Home > Bakuman, Episode Reviews > Bakuman Episode 16 – Identity and Exclusion

Bakuman Episode 16 – Identity and Exclusion

I may have to correct myself: Just last week, I explained how Bakuman still didn’t know what to do with its female characters, and that its various attempts to give them independent motivation and purpose aside from their relation to the (male) protagonists just didn’t quite work. Their identity is contingent. Now I think I have to revise that statement to only cover Azuki. This is the episode where Miyoshi comes into her own.

Miyoshi’s primary reason for existing until now is to give Azuki a female friend and Takagi a girl. Most of her screen time has involved the animators showing off her legs, her chest, or something in between (but mostly the first two). Her attraction to Takagi, while explainable, seemed forced and unnecessary. She’s a character in search of a purpose.

Oddly enough, she seems to know that, in an in-universe sort of way. And this episode, which shows her making some faltering steps in that direction, also calls into question the purposes and goals of the protagonists, and their own identities as authors and in relation to each other.

Miyoshi tries to deepen her relationship with Takagi, or just hang out, three or four different times this episode. She gets rejected each time

Throughout this episode Miyoshi feels continually isolated and alone. She wants to share moments with Takagi, but can’t because he’s too busy with work. She wants to spend time with Azuki, but she’s in another city now and they can’t visit regularly. She’s growing further and further outside the circle that Moritaka, Takagi, and Azuki have, and she’s having trouble finding a way in.

On a whim, she decides to become a writer, to give herself a career to work for, but when she offers to aid Takagi with writing female characters in return for his help on the story, it’s not hard to see another motive at work. In any case, Moritaka nixes the idea as unnecessary and distracting.

(I will give Bakuman some points for irony: Moritaka dismissively notes that their heroine doesn’t need realistic emotions; basing her purely on an idealized male view of women would help make the series more popular. I don’t know if they were lampshading the series’ own treatment of Azuki there, but that’s the first thing that came to my mind.)

Miyoshi had cause to be mad here, as Takagi just put his foot in his mouth about her breast size again. But given how much attention the show gives to it (even while staying away from overt exposure), who can blame him?

Now, one thing to note about all this is that Miyoshi’s struggles here aren’t specifically feminine ones. Were she a man, she would still likely feel isolated by having her friends attend other schools or become united in their work, excluding you by default. Were she a man, she would still feel odd being the only one of her friends not shooting for a dream. This is all part of the soul-searching, the quest for identity, that I suspect most high schoolers face.

But that fact that she, as a character who is female, is actually acknowledged to have doubts, concerns, and desires—and that these are not completely synonymous with her pining for her boyfriend—is a refreshing change. She still might be, like Azuki, a bit too idealized to be realistic. But she’s moving in a positive direction.

Just because Miyoshi gets mad about Takagi objectifying her doesn't mean she won't use her figure to her advantage. (Her outfit here left Takagi dumbstruck at first glance.) I do want to give credit to the animators for taking the effort to change up her wardrobe so often

She chose her moment of introspection at a remarkable unfortunate time for the duo, however. Moritaka and Takagi finally get together a “mainstream” title that Hattori approves. He passes it along to the editorial team for submission to another awards contest. Every bit of foreshadowing the show offers indicates that their work will at least be well received.

As such, it’s a bit of a shock to the viewers, and a near crippling shock to Moritaka and Takagi, when they find out they didn’t make it past the initial review stage. Even reading the encouraging feedback from the editorial team—which is still impressed with their skill, even if this offering wasn’t quite good enough—does little to raise their spirits.

Apparently Moritaka has trouble drawing cute girls when they don't look like Azuki. I suppose that's one form of loyalty

The two have hit delays and obstacles before, but this is their first true setback. Takagi in particular questions himself, as he just can’t come up with story ideas that fit the usual mold of the magazine’s stories and have some distinguishing trait to make them stand out. It’s probably the first time he’s found something particularly challenging, now he’s uncertain if he has what it takes to make it.

He eventually asks for time away from their “office,” promising Moritaka something new at the end of summer break. He’s hoping, obviously, for the change of pace to trigger some creative energies, but it doesn’t seem to. He’s also guilty for dragging Moritaka into a project now that it looks like he may not be able to deliver.

Azuki's show looks to be a MariMite clone. While not exactly highbrow, it's another reminder of how behind Moritaka is, particularly as the debut comes immediately after he learns about their failure

All his break does, in fact, is drive a deeper wedge between himself and Moritaka, as the pair try to deal with their setback alone, instead of together. When Moritaka gets an offer to assist Niizuma for the rest of summer break, both for the money and the experience, he obviously doesn’t like the idea. But he doesn’t have much reason to say no.

Takagi’s guilt and Moritaka’s uncertainty are conspiring to break the partners apart, but it’s Miyoshi who might be the triggerpoint. On a late night date with Takagi, she witnesses his frustration for the first time, and wonders if she might be the cause. Takagi’s response is … stronger than I expected, but if sincere is a good way from him to take ownership of their relationship. It’s just a pity Moritaka had to witness it.

I'll admit this came a bit out of left field for me, but Takagi has slowly grown to appreciate Miyoshi more during his dry spell. This date, like the kiss, was the first time he initiated something

Not only will this moment drive home for Moritaka what he, thanks to his deal with Azuki, isn’t going to get anytime soon, it also brings up another way in which his partnership with Takagi might be tested. If Moritaka blames Miyoshi for Takagi’s writer’s block, or feels slighted by his partner’s change of intentions, then things could get very heated between them.

Of course, we know the story will have the two back together and producing manga again eventually. But Bakuman is showing more and more versatility in how it presents its conflicts, better understanding of the unique tensions faced by fledgling creators, and—even just for a moment—a willingness to let one of the female leads have her own voice, even as she helps move the plot forward.

Given that Miyoshi's decision to be a writer is so sudden and arbitrary, I doubt much will come of it. But it might be nice if something did

What I don’t know is if Bakuman will continue to make Miyoshi expand her presence in the show, and if it will use this moment to develop the romance between Miyoshi and Takagi to something more than “She idolizes him and beats him up in alternating fashion, while Takagi struggles to notice her.” I hope it does both. I may not expect a mature and realistic relationship between Azuki and Moritaka anymore, but I wouldn’t mind finding one somewhere else.

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  1. January 27, 2011 at 2:36 pm

    It’s just getting more & more interesting ^3^

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