Home > Bakuman, Episode Reviews > Bakuman Episode 23 – Slow and Steady Wins the Race

Bakuman Episode 23 – Slow and Steady Wins the Race

With syndication on the line in the latest magazine competition, Takagi and Moritaka have never been closer to their goal. The series has been hinting that this time will be their breakout moment, but it’s hinted at that before too. And never before has the duo’s competition been given such attention. Niizuma has had prominence from early on, but Fukada, Nakai, and Aoki all are seen as equal in skill to the protagonists—and Koogy, however obnoxious, has been presented as a serious threat to all of them in the popular polling.

In some ways, however, relative standing isn’t that important. As each entry is judged individually, Moritaka and Takagi don’t necessarily have to be the best. They just have to be good enough to reach a point of critical mass. And, for better or worse, Niizuma’s cryptic evaluation of their work and that of their competitors has convinced them that they need to do more.

This is better, of course, in the sense that the go back to the drawing board—quite literally in their case—and further tweak, adjust, and fine tune their work to raise its quality. It’s worse in a narrative sense, because that means a decent chunk of the episode is about them improving the work further, which leads to yet another production montage. I think I’ve seen enough to those to last me through the spring season.

Not one of the working montages has included a "before" and "after" illustration of how the work has developed and changed. This is an unfortunate (and glaring) omission

Part of my frustration stems from the fact that, as much as we see Moritaka and Takagi working on the manga, we don’t have much of a hint as to what is improved. In this sense, it’s a “tell, not show” situation; we the audience are informed the story has improved, but we aren’t given much to understand why or how. All we do see is how exhausted Moritaka gets trying to keep up with the production schedule—a warning of how difficult syndication will be.

Perhaps that is the point, however; perhaps the entire reason for the continued emphasis on hard work, determination, and perseverance in the face of rejection is meant to inform watchers how difficult it is to really succeed in the manga writing business. Even “good” stories (we know it’s good because we’ve been told it’s good, not because we’ve had the opportunity to see it) need to be refined, seemingly endlessly, before they can actually compete.

We do actually get to see some of why Fukada's and Nakai/Aoki's works are good; the former has a black comedic style with hints of self-parody and plenty of puns, while the latter, as seen above, has extraordinary detail on the art

Even Muto Ashirogi’s competition, however cocksure they act in front of each other, understand this; despite thinking of their own work as the best, both Fukada and Aoki return to take account of the advice of the other party. However much their styles differ, both of them understand the other’s style has enough merit to be worth accounting for. Every contestant pushes to the edge of the deadline to make his (or her) story the best it can be.

Except Koogy: Convinced that he has the entire match wrapped up, and that his art is plainly superior to everyone else’s, he waits until the very last minute to produce his entry, spending his time on media appearances to talk about how awesome he is and how all his fans should vote for him. It’s a display of arrogance which seems perfectly in keeping with his character, even if it is also breathtaking stupid.

Actually, that Koogy can still produce anything in the timeframe that he does signals that the guy is some sort of genius. Unlike Niizuma, his genius is entirely directed toward himself, and not the product

The result is that, while his work seems produced at the same artistic level of his original entry, the narrative is an incoherent mess. Takagi (the show’s designated genius) can’t make heads or tails of the plot; Niizume and Fukada are openly infuriated by it. It’s obviously a shoddy hack job; the question is whether Koogy’s seemingly rabid fanbase will care.

The episode’s cliffhanger is that we don’t yet know the answer to that question. In some sense it doesn’t matter, as all the previous contestants were popular enough to qualify for initial approval for syndication. Apparently there are a few bureaucratic hurdles for Moritaka and Takagi to jump through, but it looks like the season will end with the pair finally having reached their goal of syndication.

Niizuma praises both his assistants with confetti as the two of them, also, seem bound for syndication. He's probably too dense to notice the symbolism of feting them with shredded manga drafts

The two of them get a brief chance to reflect on their work while riding on the subway, and both come to realize that, however important their original goals were in taking up the craft, they seem rather naive now. Moritaka and Takagi are still striving for the love of a woman and financial success, respectively. But the two realize, in a sense, that the real reason they have persevered is that they love manga and love making it.

This is, of course, not Koogy’s motivation at all; he’s only concerned with fame and proving his own superiority. Niizuma, by contrast, is the pure manga devotee, successful entirely due to his obsessive love for the medium. Moritaka and Takagi, and perhaps the rest of the cast, are between those two poles. But they are clearly moving in the right direction.

One of the odder points in the episode is when a random person on the subway overhears fragments of the protagonists' conversation. At least, he hears about "manga" in combination with "money" and "women"—which seems to give him the wrong idea

I’m still trying to decide if the latest episode of Bakuman is meant to be a morality tale, a summary of the themes of the show, or both. Either way, it’s not the strongest episode Bakuman has aired this season by a long shot, but it manages to touch on most of the themes that have made the show interesting. Now, if only the series would just find some way to avoid the inevitable montages and substitute more interesting plot advancement instead.

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