Home > Bakuman, Episode Reviews > Bakuman Episode 4 – Tricks of the Trade

Bakuman Episode 4 – Tricks of the Trade

An interesting challenge of most sports anime is conveying the intricacies of the activity without overdoing it. Too little information, and the watcher has no idea what is going on; too much, and the plot is overwhelmed.

Bakuman is not a sports anime, but much of the same logic applies. This is a show about a team working toward success in a particular field, with its own rules and requirements. For the characters to succeed, they will need to accomplish certain things along the way; for the viewer to care, the story needs to explain what these things are and why they matter.

This episode focuses primarily on explanation, so much so that it feels a bit plot-light. For those who have even the most basic interest in how manga is made, however, this offense is forgivable. The groundwork laid here is crucial for the overall success of the show.

Higher quality pens also have their own drawbacks. Consider it like the difference between a putter and a nine iron

Last episode covered some of the drafting techniques, exploring how drafts are made. This episode focuses on the details of drawing. Final manuscripts are done in pen, and particular pens are useful for different things, with some offering more detail while also being harder to control. This shows us another reason why Nobuhiro failed (he never had the skill to use the better pens and his artistry suffered as a result).

Moritaka, by contrast, is skilled enough already to use some of the better pens, although not enough to achieve the level of detail and precision he wants. He spends most of his exam week working late hours in the studio instead of studying, all in an attempt to master the art enough to produce a work that can compete.

There's a certain irony in Moritaka's discarded drafts having a more realistic feel than the art style of the show itself

Alongside that, the major plot elements of the episode can be described in a paragraph. Moritaka and Takagi discover that a 15 year old, Eiji Niizuma, recently won the Tezuka Award. Niizuma credits his effort and devotion to his craft (rather than lazing about playing games like a normal otaku) as what brought him success, and our protagonists agree to aim for a mid-level high school rather than an elite one in order to give them more time to perfect their work. They also commit to having a workable draft by the end of the summer to present to an editor.

(A certain part of me wants to wonder about the message being given to the younger generations that make up this title’s primary audience, at being told to settle for mediocre academics in order to give your all for a long-shot vocational dream. Then again, I followed the path of a high-achiever and my career plans all went south anyway, so maybe my opinion on the matter should be taken with a grain of salt.)

The "Jack" magazine here is clearly a stand-in for Shounen Jump, which announces the actual Tezuka prize. Why it's ok to have the manga serialized in Shounen Jump mentioned by name, but not the magazine itself, is a bit confusing to me.

Of course, there’s also some slow—very, very slow—advancement on the romantic front as well, with Moritaka demonstrating his implicit trust in Azuki even as he can’t look her in the face as they cross each others paths in the street. (In fairness, neither can she.) Takagi points out that Moritaka is a hopeless romantic, but it’s hard to tell if he, or the writers, find this a good or a bad thing.

Kaya Miyoshi, Azuki’s best friend, also gets an official introduction here, pointing out the flaws of a would-be manga artist from another class. I’m guessing that she’ll wind up as a romantic interest for Takagi; he speaks somewhat dismissively of her here, even while misinterpreting  Moritaka’s question about the manga artist as referring to her instead. It seems he has her on his mind, whether he realizes it or not.

It's not clear if Miyoshi caught the artistic errors of the would-be artist in her class because she reads manga herself, or because she's actually far more observant that Tagaki would admit

A part of me really wishes the overall story would speed up just a little. But there is at least some plot advancement every episode, and Bakuman succeeds at its secondary goal—making the business of creating manga—sufficiently interesting and entertaining in its own right. One of the reasons that Japanese animation, on the purely technical level, is light years ahead of similar American offerings is because of the differences in style listed here.

(For just one example of this, I invite curious readers to check out the following six part video series, following manga artist Kaoru Mori as she draws an extremely intricate illustration over the course of 40 or so minutes. You can actually see some of the techniques and equipment mentioned in this episode at work, and while it’s rather quiet—I’d recommend listening to music while watching—it’s surprisingly engrossing.)

Eiji Niizuma gets one scene at the very end, which consists of him ooking like a monkey at his editor over the phone. With rivals like these, who needs friends?

“Surprisingly engrossing” is a phrase that I can’t quite apply to Bakuman, but the show still comes out better than I would think it has any right to be. It’s slow, somewhat cliched, and earnest to the point of being saccharine at times, but for those, like me, who are actually interested in some of the nuts and bolts minutiae of how manga is made, it does exactly what it needs to do to properly dramatize that information. It’s not gripping or original or well-plotted enough to be one of the best shows of the year, but what it’s aiming to be, I think it can achieve.

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