Bakuman Episode 6 – (Semi-)Tough Love
Up until this point, Bakuman has managed to remain charming, but it’s had the singular problem of soft-peddling the challenges that Moritaka and Takagi face as debuting manga artists—even as the characters talk about it incessantly. They’ve bypassed possible conflicts of personality and vision (so far) and early roadblocks from Moritaka’s mom. Rushing through the time where they produce their first work made sense from a narrative perspective, but it also undercut the sheer amount of effort that such a project would take.
Now with their first, stand-alone story composed and illustrated, they are going to farm it out. The obvious conflict is that their work is under-appreciated, or that they have to face rejection after rejection, etc. This does not happen. In fact, what does happen is about the best thing that could: Hattori, the editor assigned to review them, is just critical enough to mold them into what they need to be.
Hattori bears all the hallmarks of a serious editor. He reviews their manuscript twice, and makes sure to couch his critiques of their work in between positive comments. He’s aware that his job is not to crush the hopes of fledgling authors, but temper and refine them.
But he has definite ideas about where Moritaka and Takagi can improve. Takagi’s story is much too wordy and description-heavy to fit easily into a visual format; Hattori even asks if he really wants to do manga, rather than light novels or some other style more dependent on the written word. (Er, kanji. Whatever.) Moritaka’s art is technically impressive on its own merit, but doesn’t show the versatility and the deftness with styling that is required for top drawer projects.
It’s interesting to note the differences between the two authors. Takagi, who was much more nervous (and obviously so) coming in, is more surprised and hurt about what Hattori thinks. Moritaka, it seems, came in ready for criticism and familiar with how the system works, and takes it all with a straight face. If anything, he anticipated all the critiques himself.
The real surprise, however, is how seriously Hattori takes them. These are ninth graders, after all, and although one of the magazine’s best-sellers is also still a minor, it’s still not usual to see juvenile work of quality, and the magazine must get plenty of aspiring writers who just don’t pan out. But—with the conceit granted that these kids have talent in the first place—they are fortunate to have been paired with an editor who seems to know exactly what to say to make them succeed.
Of course, their fortune also drains away what could have been another font of dramatic conflict. Hattori exists to help our budding young authors succeed, not be the start of a long process of rejection for them to overcome. The show keeps disabling its challenges to the protagonists before those challenges can really even get off the ground.
Another case in point: It turns out the reason that Takagi wants to make his own as a writer is because he doesn’t want to have his life dictated to him by the system, even when he could easily succeed in it. After his father’s career took a hit, his mother began to increase her already strenuous tutoring regime in order to have the son avenge the father. Takagi eventually grew sick of this and told her off for treating him as a means to an end rather than a son.
Decent character development? Sure. But the conflict it presents is already over; Takagi’s mother now accepts him and has backed off her more intrusive plans. No parental pressure equals no problem—and that is a problem. Sooner or later something has to go wrong for the good guys, if the constant warnings echoing from Moritaka’s deceased uncle to his mom to Hattori about the difficulties of success are to have any importance whatsoever.
At the moment, I am still enjoying Bakuman. Its charm and boyhood whimsy are enough for me to squeeze enough enjoyment out of it to continue on. But I’m beginning to wonder if that’s more a reflection of my own personal taste than an honest assessment of the quality of the show. What we are seeing now is a narrative progression, which is something different than the development of a plot.
I suppose, for that reason, I should be pleased that the end of the episode has a teacher pair female and male desks together for some unexplained reason, putting Azuki and Moritaka in very close proximity. Trying to maintain their no-talking-to-each-other pledge under such circumstances not only creates a problem, but also should be fairly funny. (Takagi is already shown laughing about it.)
However, as mentioned before, this show couldn’t write female characters convincingly if its success depended on it—clearly, it does not—so this could be a recipe for awkwardness not for the cast (which would be good) but for the audience (not so much). Or the problem could disappear entirely halfway through the next episode. At this point, I’ll take stilled female dialogue any day.