4 out of 5
“We look like a couple of gay hobos.” …I guess I should appreciate that Ohba occasionally reminds us of his ignorances every now and then, whether it’s ingrained sexism or casual homophobia. As always, a more favorable read could say that Tsugumi is ‘simply’ reflecting the culture, or writing what he feels is accurate behavior for two teenage boys, and all personal opinion is zipped up and walled off, but as I think I’ve also offered up previously as a response: the way this stuff is worked in doesn’t suggest that. It’s too obvious to not be commentated upon, or, in this case, it’s clearly meant to be a funny statement. The rest of the book is perfect; that’s why – even if it’s ‘only one’ statement, it sticks out so much.
With that said, this volume is perfect, advancing the maturity of the story so far beyond the behind-the-scenes rush and – yeah, I huff a little bit to pair this with what I’ve written above – evolving all of its characters in really engaging ways. These moves aren’t new in Bakuman, but I really do appreciate how it’s not stalling on that front; like it’s not just that the Muto Ashirogi duo keep learning the same lessons and then launching into a story arc that repeats the previous one – they are growing up, and all past experiences are factoring into that. There’s a reminder in the tankobons’ character listing page as to the dates during which events are taking place, and it’s very, very relevant: everyone is growing in relative “real time.”
The web of Hattori and Miura pairing up to encourage Takagi and Mashiro to make their best work yet pays off in surprising ways: failure. And failure again. The ticking clock is there – the boys have to make good on their efforts, lest be bumped permanently from Jump – but realism is also there, and an underlining of their passions: if they don’t make it here, they pledge to make it somewhere. Ohba didn’t have to include that aside, and could’ve kept the pressure on it being All Jump Or Nothing, but its inclusion is what elevates Bakuman to something of a true testament to the spirit (and absolute dedication required) of creation. That pushes the book beyond the feel-good boundaries of an underdog tale.
I’ve been skipping past mentions of Obata’s artwork in past reviews, only because the dude is so damned consistently good, but I’ll circle back around: as we get to see samples, again, of other manga artists’ work, and Muto’s various attempts at new titles, Obata gets to put on different hats for a page or panel and draw like someone else. The unbelievable effort put in to just these sole moments is amazing – not to mention the translator, adaptor, and editor (Tetsuichiro Miyaki, Hope Donovan, James Gaubatz) going into each of these tiny panels and making the artwork and styles / jokes work for English, even if I think there’s a flub early on and swapping some character names – and as Bakuman has gone along to establish some of its own visual nuances, the way these nuances very much enhance the dramatic or comedic beats is sometimes subtle, and then always amazing.