Home > Bakuman, Episode Reviews > Bakuman Episode 9 – Two Steps Forward, One Step Back

Bakuman Episode 9 – Two Steps Forward, One Step Back

What’s one thing I’ve been constantly concerned about with Bakuman? How it depicts its female characters. What’s the part of the plot I think is the weakest, or at least the most improbable? The relationship between Moritaka and Azuki. Bakuman is great at understanding and depicting the dynamics of male friendship and youthful dreams; from my impressions thus far, the best thing its done with its romance is to limit contact between Moritaka and Azuki as much as possible.

So imagine my dismay to discover that this week’s episode focuses primarily on how Takagi’s act of violence last episode triggers a confrontation with not one but two girls trying to win his affections. The entire set up reveals some of the worst romantic tropes commonly used in anime; to the show’s credit, this episode does avoid the parallel tropes in its conclusion. The end result is, obviously, mixed, but by getting the conclusion generally right it provides a good opportunity to move forward.

Most of the episode's first half is about Moritaka overcoming his angst in "dragging down" Takagi. You don't need to hear about that

Moritaka goes to visit Takagi, who has been suspended for a week, only to discover that both Iwase and Miyoshi are already there. Both, through prior misunderstandings, believe Takagi is romantically interested in them, and are very annoyed not just by his recent actions but by his “cheating” on them with someone else.

Obnoxious anime romance trope #1: Girls falling for a uninterested guy thanks to a misunderstanding. Ordinarily, this is employed to gather a harem of girls around a guy without the guy’s direct knowledge, allowing him to avoid making a decision between them (because he doesn’t realize he has a decision to make) and preserving the harem.

To Iwase, shaking hands and offering a declaration of encouragement to a rival overachiever is the equivelent of asking someone out. For a supposedly intelligent girl, she seems rather dense

Takagi, of course, hadn’t thought of either of them that way, and winds up tying himself in knots as he tries to avoid insulting them while not admitting any romantic involvement. All he does is anger them more, particularly as he continues to use the exact same language to describe both of them. He wants to sound evenhanded; he comes off as not valuing either of them. And both still want to date him, even after that.

Obnoxious anime romance trope #2: Girls remaining in love with a guy who treats them badly, or who shows by repeated action that he just doesn’t think of them in a romantic way. Sensible people take hints and move on; anime girls are positively stalker-like in their ability to remain devoted to lost causes. Like the previous trope, this mostly exists to maintain and offer justification for harems.

Moritaka varies between being shocked at Takagi's bizarre situation, shocked at Takagi's idiotic attempt to talk his way out of it, and shocked at his own misfortune at walking into the middle of the mess

Although neither of them are willing give up on Takagi just because he doesn’t seem to care about them at all (obnoxious anime romance trope #3: guys who are oblivious to and uninterested in the attention of the fairer sex, in ways that completely defy the obsession with girls than teenage boys actually have), it’s Iwase who ultimately disqualifies herself. She insists that he give up his dreams of making manga and return to being the genius student she first fell for.

It’s obvious that Iwase is giving the ultimatum for Takagi’s benefit; she sincerely thinks his dream is foolish and wants him to pursue academic excellence, just as she is. Takagi takes it as the favor it is meant to be, but admits he’d prefer to fail as a manga writer rather than to regret not trying. With that, Iwase departs, leaving him to Miyoshi’s attention.

However oddly she might have expressed it, Iwase does seem to genuinely care for Takagi. I'd just like a valid reason as to why

Here’s where, with all the problematic ways that the girls got into this position, that the narrative does something right. Forming a love triangle around Takagi might have been ham-handed and unrealistic, but the show does not try to maintain it once it comes to open conflict. Neither Iwase nor Miyoshi are willing to accept the “harem” status quo, forcing a decision that takes other series their entire run to resolve. And Iwase shows enough backbone to walk away once her idealized view of Takagi is ruined.

Miyoshi, whether because she’s more stubborn or because she actually likes Takagi’s new underachieving persona, stays around. Granted, she does inflict severe bodily violence on him for jerking them both around so much, but she seems dedicated to him and to their “relationship” anyway. Much to his regret.

Takagi's final attempt to talk Miyoshi out of dating him earns him a beating (from a trained martial artist)

I’m still not remotely sold on Miyoshi’s interest in Takagi, unless she’d been interested in him long before he gave her the wrong impression, but frankly it doesn’t really matter. Miyoshi is the designated love interest for Takagi just as Azuki is for Moritaka, and so their coming together had to happen. The important thing is that it has happened, and now the show can move on.

Perhaps a better title for the review might have been two steps back, one step forward, given the mix of bad to good in this episode. Still, it gave a somewhat good resolution to a wholly unrealistic situation—which is better than a bad resolution to a realistic situation, as it’s the resolution that carries on through the series. Besides, as ridiculously one-sided as their future relationship might be, Miyoshi’s antics with Takagi might be good for a laugh or two; the cliches here might have been cliches, but at least they managed to be somewhat amusing.

... but she still insists on acting like his girlfriend. I suspect the gag will be funny two, maybe three more times

Next episode returns to the manga-making process, so with any luck overt romantic stuff will go by the wayside for a while. Bakuman has been surprisingly good at depicting manga writing in interesting ways, a record I hope it continues. This episode was hardly a complete disaster (that would be the Rihoko arc of Amagami SS), but I maintain my position that Bakuman’s selling point will never be its romance.

  1. No comments yet.
  1. No trackbacks yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: