3 out of 5
Volume 7 of Bakuman’s cover features our Muto Ashirogi duo – Takagi and Mashiro – working at a diner table, not so much in their usual frenzy but kinda zoned out, heads down, eyes closed. This is pretty representative of the tone of the contents: after the conclusion to the sentence which cliffhanged volume 6, there’s a big decision to make in terms of what to do next, and while the back and forth on this is intense, it’s somewhat reminiscent of when Death Note would go into its logic rabbit holes – it’s a circular conversation, with Takagi and Mashiro ultimately coming to their typical “let’s do it our own way” resolution. That’s not to rag on this – it’s a totally relevant rabbit hole to where Bakuman’s story is, and very true to what we know of the characters, it’s just a bit of an obsessive swirl when everything had been momentum up to this point. The release of that obsession then results in a low period for Muto Ashirogi, in which their pacing isn’t butted right up against a deadline, hence the reminiscence to that cover image. I understand this is a necessary pause for breath in the long run, but it’s also not very page-turning in the moment. Aaaand in the meantime, Ohba’s writerly tendencies start to poke their way in again, and I’m realizing that its more its indirect sexism – or rather the way it’s presented but not commented upon – that makes it problematic. Tsugumi is showing “how things are,” we can say, with editors asking for panty shots in the comics, but instead of diving into that, it’s just presented, and we move on. I can’t ask a strip that isn’t inherently political or commentative to do a deep dive on this, but it feels equally irresponsible to somewhat tacitly “approve” these things by adding them in to a strip that’s generally positive and upbeat; that is: you can do the whole ‘it is what it is’ storytelling, but then the details should be presented without bias, and that’s not necessarily the case. A plus/minus is that the autobiographical underpinnings of Bakuman allow us to read in to Takagi being told that he doesn’t handle female characters well… although Ohba turns this into a potential romantic subplot, so we’ll see how that plays out.
What I’m snipping at above isn’t as overbearing as it was at the start of the strip, but it’s there, even if it feels more “acceptably” story bound at this point. Overall, an important transition point in the evolution of Takagi’s and Mashiro’s approaches to their jobs, which in part deepens the reality of the strip, though partially at the sacrifice to some momentum.