Bakuman Episode 21 – Playing Off Key
Anime is a cliche ridden medium (as, if we are honest, are most story-telling mediums, period), where tropes like Chekov’s Gun and First Girl Wins often making it easy to predict the outline of a plot. As such, genuine surprises are typically a welcome event.
Most of the time, anyway. One of the reasons tropes exist is because there are only a limited number of ways to introduce plot elements into a story. Bring in something completely from left field, and the audience is taken out of the narrative. Surprises should be unexpected, but they should make sense.
Bakuman surprised me this episode—in a bad way. There was no way to predict the surprise in this episode, but only because the mere concept is so ridiculous as to defy belief.
After covering several months last episode, this one takes the timeframe back to a couple days, as Moritaka and Takagi prepare their latest chapter in Hattori’s serialization test. They’re pretty exhausted by this point, producing a chapter every two weeks while still having classes and midterms, and Moritaka in particular is near breaking point.
Fortunately for them, Hattori is convinced of their seriousness, and finally assents to their being syndicated. They still have to do well in the upcoming competition and win over the editorial board, but they have their editor completely on their side now. The trick is making an impression in such a solid field.
They are competing against three other works. Shinta Fukuda has already been introduced; his series is leading off the competition, which means it has an inbuilt advantage. Apparently Fukuda is the darling of the editorial department of the moment, so his series—crass and edgy—is getting the lead position.
Niizuma’s other assistant, Takurou Nakai, also is in. He’s been paired as an artist for writer Yuriko Aoki, who has won story competitions but whose art is too shoujo to get far in a shounen setting. Ironically, had Moritaka decided to make a permanent break from Takagi, he would have been paired with her instead of Nakai.
Of course, there’s the question of why Aoki would be writing for a shounen publication in the first place, given she could probably do shoujo work just as easily, where her art style would fit. She has a definite vision of what shounen work should be like, however, and that vision seems to be guiding her. It’s too early to tell whether Bakuman the series will treat her seriously or not.
One thing that doesn’t look like it should be taken seriously is the fourth entry, Colorfusical, which has a decidedly shoujo-esque art style and a frankly bizarre premise. It doesn’t seem like something that fits any genre or demographic category and comes off to the audience (or at least to me) as a hack work with more flair than substance.
Unfortunately, Colorfusical is also being authored by Koji Makaino, aka Koogy, the latest j-pop sensation who also dabbles in a wide variety of other artistic endeavors. Fancying himself a genuine renaissance man, who can succeed at anything he puts his mind to, Koogy has decided on making manga his latest field to conquer.
Of course, he also decides to give himself a little advantage by informing his fans of the his career change, and asking for their support (i.e., to spike the magazine polls). This sends Moritaka, Takagi, Nakai, and Fukada into a controlled rage, and the episode ends with the four heading to complain to the editorial department—although I don’t know what they expect to accomplish. For that matter, I don’t know what Bakuman is trying to accomplish, either. I understand that the story needs some form of conflict to make the current competition interesting, but having something like this is just bizarre, and completely out of place for the style of the series.
The mere idea of a rock star putting his music career on hold to draw manga is nonsensical. For Koogy himself it makes a certain perverse sense; if you accept that he’s a raging egomaniac, then of course he’d want to be the best at everything, and apparently manga is only the latest new art form he’s tried. But the rest of his band and his producer seem perfectly ok with him taking months or years off to try out his manga drawing kick, when they should be fuming about losing revenue for Koogy’s latest self-indulgence.
And although Koogy makes sense as a character, that doesn’t mean his existence in Bakuman makes sense. Bakuman, however idealized it might be and despite how it makes its cast much younger than the norm, has tried to deal with the manga writing business as it is. What just happened, in addition to be in random and silly, is nothing like how the business operates.
I don’t even see what this was necessary. Fukada is established as a rival for our heroes, and Aoki provided an interesting (and highly unusual) competitor as well. Genuine pressure from competitors, and even an element of uniqueness, was fully present before Koogy entered the scene. So why have him?
It’s frustrating, particularly given that next episode looks to be completely devoted to this subplot. My main hope now is that they plow through this plot as fast as possible. The fact Koogy, unlike Niizuma, Aoki, Fukada, and Takai, doesn’t appear in the opening or ending sequences, gives me some reassurance that this won’t take long. We’ll see if that expectation pans out.