Bakuman vol. 14 – Tsugumi Ohba

5 out of 5

We’re possibly reading this, in English, in 2012, but it’s original publication was 2008. Memories of the past decade or so (it’s currently 2021) can become hazy, but I do know that my interaction with the internet and social media has very much changed during that time; it’s interesting how “modern” this volume of Bakuman manages to feel, then, tackling the way online culture can somewhat dynamically influence creators’ contents. Not that that was impossible in the black and white, uphill-both-way days of the 00s, and it’s not like we weren’t already very plugged in at that point, but it still comes across as very timely, perhaps moreso underlining that this has always been the creative struggle between personal vision and working for your audience, and Ohba – likely through experience – puzzled on how the lessened roadblocks to croudsourcing opinions might affect that. His answer is Tohru Nanamine: an artist who’s collecting opinions on what to draw / write and collating them, specifically with the goal of getting the top strip in Jump. And it turns out he was a one-time diehard fan of Muto Ashirogi, giving our lead duo some ain’t-this-familiar chills when they first read Nanamine’s work.

Lots of laugh out loud bits and some great character development here, with Ohba and Takeshi Obata flexing their dramatic and comedic chops with the reintroduction of Nakai and further shenanigans with Hiramaru; in both cases, we’re leaning more on blowing their personalities out to cartoonish extremes, but things are then linked to more legit feelings and emotions, to great effect: you’re chuckling at the ridiculousness one moment, then caught up in the drama the next. Obata also does his magical morphing thing, delivering several pages of “Nanamine’s” art, and furthermore showing how it evolves once Nakai becomes his backup artist.

Ohba also gives the Nanamine “debate” a fair shake by not tamping it down as necessarily wrong, but rather acknowledging the intelligence of the approach, and then wondering through what it may lack. Indeed, more people take issue with it because of the dishonesty in how it’s presented, and then to a lesser extent the tactic itself. This story thread, combined with some really satisfying – if brief – interactions with some of our other cast members (Ko; Kaya), make for a great tankobon.