Things are heating up quite a bit this week in Bakuman - except between Masahiro and Azuki, of course. But other than that we had a pretty fast-paced episode with a nice mix of manga business and relationship stuff.
We had our longest look yet at the mysterious Nizuma Eji for starters, looking quite normal in his school uniform. He's being set up as quite the mythical figure, and we learn just a bit about him every week. It's irritating, but it's somewhat effective in building up his mystique. He's a workaholic, for sure, a manga machine - and he has some talent to boot. He's also a terrible neighbor, being devoted to loud music and an apartment that looks like... Well, a 16 year-old with no parents lives there.
Takagi and Masahiro are still plugging away, trying to get a manga into "Next". "To thine own self be true" seems to be the theme her, as they boys follow Hattori's advice and work on a "serious" manga, true to their own style. And it works - Masahiro's complex art style suits the material, and after an excellent suggestion from Hattori makes it even better, they've got a fine product - and one that nets them their first publication as they get into "Next". Of course Nizuma is on the cover...
In the midst of all this are HS entrance exams and Valentine's Day. Takagi is clearly slumming by going to North High, not even worrying about the exams. Masahiro and Miyoshi aren't so lucky, and have to earn it. But they get in, which brings home the reality of impending separation from Azuki to Masahiro. Miyoshi (and most viewers, I'm sure) grows increasingly frustrated at their odd relationship. But they seem determined to go painfully slowly despite Miyoshi's protestations. She and Takagi, are full-steam ahead - in that sense she's a good fit for him. They have their Christmas date, she buys him chocolate for Valentine's Day, and while Takagi still has lots of clueless moments their relationship looks positively normal compared to Azuki and Masahiro's.
The battle really seems to be joined now, with Hattori urging the boys to defeat Nizuma at any cost - even warning them that they might have gotten into "Next" as a sort of publicity stunt and foil for Nizuma. His career is obviously on the line and Hattori is taking this too personally, but he's a good editor, and it promises to be a fine battle. I really hope we get to see more of Nizuma as a real person, though, and maybe even get a meeting between he and our heroes.