It’s hard to believe based on pacing that the Bakuman of episode 12 is the same series that gave us the first season.
There are times when things being a bit rushed isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The Nanamine story arc started out in fairly promising fashion, seeming to promise a difficult story about a potentially game-changing way of producing manga. But it quickly degenerated as Nanamine degenerated into a cartoon villain, someone who seemed very out of place in Bakuman. So I’m more or less glad they powered through the end of his arc – in fact, they wrapped it up in the first act of episode 12 – but it’s still a bit of a shock when you think about how relaxed the pacing was in the first season. And how much viewers complained about it.
Actually, while neither one of them exactly succeeded as narrative devices, this arc did a good thing by pairing off Nanamine with Nakai. The stark contrast between the two of them was one of the interesting elements that made the arc watchable – I think when Nakai mentioned “those people in the computer” that said all that needed saying. He’s as old-school as anyone in this cast, and Nanamine’s way of doing business must seem like something from another planet to Nakai. He goes on to a somewhat better storyline in the second of these episodes, while Nanamine disappears after his détente with Kosugi – which thankfully fell short of the tearful redemption I feared it might become. At this point I won’t be counting the days until either of them appear again.
Once the Nanamine clutter is cleaned up Bakuman is back on much surer footing, and the rest of these eps feel much more than the classic show I’ve come to love over 2+ seasons. This series is always fine when it focuses on Mashiro and Takagi’s struggle with themselves and with the injustices of the world – in fact, I’d even say that’s the core of the series. With their friends and rivals jumping ahead of them left and right – even Takahama is getting a live drama (!) for his courtroom series – the pressure is ramping up on Ashirogi, especially on Takagi. He feels responsible for Mashiro not getting the anime that means so much to him – PCP was his idea, and he’s already married the girl he loves (I guess, sometimes it’s hard to tell). So when disaster strikes, it hits him hardest.
I’m surprised the copycat issue hasn’t been an issue other than a few angry letters from parents before now – it seemed inevitable. It was perceptive of Azuki to note than Takagi is “more sensitive” and he’s indeed the one derailed when news that a bank robber has copied PCP’s style hits. Sasaki plays the supportive role here, and in fact proves a better judge of his writers’ psyche than Hattori in this case, but Takagi still loses it. The mistake Hattori made here – and he doesn’t make many of them – was twofold. He tried to laugh off the incident, and then he allowed Takagi’s spiral to continue until Mashiro put a stop to it himself.
There’s plenty for everyone to do in episode 13, starting with Eiji. He reminds Hattori B of the deal they made when he came to Tokyo – if Niizuma gets #1, he gets to cancel any manga he wants. Why did this suddenly become so urgent for him? One can only speculate that he sees Ashirogi’s work becoming safe and boring, and wants to put PCP out of its misery – a classic Eiji move. Meanwhile after Nanamime’s cancellation Nakai has been reduced to selling caricatures on the streets, and refuses Fukuda’s pity offer of an assistant’s job. He hits low ebb when he shows up drunk at Aoki’s apartment, blaming her for all his self-inflicted wounds, but thankfully Hiramaru flies to the rescue.
Season three has been uneven so far compared to the superb second, but one character who’s really made leaps and bounds is Hiramaru. He’s been mostly a comic relief character, a buffoon – but now, we’re really starting to see the tragic side of his life, and the way Yoshida abuses him. He’s still arguably the funniest character in the cast (I’d say just behind Eiji) but there’s a depth to him that wasn’t there before, and his pursuit of Aoki has gone from slapstick and pathetic to almost poignant. His performance outside Aoki’s apartment is winning indeed, and teaming him up with Nakai – the mangaka who hates writing manga with the washed-out former phenom artist – has a lot of potential for both characters.
More so than for the last few eps, there’s a lot of interesting stuff to look forward to next week. Just what will Eiji do now that Takagi has seemingly snapped out of his funk and delivered a real Ashirogi Muto chapter? He’s about to get 1st place in the rankings with “Crow”, and I can’t see that thread not being followed up on somehow. The larger question looming over the series remains – just what’s next for Mashiro and Takagi? They may have weathered this crisis by writing the copycats into their story, but it’s even more unlikely than ever than PCP would get an anime now. We have one cour left and no indication that there will be more Bakuman anime after it ends, and I’m convinced that PCP is not going to be the last serialized manga we see Ashirogi Muto write.