This has been an excellent season on Bakuman, but I’m not at all sure I like the direction this is headed.
I liked the first season of this series, but I certainly acknowledge the flaws that caused others to dismiss it – I just didn’t find them to be deal-breakers. This season, on the other hand, has been a big step up for what I see as two main reasons. First, the pacing has been accelerated to the point where there’s a sense of urgency in every episode, and something meaningful happens every week. And second, the series has narrowed its focus and honed in hard on what really matters – the manga industry, and Ashirogi Muto’s attempts to crack it. The best parts of Bakuman were always the nuts and bolts look at manga and the unapologetically boyish tale of the chasing of a dream, and they’ve driven nearly every ep this season.
By contrast, this episode felt slow and frankly a little odd. There was a soap opera quality about it that I didn’t especially care for, and I just couldn’t get myself psyched up to really care about all the side threads it seems to be setting up. And I have a real problem with Iwase as a character, at least so far. She didn’t make much of an impression during her brief S1 appearances, but what she did wasn’t especially positive. And she’s hit the series like a slap in the face now. Really, who the hell does she think she is? She arrogantly dismisses manga as an art form, demeans the career of a woman she claims to admire, and treats Takagi as if he has something to apologize to her for, which he most certainly doesn’t. Now I fully acknowledge that this dislike of her may be intentional at this point, but it doesn’t make her any more of a pleasure to watch.
Somewhat more interesting is the relationship building between Takagi and Aoki. We knew Aoki was looking for a male perspective to help her with her male protagonists, but now Ashirogi (unwisely, IMO) have decided to try a gag manga with a child as the main character and a female crush for him to pine over, and Takagi is acutely aware that he’s not the best at heroines. So a chance meeting at the zoo while he’s researching animals as possible anthropomorphized females leads to a late-night conversation that carries over into the next morning. It proves helpful for both writers, but it also seems to indicate that Aoki is falling for Takagi. I’m not crazy about the idea of a love triangle in Bakuman, especially this one, but it appears we may be headed that way.
As we leave things, it’s pretty much a mess all over. Ashirogi are pursuing the gag manga as a one-shot in “Next”, though it’s clear Mashiro is still down on the idea (ironically, as the MC seems based on him). Iwase has forced Aoki to set up a meeting (ambush, really) with Takagi where she treates him like crap but manages to slip him a copy of her LN, which contains a note with a much kinder tone – and amounts to a confession and a threat to steal him from Miyoshi. I don’t think Takagi is interested for one second, but alas he doesn’t notice the note, which falls out of the novel as Miyoshi is cleaning the apartment. I feel terrible for Miyoshi, who’s been incredibly supportive of both Takagi and Mashiro, but I still can’t quite bring myself to care about this rabbit hole of a plot twist. Hopefully this will amount to a detour, and not a derailment, because I liked the track things were on a lot better.