It’s a good sign that Bakuman can come up with one of its best episodes ever without using its flashiest character.
I love Eiji, but there’s no doubt that he’s a bit of a crutch for Bakuman sometimes. It’s almost impossible to write a scene with Eiji where he isn’t hilarious, GAR or both, and he tends to take over any episode in which he has a major role. This time around, he isn’t in the episode at all (apart from one still frame) and Bakuman manages not only the best episode of the third season, but probably one that’s in the top five in any season.
At its best, this is a show that gets me fired up and enthusiastic, so angry I’m almost yelling at the screen (sometimes more than almost) or nervous as hell at the agonizing cliffhangers. Basically it has a lot in common with PCP (the manga, not the drug) – it’s unusual for Jump because it’s realistic, and the attraction comes from watching events play out that could actually happen in real life. Some manga work because of wish fulfillment, and some because they’re identifiable – you really feel the same emotions as the main characters – and Bakuman is definitely in the latter category. And that’s not a category you often see in Shounen Jump (or Jack).
The episode settles the matter of the cancelation arc pretty quickly and predictably. PCP beats Natural and takes 4th, and very nearly beats Crow (only two votes shy). In a continuation of a pattern I’ve noticed, Fukuda’s very flashy manga starts quickly and fades quickly (7th). Takahama is doing well (5th) with his courtroom drama, and Iwase is in secret tears about dropping to 6th (no pity from me, sorry – you reap what you sow, and she’s sown a lot with nasty behavior and cheap stunt casting with Crow). The bottom line is that, unsurprisingly, Sasaki never had any intention of canceling a popular manga like PCP anyway. It seems silly to think he’d even consider it, though the guy is so arrogant and stubborn until this ep you could never be quite sure. He even manages to offer Ashirogi some rare words of praise.
So, things seem to be going great – especially when PCP gets a drama CD offer. Here Bakuman enters into another one of its sweet spots – an intensely detailed look inside the industry it portrays. Who writes stories for drama CDs? How much influence does a mangaka have on casting? If you don’t care about such detail this stuff might bore you, but I’m fascinated by it. Is it mistake for Takagi to “waste” a good PCP mystery on the drama CD when it could help the manga, or is the success of the drama CD important enough to merit such a move? And when a novel request follows up on the drama CD, these are the sorts of decisions Ashirogi are going to be facing more and more often.
There’s a lot happening here, with significant implications for the characters. While Mashiro has always been the lead dog in this series, it’s Takagi’s talent that’s coming to the fore in the last few episodes. He’s in such a groove with PCP that he not only has time to give input on the CD and novel, but when assistant Shun decides (with a lot of encouragement from Ashirogi) to write a storyboard, Takagi gives several rounds of advice – so much so that when Shun shows the manga to Hattori, the editor insists that if he submits it to Next, it would have to be credited to Takagi as the writer. This is all quite a blow to Moriya, who thinks a lot of his own talents but whose work is shot down by Hattori as overcomplicated and unfit for a shounen magazine.
Mostly, though, the focus is on Mashiro, Azuki and the idea of a PCP anime – and Mashiro finds himself in a very bad situation here. As well as PCP is doing, Hattori thinks it will struggle to get an anime because so many parents complain that the capers of the PCP are too realistic, and they don’t want their kids imitating them. The great strength of PCP as a shounen manga – unusual levels of realism – is a detriment to getting a manga. What the boys don’t know – and it doesn’t seem that Hattori does either – is that Sasaki has two proposals on his desk for an anime, though he seems to think it’s too soon. In any event, Mashiro and Takagi have exerted their influence to get Azuki the lead in the drama CD – and both are crushed to hear that an anime is a long way off, if it’s ever coming. Hattori doesn’t know the truth of the matter as to why it’s so vital to Mashiro, but Takagi comes pretty close to that truth in expressing that an anime has always been Ashirogi’s dream.
The part where Mashiro really gets screwed comes when he seizes the idea of a second “anime-friendly” manga, given the downtime he and Takagi have – only to have Hattori’s suggestion that he co-author Shun’s manga hit him right between the eyes. Takagi has been a great and supportive friend all along in trying to help Mashiro and Azuki get together, so I don’t see how Mashiro can possibly tell Takagi his idea and torpedo Takagi and Shun’s great chance. But as it stands, Mashiro is out of luck – locked into a manga that seemingly won’t get an anime, and watching his partner’s career expand beyond his own. It’s a classic Bakuman dilemma and classic Bakuman cliffhanger – and I’m curious to see where it goes from here. Mashiro could partner with another writer on a second manga himself, or he and Azuki could relax their rigid condition about when they’re going to get married – but I don’t sense either of those things is going to happen.