There’s always a question when starting a series up again after a break: How much do the writers assume the audience knows, and how much do they feel a need to explain? With several sequels and spin-off properties this season, we’re going to get several different answers to that question. With Bakuman, which I covered last fall and winter, that answer is simple: Make no concessions to the uninitiated viewer. Instead, with one exception, the show picks up as if it never stopped.
It’s a surprisingly refreshing move, and one which preserves the pacing of the original manga in a way that a hastily thrown together refresher episode wouldn’t. It also means new watchers are going to be completely at a loss to understand the characters, their relationships, and their backstory. For veteran watchers like me, though, it means we immediately get the same story we got last time. For anyone (like me) who was hoping for more of the same, congratulations, you got it.
Last week I made some predictions about the direction I thought Bakuman would take for its finale. One would think I would have learned by now to stop making myself look foolish.
Specifically, I predicted that Moritaka and Takagi would get syndicated, that their two major competitors would get syndicated, and that there might be a romantic climax at the end of the series. I got two out of three right, but the episode brings in two shocking plot twists (in the context of the manga business, anyway) that I did not call.
This is, in fact, a good thing. I would hate for Bakuman to be so predictable as to fall into cliche.
While last episode technically ended on a cliffhanger, the themes of the episode and the series as a whole dictated that Koogy’s entry would get slaughtered, and that’s exactly what happened. While the initial response to Moritaka and Takagi’s “Detective Trap,” Fukada’s “Kiyoshi Knight,” and Nakai and Aoki’s “Hideout Door” were all highly positive, Koogy’s intitial survey results fall towards the bottom of the barrel.
With Koogy’s utter failure removing him from the picture, the rest of the episode focuses on the end result of the contest, as the final survey determines the rankings of the three series still in competition. While it’s technically just a side show to Moritaka and Takagi finally getting serialized—which is a pretty much a sure thing at this point, but is being saved for next episode, there’s enough crammed into the episode that it doesn’t seem like the writers stalling for the inevitable conclusion. Instead it feels like a step by step exploration of how the pair’s labor has brought them to this point.
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.
I wasn’t very happy about the direction Bakuman took last episode, and nothing this time around has done much to change my mind. While the initial surprise of Koogy’s attempt to hijack the latest manga competition has worn off, the show still needs to do something productive with the plotline, and it really hasn’t.
Granted, there’s some decent characterization, particularly of the secondary characters, and our heroes are only inspired to improve on their work as a result. But regarding actual plot advancement or development of technique, basically nothing happens.
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.
I publicly wondered last time if Bakuman would take more than an episode to cover the half year process of Takagi and Moritaka preparing their detective story for their editor. As I expected, the answer was no. But I wasn’t expecting this episode to take the timeline even further, heading all the way into the summer as the duo prepare the series for publication (and hoped-for serialization), in a twenty minute span.
Granted, Bakuman does a decent job of showing you the passage of time, and of providing some hints about the effort the pair put into their work. But it looks like Bakuman is beginning to leave behind its early practice of taking its time showing the process of manga writing. Now its getting straight to the point, and the point is no longer seeing pen put to paper.