Bakuman 3 – 25 (End) and Series Review

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After 3 seasons and 75 episodes, Bakuman got the glorious and happy conclusion it so richly deserved.

For a series that’s offered up a fair bit of tension and suspense over its long run, there actually wasn’t a whole lot left for the finale.  It was pretty clear what was going to happen this week – the only reason question was how well it was going to be executed.  And I can say with complete honestly that JC Staff and Kasai Kenichi delivered the goods with an ending that exceeded my expectations in pretty much every way.

I feel as if Bakuman has been a vastly underrated series these past three seasons, and the anime never seemed to gain much traction with the English-speaking audience even as the manga continued to be very popular.  It’s a shame, because in terms of pure character drama I think this has been one of the better anime of recent vintage, and it remains the most comprehensive and balanced look inside the manga industry that’s ever been put forward as far as I’m concerned.  Yes, Bakuman is a manga for people who love reading about manga – but just as Touch and Cross Game have special appeal for those who love baseball but ultimately achieve transcendence in the human stories they tell, it’s in chronicling the lives of its characters that Bakuman is at its very best.

I think the major task facing Bakuman in this finale was giving emotional closure to those character arcs.  It can be strongly argued that both in personal terms and professional, Mashiro’s story is just beginning; he’s only now achieved the top slot at Shounen Jack (however briefly) and he’s only now living out the reality of his fairy-tale relationship with Azuki.  Yet this is arguably the best place to leave things, because Bakuman is a story about how life is the destination and not the journey.  In ending, it had to give us a satisfying epilogue for all these characters, because rarely have we seen a story that was so successful as simply being about good people trying to get ahead.  If you can’t root for these characters you have a pretty cold heart – yes, there are bakayarou like Miura and corporate hard-asses like Sasaki (who actually comes out looking better in the end than one might have thought) and perhaps least likeable of all, vindictive climbers like Iwase.  But mostly it’s a story of people chasing a dream, and the people who help them achieve it.

It’s a long list of things the ending gets right, but I think it has to start with having Mashiro specifically taking the time to thank Kaya for everything she’s done over the years.  Without question she’s been the unsung hero of this series, tirelessly supporting the career of Ashirogi Muto and the romance of Mashiro and Azuki while often quite under-appreciated by her own husband.   I never felt Mashiro was blind to that, but it was still nice to see it openly acknowledged.  Of course she also dutifully steps aside to give Mashiro and Takagi time to connect, and there was have a fittingly awkward guy moment.  Those two are the dominant relationship of the series in terms of screen time, and I think – in their own awkward way – they’ve pretty much said everything there is to say to each other over the years.  Of all the major pairings in the story, theirs had the least unfinished business, so I think the low-key nature of that scene makes a lot of sense.

There was no way this series was going to end without a shared moment between Mashiro and Kawaguchi Tarou, Uncle Nobuhiro.  I’ve said before that there are four Mashiro relationships at the heart of Bakuman (Takagi, Eiji, Nobuhiro and Azuki) and it’s Nobuhiro’s that really acts as the foundation of the story in many ways.  It’s strange that two characters who are on-screen so rarely – Nobuhiro and Azuki – are so critical to everything, yet so it is.  Nothing could quite top the emotional peak of the Season 2 finale when Mashiro brought the poll results to Nobuhiro’s grave, but this was more than satisfying.  It’s a fine line Mashiro has always walked, between living his Uncle’s dreams and his own – but rather than imitation, what Mashiro takes from Nobuhiro is inspiration – and it’s quite affecting to see the way Nobuhiro lives on in his heart, especially at the key moments in his life.

If there was one potential trap for this final episode, it might have been the fact that it seemed destined to showcase the relationship we’d seen the least of on-screen at the expense of those we’d been spending so much time with.  I wasn’t sure how I’d feel about that until it actually played out, but I was happy with the way it was handled.  It’s the Azuki relationship, after all, that has the most unfinished business – and it’s that one that’s always been egging Mashiro forward.  I don’t find their romance especially realistic but I’ve always enjoyed the purity of it – the almost complete lack of compromise, even when it defies common sense.  It is a fairy-tale romance, perhaps Mashiro’s greatest concession to the memory of his Uncle – but then, he fell in love with Azuki before he ever knew the details of that earlier doomed romance.

In the end I think it boils down to the fact that Mashiro and Azuki are just really nice people who deserve a happy ending.  They’ve both worked their asses off and been through a hell of a lot, and it wouldn’t have felt right if their storybook courtship didn’t have storybook ending.  I loved the symmetry of Mashiro taking Azuki back to the place where they first spoke (her old house, which he’s obviously bought with the money he borrowed from Takagi – does the romance never end?) and repeating the words he’d said to her on that spot (and driving up in an Italian sports car to fulfil Nobuhiro’s dream was a nice touch – was it borrowed from Hiramaru?).  Their kiss is as long-awaited and well-deserved as any we’ve seen for a while, but my favorite part of that scene was when Mashiro broke into a goofy smile when the tension of the moment became too great.  Fundamentally they’re the same people they were ten years earlier – and considering how little they’ve spoken to each other over that time, it’s a good sign that each is still the person the other fell in love with.

Another interesting question for the finale – how would it handle the premiere of “Reversi”?  Damn well is the answer, with about five minutes of “Reversi” mixed into the middle of the episode.  Fittingly Abe Atsushi and Hino Satoshi handle the male leads (as Schwarz and Weiss, respectively) and of course, we know who the female lead is.  This chunk of “Reversi” does nothing to dispel the eerie similarities to Death Note (which, when L died, “coincidentally” had about the same number of chapters as “Reversi”) right down to the character designs.  As always with Bakuman these internal stories do a wonderful job of making me wish these fictional fictions were “real” fictions – if they want to make a “Reversi” anime, I’ll be first in line.  I often wonder if Obata and Ohba ever regretted using up good ideas on fake manga in Bakuman, rather than making a real manga out of them.

In closing, Bakuman gives us what every good finale should – a chance to check in with the characters we’ve spent so much time with over the last three seasons.  Hiramaru and Aoki are married (Azuki catches the bouquet, which was exactly what Aoki intended).  Eiji is on top, and clearly a little bored with no weekly Ashirogi series to challenge him.  Iwase has been passed off again, this time to the hapless Kosugi.  Even Nanamine (unseen) has a new series.  And then there’s one last meeting with dear, tireless Hattori, so critical to Ashirogi’s success: he tells them that PCP is better than ever, and promises to give their “new work” (hang in there, Eiji) a good read.  And finally, Mashiro and Azuki – who despite Mashiro’s “We can’t show that!” protests, do finally get their wedding scene – in the last eyecatch.

As so it ends, with Mashiro promising that he and Takagi will continue to chase their dreams (and interestingly, urging us to “keep watching”), which is only appropriate given what the series has been celebrating for 75 episodes.  Bakuman certainly has had it’s ups and downs and the production values have never been off the charts, but it’s still downright criminal just how under-the radar this series is.  I’ll miss it a great deal – it’s one of those stories I could go back to every week, where the cast felt like beloved old friends.  I would have liked for the pacing to be a little slower this season (who would have believed anyone would be saying that when S1 was airing) but all in all, this was an anime treatment than any long-running manga should be thrilled to have gotten.  Bakuman is and always will be a love story – the love of family, the love of a soulmate, of friends, and the love of manga and anime itself.  It’s packed more genuine emotion into its three seasons than most series could ever dream of, and for that alone I would be a devoted fan.

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  1. i

    I really like that anime these days draw actual cars properly (BMW and Mercedes were a staple of Jormungand) and the 458 in Bakuman looks so detailed. As a car fan it is nice how far anime has come since Initial D and EX-driver that its not just racing animes that get detailed cars.

    I don't think that last screen cap was in the manga so I guess JC added it themselves for us. After all the accusations that Bakuman is sexist its nice to see Kaya thanked for her role in the story.

    If there's one thing I didn't like though its that Mashiro's eyes were open when Azuki kissed him. The man has to go 90% of the way and I never liked that its all one the girls to make the move in most Shounen series. Small butterfly in my bonnet though.

    One of JCs better works in the last few years ends. The anime about a manga about a couple of guys making manga hoping it becomes an anime ends.

    Sad that I won't be able to explain that to anyone anymore.

  2. t

    Major props to the anime stafffor giving us an epilogue,the manga stopped at the kiss scene and that was darn frustrating.
    Also while even in the manga there were similarities between death note and reversi,the anime really really took it up a notch.Not that I mind.

    As for Bakuman's popularity I think this might be a case where I'm not sure places like animesuki are a real good way to judge it,shonen jump titles rarely get talked about over there (with exceptions here and there).

    Looking at MAL for example while there definitely was a drop in popularity after S1 there's still more people that have bakuman S3 in their list than say girls und panzer or vivid red operation that have huge threads on animesuki.

  3. That's interesting to hear. I know some manga readers were disappointed in the ending but I wasn't sure just how much had been changed.

    Isn't it fascinating how the different forums have distinct personality traits, yet all have stuff that drives you crazy about them…

  4. R

    My emotional peak was when Maho won the seiyu job for Reversi, but I was also moved by Takagi's wedding gift to Mashrio in the last episode and the Kaya moment in this episode…it's only proper and very moving. Just aside, Kaya is a very likable character — she may not be as talented, but I love her cheerfulness and energy…and her eternal trust and love for her husband and best friends. Mashiro is one lucky guy to have Takagi, and Takagi is one lucky guy to have Kaya…

    Overall, I think the last few episodes progressed the story well, and the finale does give a proper closure to everything and everyone in the story. I started off Bakuman because I was interested to learn more about the life of a mangaku but ended up falling in love with the characters. How can you not be when you grew up together with them, saw how hard they fought for the dreams, and cheered for their successes? Bakuman isn't the best anime out there, but I find the never-give-up-on-your-dream part pretty motivational and the friendships amongst them touching. It's hard to say goodbye to the characters that I have bonded with, and I will definitely find time to have a reunion with them…starting from season 1.

    Like you said, Enzo, Bakuman isn't as popular, so thanks for blogging it since the start of the show…appreciated.

  5. B

    Maybe I missed it but was it ever explained where the name Bakuman came from? Ever since the middle of season 1 I kept assuming that "Bakuman" was going to be the title of their most popular manga ever, the one that would be turned into the anime Azuki was going to star in. However it turned out to be Reversi instead.

    When Hattori picked up the new manga near the end of this episode I was about to proclaim "Behold the Bakuman draft!" but alas, it remained unnamed. So does this mean that the title of this series had no real meaning after all?

  6. S

    It is common for Japanese language to merge two words to make a product name.

    Example: Poke'mon aka Pocket + Monsters = Poke ' Mon

    Bakuman is derived from at least 2 big words. This was in volume 2 of the Bakuman. English series.
    1. 爆発 (bakuhatsu) explosion -baku-
    2. 博奕打ち (bakuchu-chi) gambler -baku-
    3. ばく (baku) a creature thst supposedly eats dreams -baku-

    but the -man- was not explained… most likely for manga?

  7. B

    Hmm, I see! I figured it would be explained in the manga, which I didn't read. Thanks, that helped a lot!

  8. Does that tie in with Uncle Nobu's saying that until you can support a family with your earnings you're not a mangaka, you're a gambler?

  9. B

    When the manga was still going, I remember hearing the name being "explosive" kind of manga.

  10. M

    The origins of the title have been discussed many times and although I'm not sure if the authors themselves ended up confirming it, it's pretty safe to assume it comes from a combination of "gambling" and "manga". As Enzo pointed out, the idea of writing manga being a gamble has been one of the main themes in Bakuman, especially in the early stages of the series.

  11. N

    it seems to me that Takagi, to some extent, adopted Mashiro's dream, at least in the sense that it became Takagi's dream for Mashiro to achieve his.

  12. It seemed to me that Takagi was pretty much following Mashiro's lead for the entire series, with the important exception that it wad Takagi that hounded Mashiro into the partnership in the first place.

  13. B

    This show. What to say about this show. Unlike some, I haven't been following it from the beginning. The first 2 seasons aired during times when I was taking a break from anime so I missed them. I read Enzo's first few posts on S3 and it seems cool so I quickly downloaded and marathoned the first 2 seasons. So for me, this show hasn't been a years-in-the-making saga.

    That said, I still loved it. Mostly. And this ending was pretty much perfect. I don't really need the wedding scene with Mashiro and Azuki to feel satisfied, just watching their dream come true was enough closure for me. Acknowledgement of Kaho's contributation was excellent, if long overdue. Hiramaru and Aoki's wedding was a nice touch, Aoki was one of my favorites among the B cast. Only thing I really think the ending needed was more Niizuma, because every episode needs more Niizuma.

  14. M

    The complaints about the manga ending were mostly about how it lacked an epilogue. The final scene was the kiss between Mashiro and Azuki so it felt a bit incomplete.

    And there is something I really appreciate and find fitting (which both the manga and anime did), which is giving the finale the same title as the first chapter/episode: "Dreams and Reality".

  15. A

    I've been putting off watching this because it's the finale. Having gone through most of the premiere for the new shows this season, it was time to actually go and watch it.

    For me it was a beautiful ending, Bakuman has always been special to me. Lots of tearful moments I guess, we viewers grow up together and see the characters' dreams finally come to fruition.

    As always, thanks Enzo for covering this, while I read the reviews here and in RC when it was covered there in it's first season, I'm really glad you continued on for it's second and third season. I really appreciate the time and effort for the commentary and whatnots.

  16. You're welcome. I'm always happy to cover series that seem to get less attention than their quality merits.

  17. f

    I feel like I've just said farewell to a good friend. I've been following Bakuman from the beginning, and while it's hardly a perfect series (it has its share of headdesk moments), it felt remarkably fulfilling in the end.

    Thanks Enzo for covering this series. I wasn't following your blog yet during the last season, but I kept up with all your posts this season and your enthusiasm for this show definitely played a part in my enjoying it.

  18. You're very welcome. Speculation is rampant that the new Ohba-Obata manga is about to start in SJ – I for one am very curious to see what they've come up with.

  19. f

    Oh, I didn't know there was a new one coming up. I'll look forward to it! Part of the reason I liked Bakuman was the "meta" factor–the fact that most of Takagi's stories (which I wish I could read) bear some thematic similarity to Death Note, a manga I enjoyed as much as the next guy.

  20. D

    The only thing that this Anime disappointed me was that they skipped the Azuma Arc.
    They could retcon insert it in as an OVA which is what I'm hoping for so that it would be closer to the Manga than as it stands at.

    Other than that, I'm truly satisfied till I'd argue that the Anime's ending was better than the Manga's.

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