Bakuman Episode 5 – Boys Will Be Boys
Writer Tsugumi Ohba and artist Takeshi Obata, the team responsible for Bakuman, have only one other work to their collaborative credit: Death Note. I’ve noted before the incongruity between the two series in content, tone, and genre, but there is one common thread between them: Both have to make the act of some guy putting a pen to paper dramatically engaging.
Death Note has a slight advantage in this regard, as the act of writing would kill people (it makes sense in context, really!), but making that interesting visually was a bit of a stretch. The anime adaption of Death Note decided to embrace its crazy side and depicted the scenes as if they were fights: dramatic deaths, ominous Latin chanting, unnecessary flourishes, the whole shebang. Whether it comes off as cheesy probably depends on how invested the watcher is in the show, but at least it was engaging.
Bakuman is smart enough to realize that this method just won’t work with a subject that isn’t a matter of life or death. So it goes another route and crams a full summer’s worth of work on Moritaka and Takagi’s first draft into a single episode, keeping the actual scenes of them drawing to a bare minimum. This actually works quite well, but it also means the episode needs to pull its audience in through other means.
So, most of the episode is devoted not to the physical act of drawing, but the growing friendship between Moritaka and Takagi, and how their partnership will change both of them for the better. Moritaka, formerly listless and apathetic, now works like a man possessed; he moves in to his uncle’s apartment for the summer break to devote himself entirely to his new found profession. It takes some intervention on Takagi’s part to keep him from suffering his uncle’s fate right at the start of his career.
Takagi, by contrast, seems to have come to view Moritaka as a true friend. He highly values his partner’s opinions on his story suggestions, and is in awe of the his work ethic and determination. If there was a problem with Takagi before, it was that he was far too inclined to view his peers as pieces on a chessboard, with even the budding romance between Moritaka and Azuki being a means of leverage to help him to achieve his goal, rather than a good thing to encourage for its own sake.
This manipulation, interestingly enough, comes back to bite him before the break begins, as Kaya Miyoshi (mentioned last week) comes to chew him out for taking advantage of the information he gleamed from her about Azuki. In the course of trying to cover up his intentions, he accidentally feeds her a line that she interprets as having a romantic meaning, which should thoroughly screw up their relations in the future.
As much as I like that Moritaka won’t be the only one in the show with a romantic entanglement, there’s something about that exchange that feels off. Miyoshi’s convenient misinterpretation, along with Moritaka’s observation that Miyoshi probably has a thing for Takagi (a fact of which the normally super-observant Takagi seemed oblivious) seems just as forced and out-of-the-blue as the circumstances that brought Azuki and Moritaka together. Takagi occasionally makes a point of ribbing Moritaka for being a hopeless romantic, but it seems the same charge can be leveled at Ohba himself, given his plotline.
For all the problems Bakuman displays when trying to deal with the fairer sex, it gets the dynamics of male relationships down to a science. Along with the above-mentioned ribbing, the show has them goofing around to blow of steam, talking in the late hours because they’re too excited to sleep, etc. These daily exchanges and late night discussions just feel right, in a way that the unnatural-sounding conversation between Miyoshi and Azuki does not.
It’s a very basic level of interaction, which just makes it more surprising that so few shows properly capture it. It also means that the best of their exchanges can be remarkably funny in a true-to-life way—a way that innumerable comedy shows, trying to focus on the bizarre or the outlandish, completely miss. Anime, perhaps encouraged by the relative freedom the medium provides in depicting the fantastical, often seems to miss out on the value of the common place (save in slice-of-life shows, which typically overdose on cute to compensate).
There’s not much in the way of overt conflict this episode, save in the struggle to get a working draft completed by the end of summer, but there is a little bit of added challenge, as Moritaka continues to be awed and frustrated by the work of Eiji Niizuma. Moritaka knows his own work just doesn’t measure up, and views the existence of someone his age with that level of talent and success as a personal affront.
Fortunately, it seems that rather than making him bitter, Eiji’s work just inspires him to do better. Granted, trashing his first set of pages and starting over might have been overdoing it a bit, but it mostly seems to serve as a goad for Moritaka not to accept second-rate work from himself. Eiji’s basically guaranteed to make an appearance later in the show, and I suspect that will be … memorable.
I noted a few episodes back that Bakuman seemed to be moving a bit slowly; now, with two months gone in a blink of an eye and the protagonists preparing to hunt for an editor, I’m wondering exactly how fast the show can go. I haven’t read the manga, but a quick review of the wiki for it reveals that in ten volumes the series manages to progress from the end of middle school to the college years (or perhaps even beyond), so perhaps this pace is reflective of the original material.
It certainly makes me feel better about the overall course of the show, and about picking this series up for the season. Bakuman might have flat or unrealistic female characters (which makes it like the vast majority of anime and manga not aimed at college age or older women), but it still exudes a human element which also tends to be lacking in much of the medium as well, including Death Note. This isn’t a show to look for an earth-shattering story; it is a place to look for a touch of the real world. There’s something to be said for that.