This is, to say the least, an interesting development. Not least because it represents a real sea change for Bakuman in the way it approaches its story. The series is expert at drawing characters who dance delicately perched between outright antagonistic and merely misguided – Yoshida, Iwase, Sasaki, Miura to name a few – but as far as I can recall this is the first time Bakuman has presented us with someone who might genuinely be called a villain. With that in mind, I have two questions foremost on my mind:
- Is Nanamine Tooru based on a specific real-life mangaka?
- Is Sasaki aware he’s being played and going along for business reasons, or is he snowed by Nanamine’s act?
- Are Ohba and Obata even taking the position that Nanamine is completely in the wrong?
Things start out with a fairly extended picture drama of “Classroom of Truth”, with Abe Atsushi, Hino Satoshi and Koyasu Takehito providing most of the voices. And without a doubt it’s an interesting manga – yet another picture-in-picture moment for Bakuman where it presents a fake manga I wish was a real one. There are elements of Mirai Nikki and Deadman Wonderland here, but of course those are seinen manga – and there’s no doubt that CoT is a seinen manga too, like “Money and Intelligence” not really well-suited for Shounen Jack.
With the formal introduction of Nanamine (Tachibana Shinnusokue) Bakuman begins exploring some new directions. In truth, his nice-guy act rings so false from the beginning that it’s hard to believe anyone would fall for it, but then, things do fall perfectly for him when he’s assigned newbie editor Kosugi Tatsurou (Kaji Yuuki) a softball if ever one was pitched. Turns out that Nanamine has been playing a game from the beginning, knowing “Truth” would never be published in Jack, and he executes his master plan by uploading the story to the internet after Kosugi confidentially informs him that it hasn’t won “Treasure”. This forces the hand of the magazine, and gets him called onto the carpet in front of Sasaki – which is exactly what Nanamine wants.
There’s absolutely no question that Nanamine is a calculating bastard, and he crosses comfortably past some ethical lines – certainly be uploading “Truth”, and most egregiously by incorporating the ideas of online confidantes in his manga and claiming credit for them. But it’s my sincere hope that he – like almost all the Bakuman cast so far – turns out to be a complicated person rather than an outright baddie. In the first place, his admiration for Ashirogi is certainly genuine and he’s not wrong that pretty much all manga “rips off” those that came before whom the mangaka idolizes, but even more – can we say that his entire approach is wrong? I’m not convinced that the editorial staff at Jack is uniformly the best people to be deciding what gets published, and what forms it takes. For every Hattori there’s a Miura, and Sasaki himself is a man of extremely dubious judgment.
I think Nanamine may actually have hit on something here – a new way of going about the manga game that makes some very sensible changes to a system that’s basically been unchanged for 30 years despite the advances in mass communication over that time. Why not involve the public more directly in the creative process? Why shouldn’t an author have a more direct and collaborative relationship with the audience? This would obviously represent a very dire threat to the existing power structure in the industry, and it’s worth repeating that even if there’s a kernel of wisdom in his ideas, Nanamine is probably the wrong messenger. He’s clearly unethical and has no notion of the boundaries that shouldn’t be crossed, in the name of progress or anything else.
In purely practical terms, Nanamine represents a very real threat to Ashirogi Muto’s future plans. His sensibility overlaps directly with theirs, and he may be ahead of Takagi in terms of what directions to take their work in the future. He’s clearly got real talent and has no hesitation in doing whatever it takes to get ahead, and his admiration for Ashirogi surely won’t give him pause when it comes to stomping on them. But Mashiro and Takagi have always performed best when under threat (Hattori has already figured this out), and when they’re feeling righteously indignant – and with an unethical phenom trying to occupy the same creative space they are, they have every reason to feel both threatened and outraged here. I expect this development to push the two of them to their highest creative peak so far.