Mindgames abound in Bakuman Chapter 8: Carrot and Stick

Hiya, mi amigos, this is Eric signing in for another edition of my Bakuman Read-through. In today’s episode, we will discuss the complex tactics of editorial offices, the merits of carrots…and the use of sticks.

You can find reactions to previous posts here in this nifty index. I post a chapter by chapter analysis every Monday and I did not post last week because I took a self-imposed break courtesy of Monsieur Tarantino’s new film release. I am back now, so you can get your Bakuman goodness to go.

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Without further ado, let’s jump into Volume 2 with Chapter 8: Carrot and Stick

Summary

Shujin’s Backstory

Excited to share their story with the editor Mr. Hattori, Saiko and Shujin arrive 20 minutes early…way too early. They walk around to kill time and discuss Shujin’s family life as his brother wants the latest copy of Shonen Jump before its release. Saiko asks about his brother’s education but Shujin explains that since he failed to get into a National University he’s partying and living it up to enjoy his youth.

Saiko asks if that’s the reason why Shujin wants to do manga instead of a straightforward career path and Shujin explains his past. His father lost his job at a bank due to his boss’s failure and put the house under financial strain. Shujin’s mother became vengeful and whispered into his ear throughout his youth that Shujin would have to avenge their family by doing extra well in school, get a good job, and make a whole boatload of money.

Shujin eventually got fed up with that shit. He told her that he is no puppet and that he would live his own life. After that, his family chose to let him do what he wanted. Saiko does not comment further.

The Meeting

The two head to their three o’clock meeting with Mr. Hattori and fill out the necessary paperwork. They are then ushered to a special booth to meet with him. As they walk past, they overhear other editors critiquing the work of other aspiring mangaka and they get nervous.

Eventually Hattori – Akira Hattori – comes in and greets them. He takes their manuscript for The Two Earths and reads it quickly. Understandably, they freak the fuck out as he assesses their potential to be a mangaka. Saiko also recalls that his uncle told him that if they offer you tea, you’re golden.

Hattori asks to read it again and just when they think their futures are ruined, they’re given some breathing room. Finally, Hattori gives them a verdict: it’s good; he offers them coffee as well.

The Carrot

While Hattori openly praises their work, internally he finds it not to be very good but promising due to their age (14). Internally, he sees potential but then questions whether the story is good at all, which he is unable to actually determine (uh-oh). Hattori then resolves to praise them first and then critique their work after so they don’t feel attacked.

First, he interviews them about their goals. Shujin is overly enthusiastic and shares way too much. He also explains the division of labor and their goal of being published mangaka. Hattori chooses to refrain from pointing out how difficult it is to be successful in the industry. He goes on to praise their story and its appeal to sci-fi fans.

Then he criticizes the novelistic nature of the story and its over-reliance on dialogue instead of visual cues.

While Hattori assesses them, Saiko assesses his quality as an editor trying to decide whether he is good or bad. He can’t tell based on that criticism, as it is too easy to spot and Saiko had the same thought. Saiko notes that he isn’t sure whether to trust Hattori or not.

Hattori then assesses Saiko’s drawing: good, but not manga, just illustrations. Saiko takes the criticism stoically.

The Stick

Shujin – still freaking out – explains Saiko has only been drawing for two months. Hattori is astonished and expresses optimism for their future, noting to himself how quickly people can develop when they are young. Saiko talks about how Hattori compliments them continually, but it only sounds like criticism to them.

Saiko gets annoyed with Shujin’s continued blabbering. Hattori then asks Shujin whether he is clinical about manga and does research on the greatest hits in determining what to write. Shujin says yes. Hattori explains his theory on the two types of mangaka: the researchers and the ones who do what they want.

Hattori says the one who draws what they want, heedless of the crowd and research, is the one who can be a hitmaker.

Trust, Cards & Coffee

Hattori elaborates and creates a variation on Taro’s theme: you can’t predict a hit. If you could, editors would make way more money. Hattori pulls out his business card and gives them his cell phone email address, but not his cell phone number. He tells them to send only him their new work once they have more because he is impressed with them.

Mid-excitement, he dampens the mood by explaining that they’re only bronze for now, which is why he didn’t give them his cell phone number. Saiko still doesn’t know whether to trust him, although he is closer to trusting him than before. Hattori asks if he can submit their work to a monthly contest.

Shujin asks whether they have a shot. Hattori explains that it is not so simple; everyone has an opinion and even the editors don’t know what will strike big, otherwise, they wouldn’t cancel a series only a few chapters in. He then says that creating a hit is a big gamble.

Saiko decides to trust him immediately, recalling his uncle’s words on the matter. And Hattori goes further: the decision is also to make sure that Saiko and Shujin don’t go to any competing magazines for publication. While it isn’t perfect, if it were terrible he would have rejected it immediately. He offers to read their next work when it is ready.

First Steps & Awkward Changes

Afterward, Shujin and Saiko discuss whether the meeting was successful. While they believe they did make progress – Shujin going so far as to claim they almost have an editor – Saiko is more weary, noting that he openly explained that they were bronze at best. Saiko says he trusts Hattori and thinks he might be a good editor. Shujin believes he is a good editor.

Hattori goes back to his office where he discusses the submission with the others. He notes that he got lucky and that their youth was appealing. He then says that they’ll create a hit in three years while another editor notes they’re no match for Eiji Nizuma. The other editors laugh at Hattori’s three years remark: if he doesn’t get a hit before then, he’ll be transferred to another department.

Meanwhile, Saiko encounters a nightmarish new situation unfolding in school.

To address the perception that the girls and boys don’t get along in Class 2, the teacher is putting desks together.

And Miho and Saiko are together. Womp womp.

Saiko and Miho are paired together in class
Viz Media

Reaction

A Tense Joyous Chapter

So, I need to get off my chest that I unabashedly loved this chapter all the way through. Emotionally it hit every beat with the right blend of comedy and tension to make it an absolute joy to read through.

But what I particularly enjoyed was the Keikaku (that means strategy) and conflict at the center of the chapter itself. Because my friends, you see, this was a battle of the mind. Mwahahahahah.

I don’t know why I felt the need for that. Moving on.

What I love about this Keikaku laden chapter is how much it both establishes Akira Hattori as a character, and enriches the depth of Saiko’s perception, while also posing new questions for both of them.

It is a byproduct of this write-up series going so slowly perhaps – and my own aspirations towards filmmaking – but the tension of this entire sequence was established really well by the preceding chapters. Everything in the manga industry is a risk and an uphill battle. And if you get a shitty editor that can sink your career just as much as a dud manga. But if you can’t get an editor at all you’re fucked. The effect is cumulative: this has to go well, or else. And it’s not even over at this point. It’s just beginning.

So when I saw this magisterial image

Saiko and Shujin waiting for their piece to be read.
Pictured: Pure brutality and honesty (Courtesy of Viz Media)

I cackled silently because I felt it in my fucking bones.

Those huge-ass “thadump” sound effects of their hearts going into overdrive, thinking of themselves as the worst artists ever. Shujin even making fun of his nickname (which means prisoner): it was hilariously over the top. But also kinda not, either. That’s how it feels to submit your work professionally, even when you think your shit is THE shit. It’s terrifying and your heart pounds wildly in your chest so hard you can hear it thumping in your eardrums. The worst-case scenario is always playing out.

Because entertainment industries are brutal.

And artists who do this for a living are a different breed than critics

This isn’t your garden variety YouTuber with the editorial insight of a capuchin monkey with a fondness for weed and scratching his balls (love you, YouTubers). This is a seasoned editor who knows what sells (sort of) and what doesn’t. These people have to review manga day in and day out and have to be hit-makers. They have a bottom line to consider, and they see so much shit they are ready to discard if it isn’t promising.

For an editor, writing is a war of attrition.

And the kind of muddy middle that the chapter lands on is so much more satisfying because of it. They aren’t good…yet. They’re worth coffee, not tea. But Hattori does see potential in their work. But just potential.

A key to this stress is the recognition of how small you are. You instantly become aware that you are one of hundreds if not thousands of other people, vying for a spot in a magazine. That little piece of visual storytelling, where they overhear another editor critiquing an aspiring mangaka deftly increases the tension in an economical way. The decision to have booths that sit outside the editorial office, make their dream seem so much smaller than they thought when they started.

The big leagues are big for a reason.

But it’s simultaneously exhilarating for this chapter because when they nab that editor’s contact info, it’s an honest to god victory. It is a validation of the highest order, even when it isn’t a perfect thing. Just getting recognized for your potential can be as thrilling and motivating as anything. Especially from a professional.

Keikaku means strategy

But what makes this chapter truly a stand-out is how Hattori plans to lure these two promising young mangaka in with the carrot and the stick. He is bolstering their egos while simultaneously pointing out their flaws, a fact which is not lost on Saiko at all as evidenced by his narration.

I get it: artists are sensitive and editors are calloused because they have to be. But Editor’s can’t scare away talent so they have to learn the fine art of mild-bullshit. Praising and criticizing a work at the same time. At least to start.

This internal sparring, in which Saiko gets a read on Hattori while Hattori tries to lure them in with operant conditioning gives the whole chapter a dynamic tension that deepens the primary conflict: determining whether Saiko and Shujin can be writers.

This push-pull of the visceral emotional drive to get an editor interested and the headier decision to trust Hattori or be pulled in by what he has to say gives this chapter a nice…fullness? I don’t know the right word. Maybe it’s depth. But it is more than just two kids going to get an editor’s approval.

It’s a battle. And it’s also a bit meta with this particular panel:

Viz Media

I have a distinct feeling that this criticism was levied at this story by an editor at some point. I always appreciate these little meta-jokes where I can find them.

And besides, you don’t know how difficult it is, to sum up these chapters because they are so dialogue-heavy. But still, I do it. For you, you ingrates.

But I digress

This emphasis on the internal mindstate of the characters is great and I really like another meta-aspect of Hattori’s role in this chapter.

The Reader’s Carrot and Stick

The end of this chapter feels like a great stick to the chapter’s carrot narrative. Having Hattori be the lowest rung of the Shonen Jump office gives us a nice little hint at potential conflicts to come. Hattori – like the main characters – has something to prove. He is untested, like them. But what interests me more is how accurate Saiko’s gut is.

This chapter’s battle really puts on display how tuned in and strategic Saiko is. As Shujin said in Chapter 2, Saiko is smart but he doesn’t show it. And this is where we really get to see that in action. But the ending to the chapter allows for some doubt as to his intuition. How good of an editor is Hattori? He’s honest, and he’s giving good feedback, but is he trustworthy?

These small, ambiguous decisions by Saiko and Hattori are as exciting as any battle. They leave the story open to greater conflicts down the line. Saiko’s drive to get manga written has already demonstrated his fallibility and a habit of over-enthusiasm. Will the memory of his uncle lead him down a dark path?

Hattori doesn’t even know if the story is really good, and he’s the laughingstock of the office, already on thin ice for not producing a hit. Is he a good editor?

Part of me wants to say yes, because of this particular nugget:

Viz Media

But also, he comes off as generally honest throughout the meeting. And I mean honest in the way that honest people are honest.

Coffee and Honesty

Despite the syntactical chaos of the statement, there are many kinds of honest. And the honest that Hattori is is, broadly, the real stuff. He is not praising them completely but he is also not presenting himself in the most sterling light. He is quick to praise because he understands the pressure they are under and doesn’t want them to leave. But he also doesn’t sugarcoat how hard everything is going to be them, even if he is politicking mildly to curry favor.

It is empathy to praise and criticize as well as be honest about his intentions for them (mostly).

The fact that he doesn’t tell them the whole truth does not, in my eyes, render him dishonest. He wants them to come back, but he doesn’t want them to have the wrong idea. He is priming them for the business of being in Manga.

It is in the ambiguity, and the imperfection of his honesty, that Hattori comes off as genuinely human. Characterization is a tough gig; but to make a character so complicated in so few pages is genuinely impressive. Because it takes skill to economize and focalize character.

But by having him offer Coffee, having him lie with a sense of vested self-interest – while still being broadly honest – and telling them the honest truth about their prospects, a picture of a complicated individual with real personality is given to us. And it sets up tension and conflict for later chapters to explore in more detail.

And it also keeps Saiko off balance. He can’t truly get a read on this guy. His decision to trust him is pure intuition. But we won’t get any closer to the truth until we read further. Which is to say nothing of the nice little leitmotif of “Manga is a gamble” being a constant thru-line of this series thematically.

Teen love continues to be sickeningly adorable

And on a final note, that little cliffhanger was just too much. These teens are so head over heels and absoltuely unable to do anything about it. It’s great, and I look forward to seeing this get even more awkward and adorable at the same time.

But until then, I’m going to laugh at that last panel. And then sympathetically shake my head. Because I know the feeling.

This is Eric Koenig, and this is my Bakuman read through, signing out.

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