There are lots of very interesting things going on in this episode of Bakuman, though none of them can trump the explosive potential of the last few seconds of the episode and the preview. I think we’re in for a very briskly paced and exciting final six episodes, but as we saw with the first part of this one there’s going to be some time set aside for tying up loose ends. And I know the one that was tied up this week is one many manga readers have been waiting for.
It was certainly interesting to see Yoshida flash back to his original meeting with Hiramaru, especially given as it happened just as he was getting ready to make Hiramaru miserable for his own selfish gain as he’s done countless times already. There’s no two ways about it – Yoshida has treated his author abominably during the course of this series, and I don’t rank his behavior this week as sufficient to make up for all the harm he’s caused. Rather, the fact that his naïve new mangaka said nothing more than “Make me happy!” during that original meeting makes Yoshida’s behavior since all the more reprehensible. In spite of this Hiramaru has emerged as one of the better elements of Bakuman – certainly he’s provided some of the best comic moments of the last two seasons. I suppose it’s better than Yoshida finally had a glimmer of conscience which stopped him sabotaging Hiramaru’s life once more, at the critical juncture of considering a proposal to Yuri, than if he’d continued to play his Rasputin-like role, but it’s pretty late in the game if you ask me.
As for Yuri, I can’t help but feel sorry for her – and it strikes me that she really oughtn’t to be writing for Shounen Jack in the first place. I don’t quite see the necessity to keep trying to shoehorn her Josei style into a shounen format, apart from the fact that “Jack” sees commercial potential there and don’t want to let her go. As much as I like Hiramaru it’s almost hard to believe anyone – much less a sensible and bright woman like Aoki – would agree to actually marry him. But then again, she did say she’s never even dated (yikes!) anyone else. As dysfunctional as he is this is still a pretty charming couple for the simple reason that both of them are likable people, and it’s nice to see them get their happy ending – hell, he even got his 50 million yen (YIKES!!) ring back (but this is Japan, after all).
That story complete, it’s back to what’s emerged as the central pillar of the final arc of Bakuman – the eternal rivalry between Ashirogi Muto and Niizuma Eiji. We actually got a check-in with Ashirogi at the beginning of the episode, where they tried to sell Hattori on the idea of burning bright and burning out in 50 chapters. Hattori’s “If it clearly becomes boring if you’re forced to prolong it, then…” (by the way, that “…” is a hugely important part of the Japanese language, as obsessed as it is with avoiding direct criticism and confrontation) really strikes me as the final proof that the gloves are off as far as Ohba and Obata are concerned. This is their chance to re-write the scenario of “Death Note” and its handling by Shounen Jump as they think it should’ve been handled in real-life. We even get a look at “Hikaru no Go, and “Death Note” next to “Trap”, “Tanto” and “PCP” on Mashiro’s bookshelf. We’ll see just how biting this gets over the last few episodes.
The context for that bookcase shot is the brewing battle between “Reversi” and “Zombie Gun”. In the reader polls “Reversi” is holding its own, even nosing in front – but when it comes to sales of the first volume of the manga, “Zombie” wins in a landslide. While “Reversi” does quite well on its initial release, as it’s sitting on 380,000 copies in print “Zombie” has already had over a million in its run. There are many reasons – as Takagi says, name recognition plays a big factor in volume sales, and Ashirogi Muto isn’t the huge name that Niizuma Eiji is. As Eiji himself says, “Reversi” is more exciting when read by the chapter, and Hattori opines that part of the issue is that kids and women aren’t as fond of “Reversi” as they are of “Zombie Gun”. None of this can come as a huge surprise, but the crux of the issue comes in the discussion of what to do about it. Mashiro suggests a mascot character, “breather” chapters, and Hattori suggests toning the big words down some. None of that is a bad idea in a vacuum, but it seems like the sort of thing that will undercut a series like “Reversi”, and what Ashirogi are trying to do with it.
The ep concludes with the Tezuka/Akatsuka Awards party, and it’s one of the most fascinating scenes Bakuman has ever offered up. First off, the award ceremony is in 2017 – is Bakuman really set in 2017 at this point? In any event Eiji is a judge for the Tezukas, and playing the role of celebrity, fawned over by adoring animation execs fighting over the rights to “Zombie Gun”. He takes the time to heap praise on “Reversi” after telling Ashirogi it’s been a “Bleach long time!” since they’ve met – and makes it clear he still considers it a threat despite the chasm in volume sales. Katou-chan blows the lid of the secret of Mashiro and Azuki’s relationship. And most critically, an animation exec (just the one) tracks down Ashirogi and offers his card – no doubt, intent on discussing “Reversi”. The preview suggests the theme of the next episode “Pride or Dreams” – and it’s hard to escape the conclusion that Ashirogi is going to have to face the ultimate artistic choice. It seems likely that a “Reversi” anime is contingent on it being a long-running manga, and that Ashirogi will have to decide whether achieving their dream at long last is worth sacrificing some of their artistic integrity by milking
Death Note “Reversi “ beyond what they know is right. If indeed that’s the focus of the rest of the series and not just the next episode, Bakuman could hardly have chosen to end with a more fundamental conflict.