Bakuman Episodes 17 and 18 – With Friends Like These
Last episode signaled the start of a growing distance between Moritaka and Takagi. Being nigh inseparable since they started working on manga together, their first extended separation is finally beginning to pull them apart. Takagi has finally decided to get serious about Miyoshi at the same time he and Moritaka have hit their hardest roadblock yet—and to Moritaka it seems that the two events might be related.
For lack of anything better to do for his summer, Moritaka signs up to help arch-rival Niizuma, who needs assistants to keep up with relentless pacing of weekly chapter releases. He hopes of learning some tricks to improve his own artwork, but his decision winds up profiting more people than just him.
Niizuma already has two assistants: the 33 year old, practically washed-up Takurou Nakai, who despite having spent so long as an assistant still dreams of having a series of his own syndicated, and college age Shinta Fukuda, who has a few small prizes under his belt and rates his own chances for future success with the same arrogant self-assurance he brings to anything he does. Toss in an addled genius like Niizuma and it seems more like a set-up for comedic antics than mutual growth.
But with the earnest passion of Moritaka as a catalyst, the latter is what they all get. As Moritaka and Niizuma heap praises on the other, Fukuda loses his temper and points out all the reasons why even a genius artist like Niizuma needs to plan and take the advice of editors to produce a truly interesting (and long lasting) series. With just a little more prodding, the three of them proceed to rewrite the chapter, convincing Niizuma of the value of forethought and planning.
The irony of Moritaka and Fukada helping Niizuma, when both consider him a professional rival and seek to surpass him, is noted by everyone (except Niizuma, of course, who is far too good natured—and socially oblivious—to catch on). But all of them love their craft enough to want to make a good work better. That passion, in fact, is what makes them good authors.
Yet it’s not like it’s only Niizuma who benefits from the exchange of ideas. Moritaka learns something from each of the artists; from Fukuda he learns more about the nature of the business (and in particular how the editorial dynamics behind the magazine’s policies are naturally prejudiced toward certain works), and from Nakai, who has been drawing as long as any of them, he learns a slew of illustration techniques.
But it’s ultimately Niizuma who provides him the real breakthrough discovery, that some of the best germs of an idea for stories can come from a youthful imagination. Niizuma is constantly referring back to drawings and character ideas from his elementary school days because, unpolished as they are, they provide some his most original ideas, before increased knowledge of the field subconsciously influenced his productivity.
Moritaka uses this insight to unearth one of his old ideas, a detective character who would fit into a storyline that would be far better suited for Takagi’s writing talents than the action series they’ve been trying to slog through. Mystery stories are a form of mainstream writing that Takagi naturally gravitates to, and Takagi seems to come to this revelation himself, independently.
This would set the stage perfectly for their reunion and resumption of collaboration, but Moritaka and Takagi have only been growing further apart since the summer began. In particular, Moritaka’s just too jealous of Takagi’s relationship with Miyoshi, as the two of them get all the flirtation and affection that Moritaka himself desperately wants and can’t have.
For Moritaka romantic success follows on professional success, so while the cash-strapped Takagi also has strong reasons to want to make it big, it’s hard for Moritaka to see it that way. Every advance in Takagi’s relationship is another twist of the knife, and Moritaka, not quite mature enough to be able to separate his jealousy from his working relationship with Takagi, takes out his frustration toward the former issue by berating Takagi about the latter. And this only poisons their partnership just as both have hit on the same solution on how to succeed.
This is hardly a hopeless scenario for them: Moritaka ends up rejuvenated by a emailed encouragement from Azuki, and although that isn’t enough to patch up his relationship with his partner, it might give him the emotional stability not to go off the next time Takagi goes on a date. But the two of them are forming new and independent relationships, as Moritaka has found other manga writers who support him and share his unfettered love for the medium, and Takagi has finally come to love a girl who loves him back. And their own relationship can’t help but change as a result.
Getting new friends and developing relationships hardly seem like bad things, and there’s a certain irony in having the deepening maturity on the part of both protagonists drive a wedge between them. That irony reflects some greater truths, however, and makes me increasingly pleased with Bakuman as a Bildungsroman. (Well, technically Künstlerroman. Whatever.) All relationships, even the most natural of partnerships, take effort to maintain. And the teenage years, as a time of defining and redefining who you are and what you want from life, is a time where what seemed like a natural partnership one day won’t make any sense at all the next.
Bakuman is wise enough to know this, and smart enough to utilize the knowledge as a ready source of conflict. Now we get to see if it’s deft enough to patch up things between Moritaka and Takagi without making their reconciliation seem forced or cliche.