Ahoy mateys. Welcome to my editorially inconsistent, but always well-meaning, read-through of Bakuman. Today we read Chapter 16, in which I admire Shonen…more and we discuss the goodness of tropes and the shallowness of youtube armchair criticism
If this is your first post, mosey on down to this index here to catch up. There are no spoilers, except for previously read chapters (new readers, you’re safe).
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Without further ado: Chapter 16
Surveys, Surveys, Surveys
Picking right up where we left off, Hattori believes that Saiko and Shujin have won with their One-Shot. He compliments their synergy as a team and their passion for the work. He thinks Saiko’s art is weaker than Nizuma, but Nizuma has 10 years of experience.
Shujin thanks Hattori for the high praise. Saiko privately scolds himself and wishes to improve.
Hattori explains that while Nizuma’s story is top-tier, the fact that it is a battle manga makes it subject to diffusion; most of the other One-shots are Battle Manga as well. Their story is one of a kind. Shujin asks whether that would impact them negatively in the larger match-ups, but Hattori explains that there will always be a variety of different stories, so it’s nothing to worry about.
The surveys, he says, are what matter most. Saiko flashes back
Taro Explains it All
Saiko is chilling with his Uncle and asks about why he’s still drawing manga. He thinks it’s just about the girl, but Taro explains that A.) He enjoys it, and B.) Because he wants to rank #1 in the Surveys. He explains to Saiko that each author is ranked by the readers every week.
He explains how serious it is. Taro compares it to being a boxer in the ring; first place, just once. That’s all he needs. But because he writes a gag manga, it’s unlikely to happen. Saiko wishes him luck and remembers how dead-serious Taro was about the surveys and his desire to win the top spot.
Early Results and Final Report
Shujin asks about when they’ll have access to the reports. Hattori explains there are two surveys: the early results – the first 100 surveys that arrive by mail. Hand counted.
Then the final report: 1000 survey cards randomly picked out and put into a computer, then analyzed for a variety of stats. Shujin admires the level of detail that goes into it all. Hattori explains that there are three counts really, but that only two are shown to the authors. Shujin asks when they will be able to see them.
He then explains that the normal turnaround for surveys is Friday for the Weekly Magazine, but for Akamaru – a special release – it will take two weeks. Hattori offers them access to the early report but explains the final report will determine who wins the top spot.
Shujin askss why the early report matters, which leads to this handy little graphic:
Hattori explains that it is for authors who want to know how their work is doing so they can plan for the upcoming chapters. It’s very helpful for lower-ranking series, but most popular Mangaka don’t even bother asking unless they’re Number One (cue Robbie Rotten).
Saiko says nothing, but Shujin flip-flops. Ultimately, he asks for the results when they come in. Hattori re-affirms his belief in the quality of their work but guarantees nothing.
Hattori then tells them that they are going to have to wait for the final results, so they should focus on their next work. Saiko expresses disappointment that Hattori isn’t considering the One-Shot for a potential series.
Saiko and Shujin’s excitement is muted as they leave Hattori’s office, though they can still expect to do well. Saiko expresses frustration that Hattori won’t consider “Money and Intelligence” for a series and vents to Shujin about it. He re-iterates that the winning One-Shot often becomes a series, but Hattori may not want them to do it anyway because they’re in high school.
Saiko hatches an idea: if they get first place and show him storyboards for three new chapters, they might persuade him. Saiko’s annoyance at Hattori’s protectiveness boils over. Shujin is wary of the attitude, but Saiko pulls out the shonen mindset: if they want to become bestselling mangaka whose manga becomes an anime at 18 they have to get hustlin’ now.
Shujin, now pumped, obviously, agrees to help come up with three new storyboards for “The World is All About Money and Intelligence” and they work for a month at school, at home, and at the studio to get the new storyboards before the final surveys are out.
Early Results (And Miho) Says…
As the two work on the chapters, Miho texts Saiko about their piece in Akamaru: Saiko’s good at art (d’aww), and while Miho doesn’t know Manga very well, she thought theirs stood out. Saiko is happy that Miho sent the first message. Shujin realizes that Akamaru was released while they were working and Saiko thanks her for the nice text.
He also recognizes that he can be concise when he needs to be ( double d’aww).
A week later Hattori calls them to tell them their work has earned first place based on the early results.
*Cough* Excuse me.
Hattori cuts their excitement short when he notes they’re only 2 votes ahead of Nizuma. 33, 31, then 26, 19, 8, 7…
Nizuma’s editor fumes as Hattori calls his wards: he needs Eiji to win to make his series a done deal and to seal his “High School Prodigy” status. He figures that he’ll win in the final report, though and calms down.
The Final Report Says…
Hattori, when asked whether he’d consider making “Money and Intelligence” a series if they get 1st place, says no: they’re still in high school. Meanwhile, Shujin and Saiko work furiously toward finishing the storyboards for “Money and Intelligence” and complete them five days after getting the news.
They head down to Shueisha to share with Hattori, very pleased with themselves.
He comes in with the final report. And the winner is…
Not, Saiko and Shujin.
They made third place in the final polling. Saiko is DEVASTATED at the news. Worse, they lost to Eiji Nizuma, who placed first with 503 votes; second place was 312; they got 308. Very close. Hattori notes that their first work placing third is, itself, outstanding and that they should be proud.
Hattori breaks down the results further, explaining that with children and girls, the votes skewed in favor of the more popular battle manga styling: 1/3 of voters and readers are girls. Saiko notes that they were not popular with girls or younger people. Hattori twists the knife and confirms it.
Nizuma’s editor informs him of the victory, but he doesn’t even know what a survey is. Also, he wrote another character for a series. Jeepers. The editor recognizes that for Nizuma, he doesn’t need to know what a survey is.
Hattori digs deeper into their results. He explains that Eiji had a leg up regardless due to good word of mouth and genre. He then asks to see their new storyboards, but Saiko – still devastated – doesn’t show them. Hattori presses him, but Saiko expresses major disappointment at not getting the top spot and tells him they came up with better ideas while waiting for him.
Hattori reminds them that third place is still incredible for a first-timer, but understands the disappointment. Saiko understands how important those surveys are now. So much so that he tells Shujin that they should go mainstream. Shujin reminds Saiko that Hattori recommended they remain niche.
Saiko disagrees: against Eiji, he thought it would be better to play to a niche, but Saiko is in it to win it, and he wants to keep moving forward. Saiko then goes over the math of the surveys. Eiji won more than half of all of them. Their 10 and 2 strategy is no good when Eiji is making those numbers.
Saiko goes further. They haven’t been taking mainstream manga seriously; both underestimated how difficult it is to make a good mainstream series and suffered for it. They shouldn’t try to scrape by, they should fight to be Number One (Cue Billie Eilish). He pumps Shujin up and tells him they can’t be in the top spot if they remain cult.
Saiko then tells Shujin that mainstream manga is as much about the character of the author as it is about convention mass appeal, and good art: there is a lot to it. He convinces Shujin that he can come up with a great mainstream story and he’ll keep getting better. Saiko will also improve his art.
The chapter concludes with them agreeing to start over from scratch:
And then to run for their lives, lest they be caught by an environmentalist for littering. Woopsie.
Panel of the Week
I just wanted to point out that this panel is just incredible all around. We’ll get into what makes it so amazing in more detail – especially thematically – in the reaction section. But I just want to admire the sense of motion and chaos this evokes. But also, Harmony, intention, and effort.
First, despite the illusion of visual chaos, there are coherent leading lines. I observed this last week for the same reasons, but it’s genuinely impressive how they use the comic sheets to lead your eye around the panel. If you look, you’ll see the comic panels are leading in a circle, while the internal panels form a downward diagonal line: they lead your eyes to the same space, using different geometry. Conveniently, they are leading down from right to left, leading directly to the panels below this one.
But that geometry is in parallel, as well. While the sheets flutter about, you see the places they work sequentially: School, office, and home. And in addition to the diagonal leading lines, there is a zig-zag pattern between the locations. Going from School, the office and home.
To emphasize this parallel motion the speech bubbles are also arrayed in parallel; the dialogue bubbles lie directly above the narrated block bubbles.
But EVEN MORE THAN THAT, Saiko and Shujin are placed in an inverted parallel (a chiast) to each other in the frames at school and at the office. In the top panel, Shujin faces away from Saiko, sitting down, drawing a storyboard with Saiko holding a book. Then, Shujin stands facing Saiko, handing him the comic pages. And, finally, the final panel on the bottom right, features Saiko being handed a book, in parallel to the action of Shujin giving him the comic book pages.
And guess what: there is thematic, diegetic logic for the design of this panel layout. Because it reflects the chapter as a whole. It also serves as a visual counterpoint to the final panel, in which they throw their storyboards onto the river.
That’s a lot of fuckin’ parallelism.
Let’s talk about tropes
Before I deep dive into the various parallel chiasts this chapter indulges in, I want to talk about tropes and that final discussion at the end of the chapter about mainstream manga.
Because this chapter is one giant trope, and it’s also a fucking amazing chapter.
If you are new to Shonen Manga, you will probably miss the trope of this chapter, but it’s classic: the first match against the rival, where the protagonists almost win, but then lose to the overpowered rival.
A little bit into a shonen manga’s run – assuming it has a rival character – there will be some initial confrontation between the prodigy rival and the underdog go-getter protagonist. Despite the odds favoring the rival, you’re hopeful that the protagonist will do something to beat them.
In — I want to say Chapter 8 of My Hero Academia — there is a confrontation between Deku and Bakugo during training. Deku is still getting the hang of his quirk, and Bakugo is a master of his (relatively). The training, however, goes in Deku’s favor for his thoughtfulness and care.
Bakugo still whips his ass.
The trope of the Rival whipping the shit out of the protagonist by a hair’s breadth is just that: a trope. This then sparks the protagonists to push harder to be number one and enter the larger story. It’s not universal, but it is a trope.
From the moment I read last week’s chapter, as I mentioned in that read-through, I figured it would be Saiko and Shujin having an early victory, only to be smashed in the final account because that is how the trope works. Even if not exactly in those specific terms.
But there is another trope this indulged in: the Shonen protagonist’s insane over the top goal made manifest: An anime at 18. And that will push the series into the larger multi-chapter arcs. At least, as far as I can tell that’s where we’re headed.
But that did nothing to make this chapter anything less than a master class in storytelling, and visual narrative. And that’s largely due to the…
One of this series’ major strengths so far is that it uses parallelism wonderfully. Whether that be the yin and yang style titling system or the panel I just went over. This series knows how to utilize parallels effectively. It’s why it’s so easy to read Saiko’s behavior as a reflection of Taro and be worried about him. Or to see subtle foreshadowing in the comics they write
And in this chapter, they snuck in some reveals with the storyboards they work on. Blink and you miss it foreshadowing:
This panel occurs three pages before the reveal that they got third place in the final results. And if you read closely, you know that this is the real tell about how they’ll do.
Because the characters are acting in a way that reflects their protagonists: high on their victory. And in for some pain.
In fact, I wouldn’t begrudge you for not noticing it. But this chapter leans into that parallel function deliciously. And constantly. Whether it’s the fact that Miho thought the art was good, and that their One-Shot “Stood Out”, but did not say she liked it their comic book, and girls overall did not. Or the fact that Saiko doesn’t understand his uncle at first, but by the end of the chapter feels the intense desire to be number one on the survey. Hell, the number of votes they receive in the early report is a proportional parallel to the number they receive in the final count (33, 308 is 1/3 of the votes).
But there is one parallel that is fucking genius and that is:
Top Tier and Bottom Tier
At the beginning of the chapter, we are told that the lower-ranked mangaka rely on the surveys to plan their next steps, but the top tier mangaka don’t even care unless they’re number one.
As the chapter progresses, we see Saiko and Shujin given the early results and rely on them to make the career calculus necessary to make three more storyboards for “Money and Intelligence”.
Eiji doesn’t even know what the surveys are.
Set-up, payoff. Parallelism. It’s all there.
And to me, this is the essence of good storytelling. It is not subversion or some defiance of tropes. It is using tropes and all the tools of storytelling to effectively demonstrate the characters and story you want to tell. And this chapter does that.
The Manga King & the Meta
The end of this chapter is extremely shonen in tone. Luffy is going to be the Pirate King; Naruto, the Hokage; and Saiko’s going to get an anime at age 18. Despite his art not being up to par with Eiji’s by a long shot.
This is pure trope heaven for any long-time reader of Shonen manga, but here it’s done effectively in a novel environment, with depth. Saiko is continually disappointed and eager to prove himself for his happy ending with Miho. But he has a long way to go.
And when he recognizes that mainstream shonen stories have a lot that goes into them, it almost feels like a meta-commentary on this very meta-series. And that decision to step out of the Niche and into the mainstream? That feels apropos of the fact that this chapter is a pure slice of shonen escapism down to the very last trope. Because nothing says Shonen Manga, like a character with insane ambition.
Modern Criticism’s Trope Problem
And if it seems like I’m harping on this point, it’s because of my current exhaustion with the frequent criticism of popular media: tropes are bad. Full stop.
I’ve seen a lot of criticism of My Hero Academia – by the intelligentsia of Anitube and online discourse at large – directed at the fact that it “relies on shonen tropes that are done to death” regardless of how effectively those tropes are utilized, or the care and depth they are given to really resonate. And while the show is beloved, this is still considered a large-scale, widely accepted critique of the show.
Tropes are not bad in and of themselves. Nor are they good. They are simply a framework within an established genre used to guide the story. When they are done poorly, they can and should be criticized and can come off as lazy and uninspired.
But as Saiko himself notes in this chapter: Mainstream storytelling is fucking hard. Even when it seems cut and dried, copy and paste, it takes a lot of work – and the character of the creator – to really nail a good mainstream story. Even when it’s trope-filled nonsense, the best has character and depth.
And I get that. I admire a story when it’s told well, regardless of its reliance on tropes do so. Because every narrative medium is put together through multiple components. Whether it’s the panel design, dialogue or using literal comic book pages to indicate the passage of time and narrative. Storytelling is not, itself, the only component of narrative media.
The Medium itself matters. And that is something, I rarely see discussed in the modern critical discourse in ANY medium.
And based on the sequence that foreshadows their downfall – and the way my favorite panel is designed – I can’t help but feel the use of this trope, and the mention of mainstream manga is entirely and aggressively intentional. Not only does it rely on tropes, it comments on how hard it is to effectively utilize them, WITH dense panel layouts. With the characters discussing their storyboards in terms of character, and how the designs reflect them.
That takes fucking work. That takes an understanding of the medium and the form.
And in the case of this particular manga, it’s clear to me that the mangaka have put a lot of care and consideration into telling their stories. And, because they are such effective, tight storytellers the tropes don’t feel tired.
They feel electric
–As someone who reads Manga week to week, it’s fascinating to see this behind the scenes stuff re: Surveys. I constantly wonder whether they use that information to array the weekly releases on the WSJ app (which you should buy to support the artists, jussayin’)
–The Taro and Saiko parallel was great. There were a fuckton of parallels in this chapter alone that I wanted to focus on, but you only have so much patience.
–Miho continues to be fucking adorable.
–This is the end of Volume 2. If my new-found manga knowledge is anything to go off, that means we should be heading into longer arcs, as, at this point, you’ve gotten the one-and-done conflicts that introduce basically every jump title.
And I think that’s all for this week. If you like this content please validate my existence by liking my social media on facebook and twitter, and consider writing a comment too. It ain’t youtube, so I don’t care about engagement, but I like social capital as much as the next guy.
Next time, Chapter 17, and the beginning of Volume 3