anime about to start.
It also seems as if this is the point where Mashiro goes all-in on his manga career. He drops out of college to devote himself fully to his art, which he’s come to realize – with Niizuma’s help – is what’s keeping PCP from breaking through against the top hitters. The degree to which Niizuma is able to see everything clearly is probably a bit unrealistic, but he and Mashiro do have a kind of sync with each other, and thus Mashiro comes to realize that just because PCP is a realistic story – by Shounen Jump terms anyway – that doesn’t mean the art should never be flashy and wildly creative. Spurred on by Mashiro’s improvement – and PCP’s rise in the polls – Eiji ups the ante, giving Crow a completely dialogue-free chapter (is this based on a real event?) just to show Ashirogi-sensei that it’s possible to tell a story in manga form with just art. Of course if Ashirogi tried it Takagi would be out of a job.
As heroic as Eiji is this week, his actions in the final part of the episode seem a bit dodgy from an ethical standpoint. Iwase talks him into doing a crossover between Crow and +Natural, which is kept from Ashirogi and Hattori – and not only that, it’s placed in the issue where PCP gets its full-color cover spread. Fierce rivalry is one thing, but this seems a bit different from anything else that’s happened in the Eiji-Ashirogi battle – and even if it was Iwase’s idea, Eiji still had to go along. This feels more like a stunt than anything else, and that’s not normally Eiji’s style. Of course Sasaki is fine with it, because cross-promotion certainly doesn’t do the magazine any harm – but in a battle among men, this feels a little underhanded.