It’s always been pretty obvious that Bakuman is as much as anything a love story, but an unconventional one – a chronicle of the authors’ undying love for the art of manga, and the people who dedicate their lives to it. That’s a noble effort, but watching an episode like this one is a good reminder that this story is very much about people, too. I’m really struck by how lucky Mashiro (who, by the way, proves himself a lightweight of the highest order on New Years Eve) is to have people like Kaya and Takagi in his life, and by how lucky both he and Takagi are to have Hattori. Kaya is a true treasure, a character whose charms only reveal themselves over time. She’s the unsung hero of Bakuman – kind, loving, supportive and patient – and not always all that well-treated by her husband (though it’s generally thoughtlessness and not anything malicious). Surely, then, in part this series is a love letter from Ohba-sensei to the love of his life.
Hattori’s merits are more plainly apparent – he’s been a quirkily heroic figure since his introduction. But it’s rare that we get an editor made out to be a hero, and you get the sense in watching this episode that both Ohba and Obata-sensei wanted to use Bakuman as a way to express gratitude to someone without whom they’d never have had the career they did. Hattori is if anything almost too perfect as an editor – he’s unfailingly loyal to his authors’ interests, but willing to push back when he feels they’re headed in the wrong direction. He has his flaws though, mainly in his impetuousness and occasional naiveté about the business side of things. His reaction to the anime possibility was classic Hattori – thrilled for Ashirogi but vigilant about what this would mean for their artistic integrity.
The question of compromise in art is one of the oldest and most-debated themes in literature – hardly surprising as literature is created by artists. The parallel to the uncompromising (some would say to a silly degree) nature of Mashiro’s relationship with Azuki is absolutely not coincidental. I have to say I saw this debate coming (not that it was hard to) and as well, that I agree with Takagi here. This is an opportunity, a dream realized – and as one spends more time in life they come to realize that dreams must be seized on when the opportunity presents itself, as it may never do so again. There are no sure things in life, and a chance at an anime – even if it means giving a little ground on the length of “Reversi” – isn’t something to be dismissed lightly. Not that I don’t understand Mashiro’s view on this, and he’s certainly right that Takagi is determined to proceed largely because of Mashiro’s dream. But this is a time to have faith in Takagi’s ability to make things right no matter what happens.
Of course Hattori to some extent makes that debate irrelevant by stepping up to the plate, big-time – he says he’ll push for the anime and any controversy about length he’ll take responsibility for. It’s hard to know where reality stops and Bakuman starts here – how did the discussions with Death Note go? Was the real-life Hattori pushing to let the authors end the series after the great duel of wits ended and was overruled, or did the authors plow ahead and wish later they’d heeded his advice? It seems unlikely we’ll ever know exactly what did happen, but what matters for Bakuman is that Hattori is pushing for a “Reversi” anime. The fly in the ointment is that Eiji – after initially agreeing with Yuujiro that “Zombie Gun” shouldn’t get an anime for three years – decides to push for one immediately upon hearing that would likely mean a “Reversi” anime. I’m not sure I feel that’s 100% in character for Niizuma – as competitive as he is, would he really push his own work before it’s ready as a means to keep Ashirogi from surpassing him? I don’t doubt his near-mythic ability would allow him to write specifically for the anime while continuing the manga, but frankly it seems a little petty by Eiji’s standards.
We’re left with a cliffhanger as to the big decision, but if I were a betting man I’d guess Heishi is going to push the “Reversi” anime over “ZG” at this point. Why? Any number of reasons – not least of which that “ZG” is sure to be a monster even if the manga is delayed, but “Reversi” would surely rise to another level of popularity. It might also prove capable of expanding the reach of the magazine because of its more dense content. I think the conflict and delayed gratification alluded to in the preview is likely to be a snag over Azuki getting the lead role, but that’s just a guess. All I know is this – we’ve a month left, and now every episode spent on the excruciating “Tanto” arc is an agonizing knife in the gut. How great would it be to have a few more episodes to dedicate to the realization of Mashiro’s dream, instead of having to rush through them?