Gaming the System, and High Ratings are the key in Bakuman Chapter 12: 10 and 2

Bye, bye, Miss American Pie. Wait. I mean…Hi. Welcome to my read-through of Chapter 12 of Bakuman, in which we explore silly math puns, game the system, and learn the meaning of “good” manga.

If you want to read past read-throughs, click here. That index goes all the way to Chapter 1 (handy). This read-through contains spoilers all the way up to the current chapter. If you would like to read along, please, please, please consider ordering a subscription of Shonen Jump for 1.99 here. It’s dirt cheap and you can read right along with me. I’m not affiliated with the artists or WSJ, I’m just interested in doing my part to support artists. If you don’t want to shell out enough money for your daily coffee, consider buying the Tankobon volumes instead. Support your damn artists.

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Otherwise, let’s get on with the chapter.

Summary

This manga is…not good

Editor-In-Chief Sasaki comes in with his baller-ass shonen moment, only to kill the mood by pointing out: their Manga isn’t good. He notes that they have a long way to go before either of them have the chops to get a series. When Saiko asks what’s poor about it, Sasaki says it’s all bad, but for serialization purposes, the story needs a lot of work. Sasaki tells them to continue working with Hattori to make a solid work.

Sasaki then explains that “It just needs to be good. Anything good will get serialized” are the last words of Saiko’s uncle, which Saiko realizes means he and his uncle knew each other.

Sasaki then goes onto explain that Taro told him that when Sasaki had told him “he was not included in our future plans.”

The reality of manga making.

When Saiko and Shujin express confusion, Sasaki clarifies. Hattori is uncertain as to whether he should explain, but Sasaki tells them because they aspire towards being pros.

He explains the pay structure for Manga: an annual yearly contract fee (not a very big one) and then payment by pages produced. The salaries will be under review at the end of the year, to see how much your work contributes to the magazine’s success and adjusted accordingly.

If a mangaka comic ends, and they are unable to come up with anything good other than their first manga, they are told that they are not needed, and their contract is terminated.

Taro’s Determination.

Sasaki explains that he was still a deputy editor-in-chief when he shit-canned Taro. Saiko wonders how Sasaki feels about ending Taro’s career. Although distraught, Taro remains determined and looks on the bright side. He’s a rookie again; as long as he gets his work evaluated, and it’s good, he can be serialized.

Sasaki goes onto explain that Taro had been bringing final drafts until five days before his death. The editorial office itself was scared of his determination and asked why he was so obsessed with Shonen Jump. Sasaki observes the cruel nature of the industry.

Saiko – low key freaking out – asks whether he would have been brought back, had his work been good. Sasaki says yes. Good manga gets serialized.

The difference between Eiji and Saiko

Saiko asks about Eiji Nizuma’s upcoming series, which Sasaki confirms. They ask what separates them from him. Sasaki explains that the issue has to do with “How Much You Love Manga”. Shujin gets defensive, but Sasaki explains.

Eiji’s devotion to manga is extreme. He’s drawn manga since the age of 6 non-stop. It’s like breathing for him. He then shares that when they arrived he made sound effect noises as he was drawing. For Eiji, manga is life, an unconscious drive. Sasaki goes onto note that he will likely be popular once his series is released, but he won’t be number one for a while.

Shujin asks why. Sasaki says it has to do with his youth. Because he’s young his work is beautiful but shallow and the demographics of middle and high school students will expect more.

Hattori’s epiphany.

Hattori realizes that Shujin and Saiko’s work is complex and deep, a bit too much so, according to Sasaki. He asks them to focus purely on making storyboards and creating appealing main characters. Hattori reasons that the art will get better with practice, but the story still needs work. He says they’re aiming for Akamaru jump.

Sasaki approves of it all and expects good things from them. Both Saiko and Shujin commit to writing a Jump Style shonen protagonist and improving their story. Hattori asks why Sasaki referenced Taro and Sasaki explains that Saiko is likely Taro’s nephew based on his name and address.

New resident at Taro’s place.

On Saturday, Saiko heads over to the studio to find Shujin’s girlfriend Kaya – noticeably thiccer – hanging out with him. Kaya explains that everything was PG but Saiko doesn’t care about that. He doesn’t want Miho to know about the studio. Kaya doesn’t understand it, but Saiko remains steadfast.

Kaya wonders why Saiko won’t just date Miho now. Saiko is disappointed that Miho told Kaya about their plans, but Kay counters with the Best-friend card. She then calls Miho asking her to come over to the studio. Miho has Saiko’s back and tells her she won’t come over.

Kaya laments over the ridiculousness of the whole setup and asks Shujin about his thoughts on marriage. He is absolutely tactless and says “Absolutely Not”, which leads to this gem of physical comedy.

Kaya kicking the shit out of Shujin in Bakuman Chapter 12.
Courtesy of VIZ media; what can I say, I’m a cheap date.

Kaya explains her kick because of how quickly Shujin answered. Shujin then comes in with the clutch about Saiko’s plans, which he and Miho came up with together. Shujin also says it’s kinda romantic. Kaya asks whether he would like her to wait until he was a successful Mangaka and he answers poorly again. Kicks continue.

Saiko is adamant that Miho not know about this and Shujin threatens to break up with him. She agrees to it. Saiko forbids Kaya from visiting the studio without permission. Kayat complains that she barely sees Shujin as it is with him working on Manga all the time which Shujin warned her about.

Saiko reluctantly agrees to allow Kaya to come visit on weekends and holidays. Kaya, thrilled notes Miho’s good taste and calls Saiko cute.

Miho’s High School

As they relax, Kaya tells them about Miho’s high-school: Hachioji, a posh all-girls school. While shujin notes the distance, she explains that the production company she’s been in contact with is there. She then goes on to explain how they might promote her as TV-Personality, before she transitions to Voice Actor.

Shujin asks whether she’ll have to do swimsuit modeling. Saiko denies she’d do something like that. He then changes the subject to storyboards.

Play to your strengths.

Over the next week, they create storyboards over the next week while Saiko makes illustrations for conventional shonen protagonists.

Hattori notes simply: these all suck. He then realizes that their work is all too normal. He criticizes them relentlessly and says he misjudged. They won’t even get past other rookies, let alone Eiji. He then notes that they are not suited to conventional manga storytelling. He then mumbles to himself.

After the Editor-In-Chief told them about salary, he decides to explain to them the reader’s survey at the back of the magazine. Hattori explains that only 2 out of 10 people need to like your manga for it to be considered popular. He decides to capitalize on their talents as cult artists. Eiji can be mainstream and they can be cult.

He goes on to explain that they’ll need more than 20 percent in Akamaru Jump, but still to lean into their strengths. He points out that they need to make their manga an All-Or-Nothing Gamble *ahem*.

The idea

Hattori then asks them whether they have any storyboards they didn’t bring to him. They explain a story involving buying Minds with money. Hattori asks them to elaborate and they go into a premise where people exchange information directly from their brains, like on a cell-phone. Smart people’s brains are more valuable. It then becomes smart/stupid stock market, essentially.

Hattori thinks that is a winning idea. They rejected the idea because it was too creepy for a shonen manga. Hattori presses and tells them to make storyboards for this magazine. He doubles down on only needing 2 out of 10 people liking it for ti be serialized.

With this knowledge of the system in mind, Saiko and Shujin set out to write a cult hit “The World is All About Money and Intelligence” which Saiko notes is the least Shonen sounding manga imaginable.

Reaction.

The Title

So, aside from this chapter being absolutely packed to the gills with scenes (just look at that fucking summary, jebus) I really wanna talk about the title. Like a lot. 10 and 2. At first, I was totally confused by this particular dichotomy.

But then I realized a few neat tricks about it and it clicked. It is both a terrible pun — 10 + 2 = 12, the uhm, chapter’s number – but it has a series of other meanings. There is the other obvious meaning – to get in the magazine they will need to get at least 20% of the surveys to say that their work is good (10 x 2); there is the connotation that 2 can be as valuable as a 10 if the circumstances are right. If you’re into film, 10-2 means that a production assistant is taking a shit. (10-2 posts, hehehe).

But the 10-2 dynamic that interests me most is the radio meaning. In radio chatter 10 and 2 means that you are being “received well”. I like that.

I’m not sure whether the authors intended for that to leak through. But I feel like they understood that that was a subtle reference to what this chapter is about at the core: being Good Enough.

The Continuing Mystery of Taro Kawaguchi

As I pointed out correctly in the last chapter, Sasaki knew that Saiko was Taro’s nephew, which is why he dropped in. I do like how this chapter simultaneously undercuts and underlines the shonen moment of last chapter to elucidate the ghost haunting the fringes of this story. Taro.

Even though Taro has already passed, I love how a mosaic of a complicated figure is coming to light in the negative space. Just like Hattori’s development as a character was established thoroughly in Chapter 8, Taro becomes a more tragic figure. In this chapter, the slumped shoulder figure of Taro as Sasaki fires him comes off as both pathetic and determined. And as heartbreaking as it is to see a dude crushed (somewhat literally) it’s also admirable that, despite his failure, he was determined to succeed.

Even though Taro’s life isn’t really mysterious in the way that, say, Laura Palmer’s life is a mystery, narratively speaking there is a mystery about him. And I feel like the mangaka are somewhat hiding it. Of course, Taro could just be a stark reminder of the brutal cost of being a mangaka, as well as a ghostly shadow for Saiko – who exhibits both his uncle’s best and worst impulses – but I feel like there is something more here.

And it keeps the sequences where he is involved rich and compelling. But what I like even more in this chapter is:

Playing to your strengths

This chapter really highlights the curious state of the entertainment industry of today. Unlike, say, the 50’s, when TVs only had three channels, there is an absolute deluge of content. So much so mass appeal is no longer the only way to success. Although this focuses on manga, this idea of “Minimum Viable Audience” permeates everything these days.

In Seth Godin’s “This is Marketing” he outlines that you only need about 1000 people to be invested in your product for it to be successful. We’ve become so fractious and fractured – and selective exposure – is such a big part of daily consumption that mass appeal isn’t necessarily what you want to do. You gotta focus on them Niches, my dudes and dudettes. Or gender neutral dudes if you prefer.

So that old 10 and 2 returns. Having spent more time with Shonen Jump – and seeing some canceled series – I can see how much these surveys matter. And the fact that you only need a 20% market share of attention feels way too real for me to be comfortable with it, but also a bit sad.

The difference between life or death is 2 out of 10 people saying your work was good. Those margins are valuable for an underdog, and terrifying for professionals.

But in terms of storytelling, it serves to highlight another cross-over between Taro, Saiko, and Shujin: they make weird Niche stories, which only have niche appeal. And that feels super meta.

Death Note Mention

Nowhere have I felt the importance of Death Note preceding this manga than I do here. Death Note epitomizes the “Dark Mildly Fucked Up Non-Shonen Shonen Manga” idea at its most abject. It also epitomizes this story: this story shouldn’t be a shonen manga, but it is.

In the context of these authors, I feel like they’re cutting super close to the cloth because they know what it felt like. If it weren’t so compellingly written, I’d say they’re taking the adage “write what you know” way, way too literally. And I feel like that idea with the information/money brain idea was probably an idea that the storyboard artist came up with when they started writing death note.

The Girls

I don’t have much to say on this note other than the fact that Shujin is unable to keep his foot out of his mouth is fucking hilarious (don’t piss off a girl with a black belt in karate) and him getting the shit kicked out of him amused me endlessly.

I do see the seeds of some future conflicts with Miho being planted here, which is more interesting. These types of stories lend themselves to the “cold realities of real-life” dynamic really well. And for Saiko’s dreamlike fantasy. Miho’s job offer is a huge red flag. I look forward to seeing how it plays out over the coming chapters. Especially considering the different high schools.

Good Enough Requires Devotion

Which brings me to my final thoughts on this chapter. What is “Good Enough”. Is it good enough to write engaging content that pleases your audience well enough? Or does it behoove you to shonen up and go beyond, plus ultra? Can you even do that in isolation?

I don’t know the answers to those questions, but I do know one thing, which this chapter highlights: you need to be committed.

Despite Eiji being a royal shit the first time we’ve met him, he is as any good true blonde-haired rival character should be: utterly prodigious as a prodigy. He breathes Manga, as Sasaki put it. He’s good because he’s so committed that he can’t do anything else.

That is the essence of shonen, in my mind. That unswerving commitment to being better and pushing harder than you have in the past. When I think about my pursuit of art – not just film, but other mediums – despite my passion, I get frustrated by my lack of progress – same with this site. But then I remember: I need to love it more and I need to commit myself to it.

As I’ve grown older, the value of passionate commitment has stuck in my mind as the most important thing you can do to live a good life. As Bukowski didn’t quite say, “Find what you love, and let it kill you“. And I intend to do just that. My interests are many. But I need – like Saiko and Shujin – to breathe the arts I love so dearly. Only then can I truly be as good as I want to be.

And that’s all I got. Until the next chapter, this is Eric, going to take a 10-2.

Peace.

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