Home > Bakuman, Episode Reviews > Bakuman Episode 2 – Male Bonding

Bakuman Episode 2 – Male Bonding

I’m still not quite certain what to make of Bakuman. The show strives to be a sincere bildungsroman covering Moritaka’s growth from disaffected high schooler to successful author (in a field that just happens to match with the dreams of many an otaku), but one key threat to the enterprise—among the many I listed in last episode’s review—is that the show will become too idealized or self-congratulatory in its depiction of the process. I don’t think this has happened yet, but I’m seeing some warning signs.

Last episode ended with Moritaka being sold on the idea of becoming a manga artist because of the influence of a girl who is important to him. This episode, however, centers around Moritaka dealing with the main roadblock to starting his career in the first place, which also deals with a woman of great importance to him: his mother.

Moritaka's mom has some justification for concern after what hap- pened to her brother-in-law, but she's still depicted as unreasonable

Moritaka’s mother, Kayoko Mashiro, might want what is “best” for her son, but doesn’t come off in the most positive light. She’s convinced that the best thing for Moritaka to do is focus completely on his studies and get into the best high school and best university that he can. That this doesn’t match up with Moritaka’s actual abilities or desires doesn’t seem to matter to her, and she flat out rejects his request to start a manga career on the side.

Moritaka, however, asks that she at least check with his father on the issue, which she grudgingly concedes. Much to the surprise of both of them, his father overrules her and allows it, saying that as a man he understands Moritaka’s dreams and that he needs to follow them. Kayoko tries to play one last card to stop Moritaka, by telling him he has to tell his grandfather about his plans. Since said grandfather has already lost a son to a failed manga writing career (Nobuhiro, Moritaka’s uncle), she figures he’ll put his foot down to avoid losing his one and only grandson as well.

I was expecting the grandfather to give way, but I wasn't expecting him to be happy for Moritaka

In fact, the grandfather gives Moritaka the key to Nobuhiro’s old studio, which has been left untouched since the latter’s death. He’d been worried over his grandson’s listlessness and lack of drive for a long time, and was actually happy that Moritaka had now found some vision to follow. The men of the Mashiro clan thus come together to support Moritaka as he needs, appealing to a common desire that all men need some form of vision for their lives.

Of course, this also means the main conflict of the episode resolved without any real work by Moritaka at all. The audience learns how serious he is at pursuing his career, as he resolves to start working on manga even if he loses the support of his parents in the process, but the threat evaporates before he has to actually do anything.

I think having Moritaka drop what he was doing and run straight to the studio on the night before an exam is meant to show his enthusiasm. It just makes me more sympathetic to his mom

Since one of the main risks of the show is that—despite making very clear the difficulties of breaking into the field during last episode—it will avoid putting too serious roadblocks in their path and present a rosy story of continual success, this isn’t the most encouraging start. I appreciate that it’s important to get Takagi and Moritaka to work on their manga as fast as possible, but I don’t want the narrative to be shortchanged in the process.

The greater problem with the episode doesn’t relate to the episode’s plot, however. As Takagi, midway through the episode, explains why he chose Moritaka as a partner (and tries to convince Moritaka to be his partner as well), he notes that he thinks Moritaka is “smart”—not that he gets good grades or is good at studying, but that he has genuine intelligence that goes beyond the ability to regurgitate data on exams. Takagi identifies Azuki as another “smart” person in the class.

The show might make Azuki into a Mary Sue, but at least it's fairly up front about it

Now, it just so happens that all three of those “smart” people have dreams of making it in otaku-related activities. It’s also implied that Moritaka knows that the three are smart too, and that he, and maybe Takagi as well, think the rest of the class is dumb. Would Moritaka be the first sullen high school student to believe most of his classmates are idiots? Hardly. But with a little subtle imprimatur from the narrative, it’s easy to walk away with the impression that the only intelligent kids are the ones who read and love manga.

There’s more than one way to present too much of a rosy view of the manga industry. The first is to make the prospects of success too easy; Bakuman has mostly managed to avoid that, to the extent any fictionalized narrative can, but is constantly giving danger signs all the same. The second is to make it seem like manga is more than it is: a form of escapist entertainment. There the show is going to have a naturally harder job, as a show about two teenagers trying to succeed at a normal living isn’t much of a story.

Moritaka is a bit too lauditory toward his uncle's suriving work. Nobuhiro's corpus didn't keep him from becoming a corpse

Takagi and Moritaka’s dreams have to something grander than, say, wanting to make it big selling cars. There has to be a sense of grandeur, of wonder to it all, and a feeling that the pair aren’t just forging a career, but doing something admirable or unique. The act of creation, in itself, can be that, but there’s a temptation, I think, to push that a bit farther than it naturally should go. The last thing this series needs to be a paean to the nobility and sophistication of manga and the glorification of its readers.

That’s quite a few lines that Bakuman needs to tread very carefully. As I said, I’m not certain that the show will be able to succeed at it. But I do hope it will. We have enough shows drenched in fan-service, showcasing the supernatural, or trying and failing to be funny. Bakuman’s character-driven plot and unique premise is taking the path less traveled. I’m willing to suffer through a few potholes so long as the show doesn’t go completely in the ditch.

One thing to like about Bakuman is how it shows Azuki's feelings without having her say a word about them. If her enforced separation from Moritaka will make their relationship actually work in a subtle manner, I'll take back my reservations about it

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