4 out of 5
They’ve committed themselves to gag manga Tanto, and now it’s a matter of making it as good as it possibly can be.
The cycle of one-shot to series continues, and it’s interesting how Ohba is, essentially, repeating how Ashirogi started with their initial Akamaru one-shot and exactly repeating it, but juxtaposing Mashiro’s / Takagi behaviors now versus then – though very indirectly, mind you. It’s not a photocopy; rather, it’s up to the reader to note the tempestuous nature of the business, and how maxims like effort always being rewarded not necessarily holding true; how statistics and “experience” – the boys are two years in – aren’t guarantees. This is the behind-the-scenes stuff Bakuman really sells – the more detailed day-to-day aspects are, of course, fascinating, but the day-to-day drudgeries are as well.
The drama with Takagi and his developing work relationship with Ko is also well handled; Takagi justifying his hiding this from Kaya is absolutely believable, as-is the way it topples over to mess up Mashiro’s interactions with Azuki. And because this feels both character and story motivated, it’s not a distraction. The resolution also feels true to everyone, without it being a copout.
That can partially be said to be true for Ko’s struggles with her own manga, in which she’s being (essentially) forced to include fanservice crap. The business-like fashion in which she tries to understand the appeal of panty shots works, I’d say – Ohba is able to dodge out of bigger questions by playing it off as “innocent,” within a certain context, and then stacking it up next to leches who approach the material with less innocence. You can still boil this down to “boys will be boys,” which is gross, but within the very heterosexual, generalized tone of Bakuman, it’s better than nothing. I wasn’t taken out of the material; it fit. This starts to be true with Ko’s interactions with Nakai, and the latter’s treatment in general, but Ohba falls into that generic dude role of “standing up for women” while also leering at them, and puts Nakai in his place but then lets him walk away with dignity. Again – better than nothing, but also not moving the meter at all, and just kind of the easiest path out of this stuff.
I put a lot of words into that, but again, it didn’t take me out of the story, and the characters – maybe except Nakai – all feel true to themselves. Had Ohba held a little bit firmer on Nakai being a scumbag, this would’ve been closer to perfection.