Bakuman Episode 15 – Womanly Woes
Bakuman started off reasonably well in all respects but one: its depiction of its female cast. The women of the show started off wooden, cliched, and without much in the way of motivation or character beyond what was necessary to the male-oriented plot.
Bakuman has consistently improved as a show, including in how it portrays its female characters. I no longer feel that the romance plots (either Moritaka’s or Takagi’s) are out of place; the show has done a decent job in making its female characters more than cardboard cutouts. But while it has gotten better, it did so only in the context of keeping the perspective of the show male-centered. We’re still seeing the girls through male eyes.
This episode attempts to change that. Not completely, as the beginning and end still revolve around the protagonists, but the middle chunk of the episode, the heart of this episode’s plot, address Azuki directly, giving us a look at how she is progressing on her chosen career path. And what we see tells us that the show still has some room for improvement.
For those of you who just found this review by accident, or forgot that Azuki had a goal she was pursuing while pining for Moritaka, Azuki is aiming to be a voice actress, and this episode shows some of her struggles. She faces a few failed auditions, she expresses nervousness inwardly and occasionally outwardly about her apparent lack of success, and she continues to work hard practicing her acting and singing skills. By the end of her arc she has a role, albeit a minor one, in one of the hottest new anime shows of the season.
If any of you think that sounds a bit too pat and easy, trust me—it is. Particularly when you consider that her entire plot takes up a little more than half an episode (less than fifteen minutes from when we learn of her problems to when she overcomes them), her story seems utterly lacking compared to the extended struggle that Moritaka and Takagi have faced on their road to success.
Then again, Azuki’s success has never really been in doubt. It’s Moritaka who worries about whether Azuki will wait for him to succeed on his end of the bargain; neither he not his love seem worried about the prospect that by the time his hit manga gets an anime adaption, Azuki won’t be a prominent enough actress for her to get the role. The possibility of failure has always been Moritaka’s issue.
This is somewhat realistic in terms of a career timeline—voice actors, particularly female ones, can get major roles with minimal prior experience, and/or while still in high school, while successful manga authors are typically much older. Assuming both are to follow normal successful career trajectories, of course Azuki would succeed first. That’s one reason why Moritaka feels so rushed.
But again, the assumption is that Azuki will of course succeed, an assumption this episode does nothing to contradict. I have no doubt some of this is because Azuki is meant to be basically perfect, and thus failure would tarnish her allure. But it’s also because the show just can’t work up the proper interest in following her path to success like it has with Moritaka and Takagi. The male and not female cast members are the points of emphasis.
I don’t want to critique Bakuman too harshly here; it’s a show which may not work very well outside of its comfort zone, but when it stays within its established boundaries there’s plenty of stuff to like. Niizuma, for example, gets some lines in the opening part of the episode that could as easily have been part of the previous episode recap. Yet there’s a care taken to how he is presented (and how he presents new information) that makes his screen time interesting.
So far, the main way that the show has made the girls’ screen time interesting is by having either Azuki cry or Miyoshi beat Takagi up. These are fairly basic levels of appeal, and not enough to build a plot around. We still don’t have much clue as to why Azuki wanted to be a voice actress in the first place, for example; her motivations toward anything that isn’t connected toward Moritaka are completely opaque.
That, at least, is my impression; we’ll see how this dynamic plays out in future episodes. If the new opening and ending sequences are any indication, we’ll be learning more about some of Moritaka and Takagi’s fellow writers in the next several episodes, and one of those is a woman. Will she receive the same perfunctory treatment that Azuki received here? Or is it manga writing, and not the concerns of men, that Bakuman really cares about?
The only way to find out is to keep watching, which is still something I quite enjoy doing. But, if last episode was an example of why Bakuman is a good show, this episode is a reminder why it’s not a great one. That distinction is an important one to remember.