5 out of 5
Dammit, I get caught up studying potential gender issues in Tsugumi Ohba’s work, and start side-eyeing all of his books on my shelf, and then I read Bakuman volume 4 and it’s perfect, and I’m a fanboy all over again. I hope, I hope, I hope that what we see here – that the sexism that’s wended into aspects of this book is actually commentary / observations on the manga industry, and not Ohba’s actual point of view – ends up holding true throughout the series, because if so, in combination with how exciting the behind-the-scenes of manga-making is, I can fully understand and get on board with this series’ classic status.
Volume 4 has Mashiro and Takagi “breaking up” and then coming back together to reconfigure their bid for primetime as a detective series instead of a battle manga. It’s… perfect. The way Ohba handles their relationship as not devolving into bickering, maintaining a thread of friendship while the two figure out their own business which ends up synching up as business together once more, is the drama/comedy stuff of dreams, having the reader enjoying the struggle the whole way through, rather knowing it will work out but fully wrapped up in the joy of when it does. Miyoshi’s part in this is truly enjoyable as well, asserting that her own dream is, essentially, to help our artist / writer duo to achieve theirs, but also maintaining a sense of agency in that involvement – she’s an active, and not passive, participant. Yes, these are still “simple” characters, but it feels fitting for their age, and you can see how it stacks up against some of the older characters’ actions.
Re-dedicated to their goal, editor Hattori finally gets on board with supporting them in a bid for a series, tasking the two with winning another contest – The Golden Cup, which all of our other manga artists – Fukuda, Nakai – are also entering, while also keeping up with delivering final boards for the series they would want serialized, proving they can keep up with the workload. The tenseness of waiting for the outcome of The Cup is palpable, and Ohba takes the time to start poking at developing Mashiro’s / Azuki’s relationship during this as well.
Obata has to switch up his style here and there to present the mangas of all these different artists, and of course he nails it, alongside the funny and serious beats of the story proper.