Obsession pushes Saiko in Bakuman Chapter 5: Time and Key

Bakuman Volume 1 Cover

Velcome my pretties, and your little dogs too. Today I react to Bakuman Chapter 5: Time and Key. This chapter’s obsession with… obsession re: Saiko gets me anxious, and I also get Meta in this bitch. Because I love me some meta, bitches.

Disregarding the uhm…whatever that was, if you like this read through (and would like to catch up), please consider reading more the entire read through here. I will be posting these on a weekly basis, and they are real good. So read them. Please and Thank You.

Scheduling Note. Because I am beholden to no man, I will post these read-through’s on Mondays going forward, for meta-reasons we’ll discuss here.

And one final note. Please, for fucks sake, don’t be a cockwaffle and support the Mangaka who make Manga by either getting the dirt cheap subscription to Shonen Jump (it’s, $1.99, honestly); or by buying the Tankobon volumes, also sold through their website here. I am not sponsored by Viz or Shonen Jump, I’m just a po’ boy who believes in supporting artists.

Without further ado. Let’s chat about Chapter 5: Time and Key

Summary

Scene 1: Obsession and Drive

Saiko wakes up only to find he has slept through – and failed – his exam. The class – including Miho – laugh at him. Shujin gets on his case about this and \realizes that, true to his word, he spent the entire night practicing drawing. Saiko pulls out a G-Pen and notes that Manga is a limitless endeavor. The only limits are how good you are at making it.

Saiko says that he feels like there is no time to waste, and he is driven to get better quickly to achieve his dream. He makes his way to the Studio, and asks if Shujin wants to join. Shujin agrees. Saiko gives him a duplicate key to the studio and asks whether he wants to drop in regularly or not. Surprised at the gift, he accepts the key.

Scene 2: Draw Draw Draw

Saiko shows Shujin his latest drawings, which Shujin thinks are amazing. Saiko, though, rejects them as stiff and worthless: the proportions are off, and they are not drawn to emphasize motion. He also laments the difficulty of the G-Pen; he was unable to get the right line thickness with it. Saiko notes that he tried using the Kabura “Dip” pen instead.

Shujin asks whether it is a “Dip Pen”, and if it is the standard. Saiko tells him that his Uncle used a Dip Pen until his editor told him about the G-Pen; Taro tried the G-Pen, but, too used to the dip pen, never used it. Saiko explains that the Dip Pen can only draw lines of a certain thickness, with little variation.

Shujin asks whether he can use a Dip Pen instead. Saiko says no: his uncle was able to get away with it because he drew a gag manga, and he always claimed “I’m a Bad Drawer”. Saiko doubles down and says he’ll just have to practice and get used to it.

Scene 2, Part II: Assistants Matter Too

Saiko takes out some scenery that he drew as well. Shujin, amazed by their quality, doesn’t say anything. He suspects Saiko’s dissatisfaction with their quality as well. Saiko shows him reference materials for scenery he used. Shujin remarks on the volume of reference materials. Saiko says computers are used more regularly these days, but that the paper volumes have line drawings for him to practice with.

He then states that, without an assistant he’ll need to draw the “effects” himself. Shujin asks what “effects” he’s talking about, and he pulls out a chart of different line effects that he would tell his assistants to draw, based on the number. He shows Shujin a book “How to Draw Manga Vol. 1”; he also discusses pasting Screentones as well.

Shujin expresses shock at how much there is to do. Saiko agrees with him and notes he panicked when he thought about everything he had to learn. He also admires his uncle for doing all this work without a G-Pen, and without White-Out: he would re-draw panels from scratch (which Shujin thinks is both stupid and amazing). Saiko remembers his goal to be published by 18, and re-affirms his drive to move forward. “I can’t waste anytime”.

Shujin admonishes him for his obsession and notes that should still study for the exam, even though he understands his motivation.

Scene 2, Part III: Stupid Yakusa North

Saiko announces his plan to go to Yakusa North, a high school with a poor reputation, nicknamed “Stupid Yakusa North”. Saiko explains he wants to devote himself fully to Manga, and if he goes to a stupid school, he won’t have to study as hard, and can devote more time to it. Shujin worries for him, and asks him about Miho: don’t they need to go to the same school? Shujin pushes about getting Miho’s e-mail.

Saiko explains he has to go to a different high school because:

He’s a dummy

Shujin sees the romanticist-man coming out as Saiko explains that when he and Miho meet again, he’ll be a Mangaka and she’ll be a voice actress. And until they’ve both achieved their goals, they’re going to encourage each other through text and email.

Shujin, concerned, warns him not to be exactly like his uncle. He goes on to warn him that she might find somebody else while in high school. Saiko isn’t having it: she’ll remain faithful. He trusts her. Shujin doesn’t understand his faith at all but he believes that they will end up together.

Shujin then comments on whether they will remain “Chaste” which makes Saiko angry. But he agrees that that is what he wants. He then claims 18 is the right age to think about “that stuff”. They both laugh. Shujin says he’ll join Saiko at Yakusa North, which Saiko worries about.

Scene II, Part IV: I.Q. Comedians

Shujin explains that they will have an easier time being a team if they go to the same school. Saiko says he should go to a good school and secure his future. Shujin explains this is repayment for the key, and also talks about how uncool it is for a Mangaka to come from a place like Tokyo University – where he wanted to go – and mentions that he doesn’t want to be an “I.Q. Comedian”: People who go to a smart high school, who are made fun of it they’re not funny, or not good Mangaka. et. al. when that is their job.

Shujin and Saiko will go to North High. But for now, Shujin wants to read all the Manga he can, so he can get a sense for what makes good Manga. Saiko refers him to “The Qualifications of a Man” which are all about what a good Mangaka is. It has five major rules

Shujin reads the five qualifications for a Manga Artist and a man.
Be a man

Saiko laments how everything seems to be about popularity these days, to which Shujin observes: You did tell me you like Manly Manga.

Saiko then tells him his Uncle had his own three rules to be a Mangaka.

  1. Conceit: Seriously Believe that You are better than others
  2. Do Your Best
  3. Luck

Saiko explains that because Taro wasn’t a good artist, he had to be conceited enough to make up for that fact. But he also notes that because they aren’t geniuses, they’ll need luck, and a lot of practice.

Scene 3: Coda and Cliffhanger

At this point, Shujin reads all the Manga he can while Saiko practices drawing past the point obsession. On Monday, Shujin finds a shocking Manga: a semi-finalist for the Osamu Tezuka award, Age 15: The same age as they are.

Reaction

A picture of a G-Pen from Bakuman

Limitlessness

I’m not gonna lie. That panel made me giddy.

One of the joys of this series for me so far has been that exciting feeling of starting a journey in art that feels Shonen. The idea that you are on a frontier of the imagination, staring out into an endless expanse, ripe for cartography and exploration is just, ugh, it’s great. I don’t really know how to say otherwise.

And it’s a genuine – meta – thrill. On the one hand, you can write about anything you want: wanna have some fucking Ninja Orangutans fighting Psychic Dinosaurs? Do it. Want to write a character drama about a man who has lost his wife to cancer? Do it. The map is only as wide as your imagination.

Wanna write a meta-narrative about your favorite art form and make it into a compelling shonen romp? Do it my dudes.

That sense of adventure is palpable. I get that thrill when I think about writing fiction, or making movies…or writing for a blog. All of it is so exciting because it’s not confined to some binary yes or no. Your imagination dictates how far you take it.

And even though you’re sitting hunched over, tired, and bleary eyed, you are in another world entirely. You traverse those lands in a body that isn’t your own, and go on adventures. It may not be Luffy on the Thousand Sunny; but you’re still going on an adventure, seeing amazing sights, and engaging in epic battles.

Just like a reader would be. You get to experience that frontier first-hand, to chart it out and explore it in depth. But Saiko also emphasizes that it’s a double edged pen.

You are in complete control, and you can mess it up real bad; or your imagination short circuits for some reason and you can’t think of anything creative. The flipside of that thrill is the terror of fucking up horribly. You take a wrong narrative turn and end up fucking your characters over. The plot dynamics make no sense, you make a logical error 30 chapters later that totally ruins the main stories progression. It’s an adventure with the wrong turns still in place. It’s great.

Ahem.

This chapter – of all the chapters so far – hit me particularly hard for a lot of reasons. But the main one is Saiko.

The Distressing Relateability of Saiko’s Obsession

Saiko scared me this chapter, which is both a testament to the writing so far, but also to how relateable the narrative is. Now that I’m much older than Saiko was, I can see just how risky and dangerous his obsession is; and I admire it, even if I want to throttle him for his stupidity.

So far I’ve made a number of notes on the parallelism that this story has employed frequently to make the connection between Saiko and his uncle.

Saiko paralleling his uncle as his drawing desk.

That image right therehas the same gesture his uncle made when he was drawing, and the hair style is the same kind of droop. That parallelism serves to make the narrative more compelling than it would be otherwise, because honestly, drawing Manga is not prima facie a bankable premise. It’s a hard sell to convince someone to read something so meta.

But to – as already noted – tell an inter-generational love story, that makes heavy use of parallelism to create tension? Well, sign me up.

Saiko isn’t just pursuing his dream, he’s rectifying the failures of the past by pursuing his dream. And he’s doing it in a short time to surpass his uncle and do what his uncle never could. In the process, he is acting…exactly like his uncle.

That’s a complicated narrative dynamic and some really strong characterization. To not only set up this parallel, but then make the character drive into it by pushing so hard is a neat little loop. Like a narrative Klein Bottle.

And I’m glad that they elected to take that tack when setting up the stakes, because otherwise it would be hard to care as much. Although Saiko and Shujin are both likeable characters, their interest in Manga is nothing overtly special. If it was just two friends doing it say, for the fuck all of it, then there wouldn’t be this tension gets wound up tighter and tighter.

But the tension is there, and it’s tight because Meta reasons.

Saiko’s mannerisms are not the only thing that worry me. Watching him get hopelessly romantic set off all sorts of alarm bells in my brain because, ya see, I’m a hopeless romantic. Or I was. I’m recovering.

My hopeless romanticism…failed me. That is the simple truth of the matter. More than that though, it actively prevented me from making choices that would have made me lead an existence that maybe wasn’t so lonely. In the face of making a healthy choice, or my obsession with a romantic ideal, I deferred to the ideal. But as I review those decisions I’ve made in the name of Romance (not in the name of love), I find myself making stupid, bone-headed decisions that only really satisfy some platonic ideal. Something unreal.

I pushed away people who might have cared for me genuinely in pursuit of an idealized love that was never going to happen. Do I regret it? No. I don’t live with regrets. It was a lesson. But I can see what it was worth in the cold light of day; and it leaves me wanting, in some key ways.

To see Saiko make a series of explicitly terrible choices because he’s a hopeless romantic prone to obsession, that just hurts man. And not only that, the exact mistakes his uncle made. Oof.

Although I’m not super well acquainted with the culture of Japan, I know that High School is – comparatively to the U.S.A – a huge fucking deal, and basically determines your future. Having Saiko reject a good high school; reject going to the same school as his love; and refusing to get to know her is mildly infuriating and worrisome.

It’s worrisome and infuriating because I understand it all too well. I pulled similar shit. But it’s worth remembering: Romance is not love. It isn’t. Romance is idealized, love is not. Love is complicated and confusing and a total mess more often than not.

But man, these stakes are some next-level tense.

Obsession and more meta-shit.

Even more than the hopeless romanticism is the artistic obsession Saiko exhibits this chapter. And we’re about to get super self-referential, so please forgive me.

As it turns out, writing a blog and running a website has a lot of moving of parts. There are things like SEO, Site Design, market research, social media coordination, self-editing, finding stuff to talk about. Not writing too complicated, not writing too little, and more. It’s a lot. and it takes a lot of work. Especially for one dude.

So when I saw these panels, I felt some goddamn resonance for sure:

Saiko realizing all the stuff he has to do, and mentioning how panicked he is
A panel showing the effects sheet for assistants to draw in

But it also filled me with a perverse excitement.

Even though it takes forever to make even one of these posts, I get a genuine thrill out of putting this content together for all….2 of you readers. And it’s a one man operation. I have no editor, I have no SEO-smith, Image Editors, Brand Designers. I’m just doing this because I can.

And Saiko’s passion for his work resonates with me. Staying up for hours to get this post structure right, to get it SEO friendly, to get it filled with enough images to space the words out. It’s hard – annoying work – but it’s really rewarding, too. And Saiko’s obsession – although troubling, is also inspiring – and it’s affected how I look at this endeavor.

I don’t know what role I want blogging to play in my future. But right now, I love it. And It’s something worth obsessing over, but it highlights something essential about Manga and any good art form. And Saiko’s devotion brings it up too:

It takes a fuckton of practice

I don’t love these posts I’ve written. They need a lot of work. And that’s partially because I’m just starting out, and don’t know what makes for good content. But also, I haven’t put the time or the effort into get acclimated. Saiko’s obsession reflects the sentiment most artists should take: you need to work your balls off to be any good. It ain’t gonna happen overnight.

I want to be a good writer, and make meaningful content; and that’s gonna take practice. But I believe in myself. I believe I can do it. I can refine the process, I can work consistently, and I can get there. But, like Saiko, I have to be…obsessive, to a certain extent. I have to be willing to devote time.

So I suppose it is appropriate that one of the earliest series I cover here be this one. Because the thematic parallels are just too good. My obsession is only beginning.

And now I’ve gotten all that meta-shit out of the way. I’m going to focus on one more thing.

This single line of dialogue is incredible

Amazing

I think this might be the most impactful and good line of dialogue in this chapter. For a few reasons.

First: It establishes who Taro was in an action. He refused to change his behavior, even though he needed to adjust it to get what he wanted (Miyuki)
Second: It establishes who Saiko is, as he is thematically tied to Taro directly, and shows an equal hard-headedness in his behavior
Third: It establishes world building: you need to use G-Pens. World building applies to the real world as well.
Finally: It establishes a challenge for Saiko to overcome.

This series is a tough sell overall, and having dialogue that resourceful only strengthens it overall. It may be a lot to wring out of that single line of dialogue, but it’s all there, if you are looking for it. I have an obsession, what can I say?

And now that I’ve been rambling for too long, that’s my cue to exit. Join me next time as I react to Chapter 6 of Bakuman.

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