5 out of 5
Many of Bakuman’s best qualities – the emotional payoffs from our investment in the characters; the insider’s view into manga-making background; smart revitalizations of the storyline – all converge here, with the underwhelming trade-publishing quandary rather quickly checked off in favor of a big announcement: Reversi’s potential for an anime.
Obviously this is a major, long-coming milestone for Muto Ashirogi, and it allows for Miho to play a stronger role in this tankobon. This also shows how Ohba could’ve better ceded Azuki into the series, though: if we had more frequently checked in with her, it would’ve allowed us to stay in touch with her growth as a voice actress (and a freaking character…), not to mention the glimpse into casting inner-working that we also get here. Understandably, this is a book about manga and not anime, so you wouldn’t want to split the focus, but that balance certainly could’ve been achieved, and I can’t think of any downsides to having included more Azuki. If we essentially wasted some chapters on side stories of other manga artists, this would’ve been fine, and more directly related to our lead characters. But, relevant to this review is that it does include her, fully wound into the plot.
Volume 19 also succeeds at doing something I think Ohba has been trying to do, but – allowing that translation may not bringing out some dialogue subtleties – often instead triggers my feelings towards the writer’s social sensitivities (or lack thereof): the hint of Miho’s and Moritaka’s relationship to the public threatens to derail Miho’s career, because voice actresses should not have boyfriends. I can get mad at this concept institutionally, but Tsugumi keeps the conversation around this more on a logistical side – damage control – and the couple discussing how they feel about the potential outcomes – as opposed to any side comments that attempt to brush off the inherent sexism of it. It’s dealing with the problem within the context of the story, and nothing larger than that; I could deride it for not addressing the deeper issue, but the way it comes across is more of the problem being a known one, and trying to address the immediate impacts – Bakuman is not going to solve the issue. Tsugumi’s handling of such things has previously come across as more ignorant because it’s either tossed off as a partial joke, or there will be a throwaway statement trying to justify it in some way. I don’t think this “proves” the creator doesn’t still have some issues (at least in how they align with what I believe my standards are), but as written here, it did not take me out of the story at all.
And that’s a big success, because casting Miho is very much primary to the “goal” of Bakuman, and it shouldn’t feel cheap or knock me out of the reading experience at this point. Instead, I felt all-in: the build-up of the anime announcement; the interesting insights into that decision making process; and seeing how the ruinous cycle of gossip can unsettle even a “sure” thing.
The penultimate chapter of Bakuman is a great one, setting us up for a hopefully equally satisfying conclusion.