Bakuman 3 – 23

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When it comes to drama, emotional honesty can overcome an awful lot.

I’ll be very honest – I had some serious reservations once it became clear which way this episode was headed.  Bakuman set itself a pretty high hurdle to leap with the public audition storyline, and to say I was skeptical would be an understatement.  It seemed like a reach from a narrative standpoint and a bad idea from a real-world standpoint.  But as I’ve said many times, Bakuman is remarkable in that it can outstrip almost any action series for thrills and suspense despite being a realistic story of two guys trying to make it in the manga business.  And somehow, the episode pulled it off.

Why did this seemingly contrived and somewhat far-fetched storyline work so well in such a grounded series?  Well, again, emotional honesty for starters.  Bakuman is so transparently and obviously the product of the real feelings of its creators that it carries an authenticity that goes far beyond simply not having magic or giant robots.  I think they’ve built up so much credibility now that I’m willing to forgive a lot – but even more than that, the execution of the audition sequence was so strong (here again the presence of a stalwart director like Kasai Kenichi really pays dividends) that I didn’t need to rely on that.  It worked on its own terms.

Then there’s the matter (ironically) of some very interesting casting.  For the role of the “Reversi” anime director JC Staff got Ebara Masahi (Hideyoshi from Hyouge Mono, Van Hohenheim, Alastor among many, many iconic roles).  He instantly brings a gravity and presence to that minor role that’s so crucial to this little drama.  And then there was the choice of Hirano Fumi (Keito from Tsuritama) to play Gouda, the veteran seiyuu competing against Azuki for the role of Naho.  The notion of having a 57 year-old actress play the role of an actress trying out for the role of a high-schooler is fascinating on so many levels – hilariously self-referential, cuttingly satirical, and very witty.  And I have to give it up the wonderful Hirano-san – when she launched into her Naho voice, it really felt as if 30 years (I can’t quite give her 40) dropped off her.

From the beginning, I thought the public audition was a bad idea – both by Ohba and Obata, and by Ebara-sensei.  The whole Azuki-Reversi scenario had the feel of a no-win situation, despite Azuki’s Hail-Mary pass of going for complete honesty on her radio show.  No matter what happened most of the public would inevitably decide she was given the role based on her relationship with Mashiro (and they wouldn’t be completely wrong).  Frankly I didn’t see any way out of this that wouldn’t taint Mashiro and Azuki’s happy ending, and Ebara-sensei’s public audition scheme felt like a cheap publicity stunt that would only make things worse, if anything.

So what happened?  Well, in addition to a dynamic among the 20 contestants that was much more interesting than anticipated, I think the fact is that Bakuman figured out the only possible way this could possibly work without feeling like a complete asspull – they had Azuki win over the audience for exactly the right reason.  It isn’t simply that Azuki knows “Reversi” better than anyone – it’s that Naho is Azuki.  That’s why Azuki should be the one to play her irrespective of her connections – she understands the role in a fundamental way no one else ever could.  Like all Ashirogi’s female leads, Naho is a love letter from Mashiro to Azuki.  And so her factual familiarity played a role, in her catching the Weiss/Schwarz mistake in the script.  And her innate familiarity played a role, because she brought out the depth in the character the way none of the other candidates did.  So when she won by a landslide (among 191,228 votes cast!) it didn’t seem cheap or contrived – instead, it seemed like the only possible outcome.

Contrary to the title – “The Right Way to End” – episode 24 is not the finale, but the penultimate episode.  I think at this point it’s pretty clear where things are going to end up.  “Reversi” is clearly a very good and popular manga already, and the Azuki Miho controversy has provided it a gargantuan PR boost – it’s going to be a hit.  More than in almost any other series, Bakuman comes down to simply wanting the characters to get their happy ending.  The main characters are, almost to a fault, really nice people who’ve earned it through their hard work and their loyalty to each other.  Takagi and Kaya’s unending love and support for Mashiro is every bit as powerful as the romance angle (with either couple) but it’s fitting that we should close with the storybook “and they lived happily ever after” ending for the fairy tale romance of Mashiro and Azuki.  They, too, win you over with their sheer niceness and their remarkable dedication to each other and the silly but endearing fantasy they’ve built together.  Even realistic anime can have their storybook endings sometimes, if they’ve earned them.

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6 comments

  1. G

    I'm glad that the series did not go the route that many american singing competitions go thru where people that are clearly more talented get let go over someone that is not as good but might be prettier and more popular.

    Frankly I'm shocked the otaku fanboys did not skew the vote against her when they found out she had a boyfriend either.

  2. I think they did, but it's like Takagi said – it works to Miho's advantage that so many "normals" knew about the show because of the controversy. With 191K votes, they drowned out the idol creepers.

  3. R

    Thanks Enzo for this review — what you said is exactly how I felt when watching this episode. One of the things is that the story in the last episode also helped me in great deal when watching this one. Like you said previously, Miho is like Arata in Chihayafuru — she plays a pivotal role in the story, but most of the time she's more of a name than an actual character. I didn't understand her enough although I know of her role in the underlying dream that has been driving Ashirogi Muto and the story of Bakuman. Last episode really let Miho shine — I love her honesty, gut and her tenacity in fulfilling the dream and promise that she made with Mashiro.

    I, too, was skeptical about the pubic audition — it's a bit dramatic for me to take for a story like Bakuman. However, I have reached a point where I think Mashiro deserves to see his dream come true after many years of struggles. The added drama becomes a strong boost to the emotional impact when Miho won — seriously, I was all welling up and almost yelled out loud together with Takagi and Kaya. When the camera panned to Mashiro showing his expression — the screen capture that you had for this post — I was in tears. Perhaps in the final episode next week, we will see the wedding of Mashiro and Miho as a closure of the story ;P.

    I have been following Bakuman since season 1 and have stuck to it since then. It may not be the most superb show, but I am drawn to it because I am very curious about the life of a mangaku even though it's all fictional. It's a bit sad that it's coming to an end — both manga and anime — but I do appreciate the journey of sticking with the show, so thanks Enzo for blogging it. Bakuman has become quite an inspiration show for me — the struggles of a mangaku, the friendships, the relentless spirit — I like it a lot even though it may not be the best show out there.

    I have something to say…I noticed it for a couple of weeks. I noticed that you have added drop shadow to your screen captures. I like it — it's making the images pop :).

  4. Yeah, I welled up too. The relationships in this so are just so honest and unassuming, it's hard not to in an ep like this. And seriously, Takagi and Kaya – who wouldn't kill to have friends that cared so much about your happiness?

  5. R

    I agree, and I don't think Mashiro could go through all he went through without Takagi and Kaya. I am all in for a happy ending for the cast.

  6. B

    Honestly when I saw the character design for Gouda (daaaaaang now I'm craving cheese) I was fully prepared for her to be a total bitch. I was surprised in a good way when she stuck up for Azuki to those 3 other girls even though there was nothing in it for her to do so. One of the reasons I like this show is because with few exceptions the characters all turn out to be affable in their own way. Even the ones you don't like you understand enough to know why they are they way they are (usually, I'm intentionally avoiding thinking too much about Nakai's intense creepiness/douchiness). This one I'm going to be sorry to see go but it's had a longer run than most shows get so I can't complain.

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