4 out of 5
There are, in my mind, three general possibilities regarding the sexism that’s more or less apparent in Tsugumi Ohba’s various works, and which remains the main roadblock from my fully falling for his stories:
- It’s unintentional, and Ohba is reflecting a mentality and behaviors learned from the world around him. This isn’t a positive, and could certainly be said to be something problematic with much manga – not to mention what it suggests about “the world around him” – but this at least opens things up to conversation a bit.
- It’s intentional as commentary. There are some things in Bakuman that hint at this, and it’s what’s kept me on the edge of my judgments in Platinum End as well: that Ohba is purposefully highlighting the simplistic, sex-sells nature of stereotypical manga, and is both playing into it – in the sense that many of his scenarios and characters are over-the-top – and then also trying to (arguably) cleverly double-deal, snarkily pointing out the shallowness of what obviously works and then giving the reader exactly that. This is the most ideal scenario, though still problematic, as there’s a fine line between commentary and then actually promoting what you’re possibly critically commenting about, and I don’t think Ohba responsibly balances that.
- It’s intentional as Ohba’s actual point of view. This is partially the first point – learned behaviors – but blended with commentary for the sexism, i.e. “I think of women this way, and I think you should too.”
Now, to be clear, volume 3 is nowhere as obvious with this as volume 1 of Bakuman was, or much of Platinum End. But it’s still here, along with some casual homophobia. Are these realistic representations of our 15 year old teens? Yes, possibly, and even in the late 00s, when this was written, we (…majority of white male readers) were much less aware of the ingrained biases and inclusive mentalities in these things, but I’d still say some of the attitudes feel “dated” for that time. More importantly is the responsibility I mention above: conflating a manga artist’s sorrow over his lack of his success with his lack of girlfriend is, again, probably realistic – I’m sure Ohba’s heard and felt similarly – but the way it’s presented isn’t nuanced, rather just a tossed off aside.
All of this ran through my head while reading volume 3, and, if anything, regardless of which point it actually is up above, I think it’s good that the book leaves some room to think about this stuff, and I’m totally far away from the notion that the majority of the content is really goddamned good. Mashiro and Takagi are working hard to produce their mainstream manga, and Ohba starts pushing and pulling on a lot of intriguing plot threads, with the duo’s bond tested by the former becoming an assistant to superstar youngster Eiji, and the latter finding out he actually has something resembling feelings for Miyoshi, who, despite my finger-pointing above, starts becoming more fleshed out as a character here as well. (If still more 2-dimensional in her pursuits than the leads and male side characters.) This is in addition to the behind-the-scenes info and creation and the Jump business model we get, as well as some thoughts on the static nature of the industry, as expressed in an interesting conversation between the youthful, naive Eiji, Mashiro, and his two other assistants – an older, struggling artist, and another up-and-comer.
No criticisms reserved for Obata: his panel arrangements and characterizations are so, so good, and his use of physical comedy – when to switch to basic outlines and whatnot – is spot-on.
It’s a fascinating series, both for what it’s directly about, and also for the way – for better or worse – it has me thinking about the series’ indirect effects.