It’s interesting that we ended up getting an episode about arguably the two least likable major characters in Bakuman, Iwase and Sasaki. And it worked damn well, too – half of it anyway. You can really see the time crunch the anime is facing trying to cram the rest of the manga into this season in a episode like this one, which ended up effectively being two mini-episodes Shirokuma Café style. That’s not Bakuman style, and it’s obvious that the events before and after the eyecatch would normally have been an entire episode on their own. And given how tantalizing the reveals this week were, it’s almost criminal that we only have eight episodes left to see them brought to life.
Starting with Iwase was probably a good thing, although to be honest if it weren’t for the need to keep the audience aware of what’s happening with “Natural” become of Eiji’s involvement I wouldn’t have minded seeing it skipped altogether. It was basically a confirmation of two things we already know – Iwase is an annoying pain-in-the-ass and Miura is a terrible editor. As sorry as I felt for the likes of Takahama at being saddled with him, I don’t feel any sympathy for Iwase – I don’t think I’m capable of it, to be honest – but I do think it’s clear that “Natural” has suffered from effectively having no editor. That would be fine for “Crow”, because Eiji knows more about the editor’s job that most of the editors and is completely self-motivated. But Iwase is headstrong, selfish and not especially versed in how the world of shounen manga works – she needed someone with a little spine to stand up to her and force her in the right direction. Needless to say Miura isn’t that person, and of course it fell to her colleagues to pull her back from the edge after he couldn’t. By far the highlight of the A-part is a great all-out geek moment – Ashirogi and the assistants having a discussion of what their favorite manga are, and which they thing are the best (and why it’s a different question). It’s interesting to note that Takagi was the only one who never gave an answer to his own question.
The second half was so full of good stuff that it was hard to believe it only lasted 11 minutes, though – and even more surprisingly it didn’t feel all that rushed. Sasaki is being shifted over to “Hisshou Jack” (read, “Jump Square”) and that means big changes at Jack – Heishi moving up to Chief Editor, Aida being promoted to Assistant Chief and Hattori B (Yujiro) making Department Leader. The last of those surprises me because his big hit is a success he had absolutely nothing to do with the success of, but corporate politics is what it is. In any event, the main impact on the story is that we see a new side of Sasaki here, and while I wouldn’t go so far as to say it makes him likable, it does say something that he was willing to actually apologize for some of the stupidity he’s shown in his treatment of Ashirogi over the years (especially as regards Mashiro’s illness). Apologizing isn’t the shortcut to redemption anime sometimes makes it out to be, but there are those who stubbornly refuse to admit their wrongs right up to the grave, and I’ll give Sasaki credit at least for not being one of them.
The soft side of Sasaki, of course, has always been most visible where Uncle Tarou is concerned. The pain his death caused Sasaki has been the most human face we’ve seen from the Chief Editor, and it’s undeniably true he treated Mashiro different than any other author as a result (he admitted it himself long before this episode). Anything Bakuman does with Nobuhiro’s character always cuts me to ribbons, and this was no different – Sasaki reveals that he asked Sasaki to look after Masahiro after he turned pro, and dreamed of the two of them being serialized together in Jack. That was not to be, of course, but during his farewell tour (I don’t give him much props for this, as it’s a job requirement in these situations) Sasaki does reveal his belief that only Ashirogi can surpass Eiji. He also tells Ashirogi that Eiji’s new manga is close to being ready (something tells me it won’t have any problems in the serialization meeting).
It’s this news that inspires Ashirogi to the belief that it’s finally time to write the manga that can take them to the top. And, as expected, it has strong echoes of Death Note – the story of a young man with powers granted by a demon (in this instance, to brainwash others) who used them to try and “improve” the world by his own megalomaniacal standard. The genesis of this manga is a perfect example of why Ashirogi works as a team: it’s an idea Takagi drafted inspired by an image Mashiro created, which Mashiro then improved after Takagi shared it. Mashiro is the one with the vision (both literally and figuratively) and Takagi the one who can hammer out the details. They are, in a sense, the artist and the craftsman – ideally suited to complete the other creatively (though Mashiro would certainly be the more irreplaceable). The final product sounds a bit (but only a bit) less like Death Note – a series with dual protagonists, each with demonic powers, fighting a battle over ideals. It is, as Mashiro says, an evolution of Ashirogi’s style – a conventional battle manga with dark and “alternative” themes. And as such, it can finally take on Eiji in a way their earlier works could not.
This is where we’re set up for what sounds like a blockbuster of a final arc. Eiji’s new manga sounds wild, a zombie romance, and if he’s this hyped up on it (and this determined to make it the best ever) you can damn well believe it’s going to be great. It should be a battle of the titans – the two most talented Jack authors of their generation going head-to-head with ideas that overlap, but are radically different too. There are practicalities to be ironed out first – most obviously, what to do with “PCP” – which is still, after all, a hit. Ashirogi could try and manage two weekly serializations but I’m skeptical about that – and it’s striking that Bakuman went out of its way to introduce the creation of Hisshou Jack, and mention Tarou’s request of Sasaki. Might “PCP” switch to a monthly format so that Sasaki could still watch over Mashiro, while Ashirogi writes their new series for weekly Jack?