4 out of 5
Bakuman has been such an amazing rollercoaster of ragging on Ohba for some flubs or flaws, and the eating crow (no pun intended) when he self-corrects. Volume 17 is another great example of this: I felt that 16 was just kind of kicking the plotty can down the road, but the arc started there really turned into something fantastic in this collection, and is then leveraged into an equally exciting followup arc.
Volume 16 had a “mysterious” figure organizing several elder manga artists – artists in their 40s and above – to submit suddenly superior storyboards to Jump, leading to a special issue focusing on their one-shots, and a conversation around whether or not Jump should just be for younger and upcoming artists. That’s an interesting discussion in and of itself, but it didn’t feel like it was really the focus – it was more the question mark of the person behind the scheme.
…Who was rather obviously Nanamine, and so it’s good that vol. 17 leads with that. And with it out of the way, we can dive deeper into the machinations of Nanamine’s new plan, which helps to flesh out his character immensely. It’s not exactly a backstory, but it makes him into a more recognizable human – if a pretty despicable one – as opposed to just a villain, and allows Ohba to bring forward one of those elder artists, Azuma, as more of a character as well. The ins and outs of Nanamine’s operation also show of the ol’ calculating Death Note charm, and it encourages the Fukuda crew to all challenge “Shinjitsu Co” – Nanamine’s manga-making business – for top spots in Jump; this is one of the many clever ways Ohba and Obata have managed to inject a series about writing and drawing with battle manga hype and highlights.
The conclusion to this arc is maybe a bit too simple – like it’s not really an assessment of why Nanamine’s approach doesn’t work, so much as just maintaining that “true” manga needs to have heart – but I can’t deny that it had me smiling and cheering the whole time. Consider my emotions successfully manipulated.
And the Muto Ashirogi duo take the experience and flip it into motivation for not only a really inventive PCP standalone story, but also – leading into volume 18 – some really exciting ideas for a new one-shot.
The other criticism I could make toward vol. 17 I likely wouldn’t have noticed without Ohba making something of a point of it: Miho hasn’t really been a part of anything lately. The last time we actually dealt with Mashiro’s feelings for her seems like ages ago; there’re exactly two panels in which Mashiro texts Miho, and she comments on how brief the text is. It will be interesting if this precedes some evolution on that front… but in the here and now, it’s just a reminder of how comparatively weak her part in the story has become at this point.