5 out of 5
The sense of growth and maturity – for our characters, and thus carried over into the writing – continues, now absent of any offhand, ignorant comments!
While Ohba has been criticized (and rightly so) for the relative shallowness of his characters, I think this has (maybe?) been a function of his stories: Platinum End has frustrated me with its dumb-dumb cast, but they’re kids, so it kind of plays into that; Death Note purposefully (maybe?) posits its characters as embodiments of One Thing or Another, so it also kind of made sense within the tale’s context for Light and L to be defined by their quirks, and not really by their personalities. And Bakuman started out with a long streak of Mashiro and Takagi (and Azuki, and Kaya) also being fairly one-dimensional, but as time has passed within the book’s timeline, and they’ve aged into college years with some legit work under their belt… they start to read like real people. Mashiro’s relationship with Azuki is still rooted in cheeky idealism, but even that has shown some further dimensions along the way; Takagi and Kaya have absolutely grown as a couple. But the Muto Ashirogi duo, being the “stars,” have had the most attention and thus we witness the most growth there – volume 11 is equally heart-warming and nerve-wracking and exciting as we follow their matured plumbing away at trying to nail the formula for their series, while also realizing they want to have some emotional reward from their work as well… Again (as I’ve noted this before), this echoes everyday working woes, making Bakuman an incredibly relatable story, but then it’s given that bump of the fantastic by somewhat meta-ly working in comic / manga cliffhangery tropes, and Takeshi Obata’s art making it all stretch and squish for comedy or action, and keeping the tone in line for when we need something more dramatic.
I’m sure Ohba’s going to whip out some eye-rolling zingers again at some point, but the core of this saga is so, so strong that it really is a matter of the good far outweighing the bad, especially when we get such a quality set of chapters, still halfway through things.