There’s more than a little about this episode that has an air of finality to it.
OP2: "23:40" by Hyadain
With a new cour comes a new OP and ED for Bakuman – quite probably the last we’ll ever see. And they set that tone, especially the OP sequence, which is extremely Mashiro-centric with lots of glimpses of the hazy past, and seems to suggest a re-focusing around the core themes of the series as we reach the final stage (presumably). As for the ED, it’s similarly reflective and heavy on still shots.
As I’ve said before, Niizuma may be the one character in anime who gets the most impact in the least screen-time – both in terms of pure entertainment value and impact on the plot and characters. He’s a force on both sides of the Bakuman fourth wall, and when he does decide to assertively insinuate himself on events you can bet the stakes will be high. I know there are people with his type of ability in the real world (he’s based on one, in fact) but Niizuma is the most like a manga character of any of the characters in this manga. He’s a mangaka superhero, really – a guy who seemingly has no limits but those he places on himself, and is generally free from the petty jealousies that drive most people (especially artists) in their public and private lives.
It hit me a few moments before Eiji actually said the word “Crow” which manga he wanted to end – which I guess means at least for me the writing of this scenario worked perfectly. It made a certain amount of sense that he might be targeting PCP, and even more that it might be Natural (though that wouldn’t be his style) but ultimately, it makes the most sense for him to use his special power against himself. The nature of the guy’s freakish ability is that pretty much simply be deciding to, he can take his manga to #1 and keep it there – and I would argue it’s for a noble cause. I’m sure this is being set up as a gray area and it makes an excellent plot driver, but my feelings on this are pretty strong – why shouldn’t a guy who’s produced big-time for his magazine be allowed to end his manga when he sees fit? “Go out on top” is something often talked about and rarely done, and if Eiji has the balls to do it I say good for him – he knows better than anyone else what the right time to end Crow is, and it seems he’s known it since he started writing it.
If he can pull this off, no one should have any complaints because he’s certainly set himself a high enough bar. Not only did he volunteer the condition of 10 straight weeks at #1 with Sasaki, but upped the ante when the others in “Team Fukuda” objected. Ashiroghi-sensei has a pretty good beef – if Eiji quits Crow before they beat him they’ll feel pretty unfulfilled – but it isn’t as though they haven’t had plenty of chances. I have no doubt that Niizuma is plenty pleased to see the inspiration he’s provided to his competitors – bluntly, there’s no one else who could have that effect – but I also think he fully intended to win this challenge. And I find myself rooting for him to do so, as much as I’d like Ashirogi to reach the top – he deserves to end his story as he sees fit, and in RL I’d be pretty excited to see what he comes up with next.
Everyone else’s story continues apace, and the funny thing is that for all his eccentricities Eiji is as professional as they come. He knows Natural isn’t especially good at the moment but he does his job – delivering great art ahead of schedule, without it impacting his own manga – and he’s smart enough to know that even though he could make Natural better, Iwase would never stand for it. Meanwhile Giri continues to ride the strength of its anime adaptation and has finally nipped PCP for 3rd place, and it’s never been more clear to both Mashiro and Takagi that though they’re still young, they’re being passed by here. PCP, it seems, may have run its course as a career-builder for them – and their quest to find the right serialization and win the likely battle over ending PCP that would come with it is surely going to be a major driver in the final cour.
ED2: "Yume Sketch" by JAM Project