It seems obvious that things are rushing along at a brisk pace on Bakuman these days, because there’s a very discernible sense that each episode is really two episodes in one. Whatever happens before the break would probably have been a full episode in prior seasons, but the order has clearly been given to wrap things up in the next six weeks. I know some things have been cut out entirely, too, but opinions seems to vary on just how much they’ve been missed.
The first ep this weeks centered on the very practical aspects of trying to produce two major manga at once, even for a writing team. Yes, Eiji can do it with virtually no help but he’s a freak, and it’s pointed out that although “PCP” is now a monthly manga it’s a full 45 pages – in effect, it’s like doing a bi-weekly series, not to mention Mashiro has to learn how to draw a completely new setting (middle school) with new supporting cast while adapting to two completely different art styles with two manga. And it clearly has a physical effect on him, too – this story in particular is clearly one that seems as if it would have been told over a much longer period in different circumstances.
I know the drama of things is played up here – it’s a manga after all – but the life of a mangaka really does seem like a mad rush from one crisis to the next, a dizzying roller-coaster ride of exultation, panic and despair. It occurs to me that with two manga ongoing Ashirogi really should have twice the assistants, but no – they only add one, though in the return of Ogawa-san they have a “foreman” with immense experience. Whether Jack would have paid for six full-time assistants from the beginning I don’t know, but then there’s the issue of Mashiro’s attachment to his Uncle’s studio, which barely has room to add a fourth desk – when Ogawa, seeing the increasing desperation of the situation as Mashiro falls further and further behind, adds two more assistants of his own volition they have to work in the bathroom and kitchen. What’s the long-term conclusion here I don’t know, as we’re never really told whether the last two will stick around once the crisis of “Reversi” and “PCP Monthly” premières has passed.
If the first part of the episode focuses on the ways Mashiro has the harder job in the team, the second focuses on the unique challenges Takagi faces as the writer. At first things go swimmingly: Though it doesn’t match “Zombie Gun”’s premiere score of an astonishing 767 first-place votes, “Reversi” still wins with 526 – and in fact goes on to defeat “ZG” in the rankings for the next two weeks as well. But a flaw in the “Reversi” premise quickly becomes apparent – while Eiji keeps raising his game, first by adding a flashy antagonist and then by axing him for an even flashier one when he loses those polls to “Reversi”, Ashirogi can’t do that. They’re locked into a very specific dynamic with their “two protagonists” story – both of them are essential to the story, and this added flexibility for Eiji proves itself as he launches back into first place while Ashirogi plummets to fifth. Perhaps this is something Hattori might have seen as a potential issue going in, as neither Mashiro nor Takagi was really experienced enough with battle manga to spot it themselves.
(Death Note spoilers follow – please stop here if you haven’t seen or read it)
This is a pretty interesting dilemma, especially as it reflects on Death Note. That series, in fact, did axe its “second protagonist” in the middle of its run, and in fact the series suffered for it in many fans’ eyes – including mine. When L died DN pretty much lost its mojo as far as I was concerned. In any event, there’s another inherent issue with “Reversi’s” premise – as structured, there’s no way this can be the long-running mainstay series that Ashirogi has originally hoped. It’s set-up around a duel between “Schwarz” and “Weiss” (they really aren’t event trying to mask the connection anymore) which can only be extended for so long – and once that’s over, the series has effectively used up its raison d’etre.
I feel for Takagi here, in a way I rarely have over the course of Bakuman. Not only does he have to watch Mashiro physically destroy himself to keep things working, but he has to keep trying to come up with material that’s not just good, but good enough to help Mashiro get the anime adaptation that his fairy-tale romance is built around. With Azuki’s career taking off like a flash that’s more urgent than ever. Mashiro goes so far as to tell Takagi to “make Reversi a masterpiece” – but also tells him to not worry about extending the story. If “Reversi” is a flame that burns out after 50 chapters that’s fine, as long as it’s a bright enough flame – and perhaps 50 chapters is enough to get it that long-coveted anime. But where’s the role for Azuki? Yet another tall order for Takagi, who’s really carrying the weight of expectations to a ridiculous degree at the moment.