Bakuman vol. 16 – Tsugumi Ohba

3 out of 5

A fun, but pretty inconsequential arc. Ohba has been searching for ways to keep the Ashirogi story “relevant,” and has been mostly very successful, using the tapering off of youthful energies to explore the duo’s growth as professionals and individuals; the study of finding motivation at a later stage in one’s career is, in itself, a motivating throughline when it’s backed by Bakuman’s fun cast and some creative indulgences. But still, we have to dip in to crisis mode now and then, and thus we recently had the copycat arc, which again wrapped around to help Moritaka and Takagi re-underline why they do what they do. So to follow that up with a similarly high-pitched arc with the same overall conclusion – Eiji Nizuma announces he’s ending Crow unless any of his manga peers can best his consistent first place ranking, causing a flurry of new creativities – lacks impact. The opportunity for Obata to art some of the in-comic strips is always great, and Ohba gets to be pretty inventive, thinking up ways everyone tries to ante-up their strips, but it’s still all very much a repeat of things we’ve seen before.

The second arc – though perhaps its forthcoming conclusion will surprise me – feels very much the same, in that it’s repeating some previous machinations. Older artists start applying to Jump, and their strips are a big hit; in the background, a kid seems to be feeding them ideas for their manga, and it’s heavily hinted that it’s Classroom of Truth’s Nanamine. Now maybe it’s so heavy handed in order to mislead us, and there’s potentially some interesting commentary on who “should” be making comics for teens and kids, but as far as we’ve gotten in the arc in this volume, it seems far and away from actually affecting Ashirogi, and also, if it is Nanamine, not all that different from his previous scheme.

But again, all of this is a good time – I wasn’t triggered by anything here (okay, Kaya seems to appear and disappear as needed, and a strip based around flashing girl’s panties is considered brilliant, with some half-assed attempts to lampshade its perversity), and the mood is upbeat and pretty funny throughout, it just is lacking in any behind-the-scenes style content, or an affecting emotional undercurrent that’s really propped up some arcs.