‘ello ‘ello my tops and bottoms to my read-through of Bakuman Chapter 6: Top and Bottom, in which we discuss the value of an editor, the importance of hard work, and what separates the top from the bottom. Oh, and some romantic hijinks as well.
Previous read-throughs can be read here. If you like what you’re reading, please share it with others, so this can be an even better series; because the more time I can focus on it, the more gooder it gets, or whatever.
And, as always, please consider subscribing to Shonen Jump like a champ, so you can support the artists who write Manga. Also, consider buying the Tankobon – digital or paper – if paying 1.99 a month is not to your liking. I don’t get paid to say this shit, I just want you to support artists who make art you like.
Without further ado, let’s talk about Chapter 6: Top and Bottom
Rivals and Editors
Continuing directly where the last chapter left off, Saiko and Shujin are in awe that 15-year-old Eiji Nizuma was a semi-finalist. Saiko’s awe turns to frustration as he reads a snide comment from Eiji about his dedication to manga, instead of playing video games. Saiko feels attacked because he was playing video games until a few days ago.
This leads to a discussion on Conceit vs. Confidence, and Shujin cheering Saiko up. While reading/researching Manga the next day, Shujin and Saiko discuss how popular Manga is as a profession for Teen Boys, and discuss their classmate Ishizawa. Ishizawa only draws the same things over and over again for attention; not because he could actually be a mangaka. They point out his criticism of professionals, as well.
Saiko redirects focus to their actual rival: Eiji, who Saiko notes is likely talking to an editor. Saiko explains to a surprised Shujin that competition winners often get Supervising Editors just for winning; or if they lost, and an editor likes their work, they will be picked up.
Saiko goes on to note that having one isn’t enough and that a good editor is key.
Top and Bottom
Saiko shares some insider knowledge he got from his uncle. He explains that editors are assigned to rookies without the rookie making a choice, and have an enormous impact on them. Saiko shares an “urban legend” about a bad editor: you can’t get in touch with him during the day, and he is always out at some hostess bar. He says that that isn’t even the worst possible one.
He then goes on to share a story about an editor whom he admired.
In the story, a rookie working with an editor is told he has potential and is asked to bring in as many drafts as he can. The editor rejects all of them; he goes so far as to shred the latest draft of a one-shot the mangaka, to the mangaka’s horror. Shujin is disgusted and notes that’s illegal. Saiko says it’s great.
Saiko explains that the rookie was so frustrated that he worked even harder and the editor finally accepted his work. The mangaka became one of the greatest of all time. Later on, while they worked together the editor tells him:
Shujin thinks the story is bullshit, but Saiko explains that the editor eventually became editor-in-chief. Saiko then says the story might be made up, but the point he wants to make is that editors are passionate about Manga.
Shujin asks if Saiko met an editor; Saiko hasn’t and couldn’t when his uncle was alive. Shujin offers up a plan to meet one: slap together a One-Shot comic, and bring it to any editor who is not working for Shonen Jump (they want to end up there, pfft). Editors will meet with anyone who has written a comic and would like it reviewed. Shujin doesn’t care about quality. He just wants something to show. Saiko agrees and compliments Shujin’s intelligence. Saiko agrees they should take a piece to Shonen Three.
After confirming they want to do that, they head to the studio to get to work.
A Romantic Interlude
As Shujin expresses a need for a bus pass, Shujin sees three “beautiful women” up ahead: Miho, her mother, and her younger sister, Mina, who is in 5th grade.
Saiko and Miho see each other and immediately get shy and (adorably) awkward. Shujin prods Saiko to get her email address, but Saiko doesn’t want to bother her when she’s with family. Miho physically hides behind her mother. Just as Shujin and Saiko pass by, Miho’s mother says: “What a coincidence Miho. Isn’t that your classmate?”
Shujin has to hold back his laughter, and Miho’s sister notes she is red in the face. Miho gets defensive and so does Saiko. But as they pass each other, Saiko and Miho look at each other at the same moment. Saiko says it feels like they are on the exact same frequency.
Back at the studio, making storyboards for the work they’ll show the editor, they talk.
While working at the Studio, he discusses with Shujin about other encounters with Miho. Saiko reminisces on a number of occasions when he was near Miho, and she would stare at him, and he returned it including at a swimming tournament, and when they started 6th grade. Shujin points out that, even if it’s genuine love, nothing will happen unless they exchange email addresses. Saiko downplays it and says it’ll be fine as long as he gets her email by graduation.
Storyboards and Ideas
Shujin finishes the first 5 pages for an editor: Double Earth The Two Earths. The plot features two versions of Earth: one real earth, and one where experiments are run to make sure the “real” earth remains perfect. Saiko asks whether Shujin ripped the story off and Shujin tells him he made it up himself. Saiko admires the idea and notes it’s depth; and he even expands the idea and goes on to note the potential story beats that the story lends itself to.
Saiko then asks whether they want to take it to Jump and that he’ll do his best with the art. Saiko then asks for more ideas. Shujin then shares a Sports Manga with him about a Blind Baseball Pitcher. Saiko compliments Shujin for his ability to really think about the detailed beats for a story instead of just a basic premise.
Shujin is relieved and excited: he was expecting Saiko to shoot his ideas down and was worried about his over-confidence.
Saiko then tells Shujin to focus on creating a draft of Two Earths before the summer ends that they can take down to the offices of Shonen Jump. Shujin confirms the length of between 31-45 pages. Saiko and he go to work.
The Good Editor
So, what really gets me about this chapter is what it has to say about the dichotomy of Top and Bottom, or Good and Bad, whatever you want to call it: you have to push yourself. And I like how it expresses it through a few different characters
In the anecdote about the shredded final draft, the Good editor’s motivation is to push the Mangaka to work his ass off to be the best (like no one ever was); and that good isn’t good enough. While the story itself is…Uhm, mildly psychopathic, it illustrates something essential to growth and improvement: not settling for good enough. Voltaire had plenty to say about that, but, increasingly, that note resonates with me. I’ve come to…be wary of America’s preference for a culture of comfort.
Or Canada, in that case. what fucking ever.
What I am saying is that collectively, as a culture, we prioritize comfort and being comfortable, instead of pursuing difficult, uncomfortable things. When we elect to make life changes – say we want to lose weight or get a handle on finance – it is culturally acceptable for us to have a certain threshold of discomfort, and we are never required to cross it to achieve our goals.
So if we write something, and we receive criticism, we are free to disregard it, and consider that criticism invalid, if it violates our understanding of our own work. If we can only do 10 pushups, there is no requirement that we, say, push to do 30 pushups, because that would be uncomfortable. And if we do get more uncomfortable than we plan, we can make up for it later by going on a food bender.
I’m guilty of this too.
Which is why the good editor is good. He’s creating the necessary emotional friction for that mangaka to get some lift. This is the essence of “good”
And before I go further, I wanna note that I’m not saying “work until you are a husk of a human being, devoid of all emotion, and unable to deal with life”. I’ve personally experienced severe burnout as a result of overwork; that shit is no joke. The feeling of endless nothingness, the inability to feel pleasure. Spending your nights drained, and feeling the utter dread of waking up to go work. That’s not good.
So that editor anecdote is some high-key propaganda for the Manga industry, all things considered. This frame in particular:
And that makes sense. But by that same token, that friction is necessary.
The Kid who Draws Caricature
In contrast to the editor who pushes hard and has high standards, the anecdote about the guy who draws cute anime-girl caricatures, but does nothing else struck me as…accurate. He is the metaphor for the unmotivated, and the guy who does not wish to be challenged about his work. That’s the real dilemma here. That’s the culture of comfort rearing its ugly head.
Do you go headlong into an uncomfortable space, and eat shit, and get frustrated, and get better. Or do you linger in silence, stagnate, and get nothing done, but remain comfortable? That kid Ishizawa has no problem drawing cute anime girls for attention. And he talks a big game because he’s good, but he doesn’t have to actually test his skills because he doesn’t have to challenge himself to improve. He can talk trash and draw cute pictures.
But if he were forced to put his money where his mouth is, it’d be different. Someone might observe his linework is trash, and he’d have to work on that. Or his character drawings are too stiff. Any number of things.
Because people who work to improve themselves are going to encounter resistance. Failure teaches us which paths to avoid. it’s a cliche, but “No Pain, No Gain” has a lot of truth to it.
Because the pain is not, pain, really. Pain is a poor word. Pain, in the case of discomfort, is the gap between where you are, and where you want to be. And, once you take that path to bridge that gap, it fucking hurts. There is a reason puberty and teething are some of the most painful aspects of aging: growth hurts.
You’re stretched out and altered in a tangible way. And it’s not a guarantee either. It’s the classic conundrum. Do you want to be comfortable, or do you want to grow?
But even more than the unmotivated person is the unmotivated leader. Absentee bosses are, by a wide margin, the worst type of boss to have; and in the artistic field, an absentee editor is terrible. You cannot grow a plant if you do not put stakes to make sure it doesn’t grow all janky and sideways. So too, do you need some direction, and push back to accomplish anything meaningful in your art. It’s the same basic issue.
Because you need someone to tell you how you’re fucking up if you want to improve. It doesn’t have to be as Krieg as the good editor, necessarily. But it should be there. How else are you going to know you’re fucking up if no one tells you?
And I resonate so hard with that point. I have to seek out criticism to get any better, or otherwise, I’m just writing some bullshit and not improving. I can make improvements of my own, but that friction and dialogue lead to improvement.
And, I’ve had shitty editors. I had an editor who would just edit my work and wouldn’t tell me what I did wrong. it was infuriating, and it worsened my writing. and I hated it. It also killed my confidence; but, worst of all, I never got better at writing because he never guided me.
And perhaps my first-hand knowledge makes this resonate more than it would normally. Because I know what it’s like to have an absentee editor.
For Saiko, he is all about growth. He has drunk the proverbial manly kool-aid, and wants to get better because he has a good reason to want that.
And the fact that this chapter uses character moments to enforce this ethos is great. I like how thematically linked everything is. Including the romantic bits (we’ll get to that)
There are anecdotes about good editors and shitty editors. The shitty editors being largely absentees, and disinterested. There is the Caricature kid, but then there are two more that are the top and bottom of this chapter: Eiji and Saiko.
Eiji, aside from being a good motivator, is an example of pure grit. Even though he frames his success in the most noxious “I’m-15-years-old-and-therefore-always-right” way…I would NEVER play video games if I want to play manga, he has a point. He has devoted himself to improvement. His story might be some hot shite ( in the chapter, reviews only compliment his art), but he is focused on his dream at all costs, even if that means sacrificing current pleasures.
And at the end of the chapter, when Saiko, ironically, praises Shujin, that is another example of a good critical analysis. Saiko is praising Shujin’s depth and having thought the story out, instead of shitting something out.
as he says:
Even though it’s a reversal of the trope the story has indulged in for this chapter, the idea is still there: Shujin has done additional work because he wants Saiko’s approval, so he worked extra hard on it.
And Saiko praises him. He may not be an editor at jump level of standard, but he is no slouch either.
Saiko & the Why
And here is the real clincher here. The reason the discomfort is worth it. The “Why”. In Angela Duckworth’s book Grit, and conveniently short Ted Talk about the same topic, she explains that, in order to be gritty, one must have a “Why”. And that why, that purpose, must be so powerful that it pushes you to go through the bullshit to get to it.
In Saiko’s case, he has two excellent whys: a sense of purpose, and romance.
And in this chapter, even though I find the romanticism mildly…silly, I enjoyed seeing a character get to experience it in a real way as Saiko does.
Even though, in real life, his speculations about Miho’s interest are just that: Speculation, not to mention a little too married to narrativity for my liking, seeing him indulge them is adorable. And it’s ten times more adorable seeing him and Miho get horrified and awkward around each other.
Part of me gets a little schadenfreude kick out of it, but also it’s just cute to see people who are mutually interested act so awkward and skittish, like a kitten because you know they’re going to end up together, so their awkwardness is cute, not sad. But also, it’s a nice inversion of this premise of discomfort.
Saiko still hasn’t asked Miho for her email, because it’s too uncomfortable and scary. And while I’ve been there, and am always there (god I need to get rejected in a good way soon), he has to do it if he actually wants to make progress with her. If he does nothing, he’ll end up like a caricature artist, or the kid who plays video games: he’ll never achieve his dream, and never satisfy his why.
that is to say: doing stuff is hard, and painful and uncomfortable, but it’s the only way to get what you want. And I think Teddy Roosevelt said it best:
I’ve been on both sides of this coin. For a long time, I’ve been acclimated to simply accepting my own mediocrity and not pushing myself hard for fear of pain. As a result, I’ve stagnated and moved way too slowly. Humans can take a beating, and we often improve because of stress, not in spite of it. So I’m taking notes on all of this, and getting uncomfortable, so I can improve.
I’m still getting there. This blog post is not nearly to the standard I want it to get. But it’s better than the previous blog posts. Because I’m doing this by myself, I have no resistance; and there is a lot of improvement to make. But I’m going to get better. I’m going to review my work and edit harder. I’m going to double down, and not give myself room to be ok with mediocrity. I will get better,
And it’s going to be really uncomfortable.
Until next time, this is Eric’s read of Bakuman, and I’m going to get better.
If you think I’m ok now though, please follow me on facebook and twitter for the latest updates to my blog, and other writing endeavors.