3 out of 5
It couldn’t have ended any other way. It’s a very satisfying ending, and hits all the beats you’d hope for it to, but that inevitability makes it a rather done deal once you’re rounding the corner. Ohba tries to cleverly “cheat” that by inputting the last couple pages of Reversi into it – giving us a shonen manga conclusion in the middle of our comedy drama manga conclusion – but still, there’s a slight going-through-the-motions feel to this last tankobon.
And the rating would / should be higher, except I can’t help but to reflect on how little some of the side character subplots actually mattered in the long run, as well as how much stronger Bakuman could’ve been, on the whole, but spending more time with Azuki. We end up feeling a lot more for Kaya throughout, simply because she’s actually present; while it was great to see Miho get some agency in these final chapters (I mean, the whole thing is very feel good, for everyone), it just underlined that we don’t really know much about her, or what she’s been through. Storywise, Ohba tries to address this to a degree by making her finally earned union with Mashiro be rather uncomfortable (and he’s sort of sidestepped it throughout the series by continually having people say the two are a lot alike – meaning we can assume Miho’s experiences and emotions mimic Mashiro’s…), but it’s all a little weird in that we’ve been so focused on book sales and plotting for chapters on end, and now suddenly here’s Miho, and it’s almost like she’s a new character.
So, really, while the final book essentially gives us everything we could want, the series was at its strongest when dealing with publishing minutiae, and stumbled when trying to do anything too heavy with its characters. As volume 20 draws the former stuff to a close, we’re only left with the latter, and at a point where we can pretty much predict how it’s all going to turn out. As I started, though, there was really no other way to end things, and I won’t lie – I got some big smiles on my face when things were falling into place, just as you might in a successful romcom in which the stars finally align for our leads. That’s the feeling. There’s no surprise to it – and more critically, it makes one wish for a tighter version of this with more even focus on those characters – but it’s also undeniably satisfying.