5 out of 5
I think the strength of Ohba’s plotting in Bakuman is how it moves in waves, and not arcs. Early on, it was easy to break things up around the milestones of getting published, but as Muto Ashirogi have matured into their writer / artist roles, continuing to toss similar roadblocks their way would feel cheap. We’ve had them, but they’ve been massaged into what now feels like a longer story and study on remaining productive and engaged – the roadblocks feel like natural outgrowths of that type of storytelling style instead of predictably paced cliffhangers. Volume 12 is incredibly rewarding in this sense: it could seem mundane, as the duo are ahead of the popularity curve and thus taking it a bit easier, but they continue to find ways to challenge themselves, and then Ohba tosses in the new component / possibility of Takagi picking up a second strip to write – without Mashiro. The lame way to navigate this would be to use it spike the drama with some jealousy / rivalry, but instead, Mashiro internalizes his response, and we take the team to learn about Takagi’s new art partner, Shun. Shun isn’t the caricature that some of the other mangakas / editors can be, but rather has a full personality, and there’s room in the narrative to weave learning about that personality into the chapters, paralleling it against Muto Ashirogi’s evolving relationship.
Yeah, there’s some crowd-pleasing rah rah moments, but they’re really well effected, making this tankobon especially all the things Bakuman can be – humorous, moving, engaging, and fun.