Potential and Problems arise in Bakuman Chapter 20: Future and Stairway

Howdy, my humans. This is your friendly neighborhood Eric here to read and react to Bakuman Chapter 20: Future and Stairway, in which things get muddled and recessed.

If you are not caught-up – and shame on you for that, by the by, – please catch up using this nifty as heck Index rightchere. It’s pretty sweet if I do say so myself.

If you are reading along with me, fear not. There are no spoilers beyond this chapter. But there are for all previous chapters. After you have used my index, consider following along in the manga itself by subscribing to Weekly Shonen Jump for the low low price of 1.99. You’d be surprised at the savings. Or buy a tankobon.

As always, I am not affiliated with Weekly Shonen Jump or VIZ Media in any way. I really want some portion of your resources to be apportioned to the resources of Managaka who work their balls off for your entertainment. Also buy merch, in service of this goal. I cannot stress enough how important this is to me.

Without further ado, a summary is in ordah.

Summary

Miho’s Debut

Kaya meets up with Saiko and Shujin to see if they want to watch Miho’s big debut with her. Saiko plays it off as no big deal. Shujin explains Saiko’s embarrassment. Kaya is still all excitement regardless: she even plays up that when their manga hits it big, they’ll have her star.

Saiko still plays it cool: it’s a long road to get an anime, and Miho has to be famous for her to get a role too. Kaya’s grumpy about Saiko’s cool, but she presses them. She’ll tell her parents that she’s watching Miho’s premiere with her friends. Saiko asks whether she’ll mention they’re guys. A secret. Of course.

Saiko plans to watch it alone…creepy…and the two depart leaving Kaya all sad and lonely, feeling left behind.

Poor Kaya. *pat-pat*

The Dynamic Duo At Work

While riding back to the studio, Shujin asks whether he can watch the premiere of Visual Girls High School together. They’re both pursuing this dream and he wants to be with his friend watching it. He also expresses his wish to get a manga animated before Miho hits it big.

Shujin mentions that she is his inspiration and heroine…which Saiko takes issue with. Shujin gracefully switches to Miyoshi. Saiko gives him a hard time regardless.

Back at the studio Saiko struggles with his realistic art style: he just can’t muster the skill to draw a cute girl. Shujin suggests using the sketches of Miho that Saiko did in middle school. Saiko reacts strongly, but not badly (phew). Saiko’s relieved to find that his cute heroine can translate to more cute heroines on the page.

Must. Suppress. Eye Roll.

In the meantime, Shujin hands the first 15 pages for a new storyboard: “My Angel”

Mainstream Approach

Shujin explains that a lot of mainstream manga are filled with the supernatural, but so far he hasn’t found an angel themed series. Saiko asks about Flower Angel Ten-ten. Shujin explains that was a gag manga, once he remembers its existence.

Saiko also rationalizes that pure originality of concept isn’t necessary. They’ll make no premise if they try too hard to be original.

Saiko is concerned by an Angel killing someone on the first page. But Shujin tells him to keep reading. Saiko is impressed by how Shujin incorporated Hattori’s notes so well into this storyboard. Shujin is confident he’ll be able to make people feel.

At that moment they get a call.

Gold Future Cup

Hattori calls them up asking them about their interest in the Gold Future Cup: a competition where four to five one-shots will be put in Weekly Shonen Jump. Hattori lets them know that they’ve been asked to submit a storyboard because of how well they did in Akamaru.

Saiko immediately gets his “this-is-an-opportunity-to-get-a-series-get-an-anime-and-get-miho” sense activated. This is a genuine opportunity for a series. However, Hattori notes, they only have until June 25th, so they’re gonna have to work extra hard.

Saiko says they have plenty of time. Shujin and Saiko decide to go all-in on the Angel Manga. They’ll get the storyboards three days before the deadline.

They then get into brass tacks about the mechanics of the angel’s visuals: should they look different. Should they have wings? They then go balls to the wall preparing the new storyboards.

Hattori’s Passion

They bring their new storyboards to Hattori three days before the deadline. Hattori is impressed, yet again, by their ability to successfully use all of his notes and naturally at that. He apologizes for not believing in them.

Hattori goes on though. He explains that to be a truly successful managaka, one must go beyond their editors notes: plus ultra

*Ahem*

Shujin asks whether the storyboards are any good. Hattori explains that he was musing: these are fine. But if they want to be truly at the top, going forward they have to do more than just whatever he tells them. He also directs this at Saiko. Hattori notes that these are great designs, but if he can go even further, he’ll truly be next level.

Courtesy of VIZ Media; Holy Shit this is so Shonen

He then backtracks saying he might be expecting too much from 15 year olds, but that they should still be proud. He’ll accept the storyboards.

The Spark

On the way back, Shujin talks about Hattori’s surprise at their skill. He indulges in some cautious optimism, maybe they’ll do well. But Saiko remains unsure. He says their Angel series doesn’t have that “Spark”.

He elaborates on the subtext of Hattori’s advice. They’ll do fine in the gold future cup. But without that Je Ne Sais Quoi, the “Spark” in their work they won’t win. Saiko explains what his uncle told him: plenty of mangaka win awards for their work. But only one of every several dozen will successfully start a series.

Yeesh.

Shujin, who’s been putting up with Saiko’s shittiness for a hot second finally snaps at this dose of reality and just shouts “I want to be popular” in a wave of frustration.

I don’t blame him.

Meanwhile, with Eiji

Yujiiro drops in on Eiji to see how Chapter 2 is going. Eiji is Eiji, and his assistant Shimoyama is…gone. Yujiro will not give him another chance. The other assistant says the chapters are fine, but it’s awkward, and that they need one or two more assistants.

Eiji asks about Ashirogi (Saiko, and Shujin). Yushiro fills him in on the Gold Future Cup. Eiji’s excited to hear they’ve submitted a storyboard, and he’s sure that they’re going to win. That’s…weirdly adorable. Eiji goes back, of course to shouting out crow Onomatopeia, as one does.

Disappointment

However, Saiko and Shujin don’t even place in the Gold Future Cup. Not only that, they’re not getting into Akamaru’s summer issue, either.

Shujin freaks out. Saiko wonders if they should stick to their strengths, but Shujin notes that the most popular manga are mainstream battle manga.

At that moment they ponder their next steps, frustrated, and unsure whether they will enjoy miho’s premiere.

Premiere

At 1:10 Am, despite all that, the two boys sit down to watch Miho’s anime premiere. Shujin notes his depression and excitement at the same time. Saiko is ready to explode from the excitement. Shujin admires the OP. And, about 5 minutes before the program concludes, Miho shows up as Reika Saotomeji, expressing love for Erina (Is that a motherfucking jojo’s reference?).

Saiko is entranced to the point where Shujin’s MST3K style ranting annoys the piss out of him. The show concludes, and both recognize that Azuki only got 4 lines. But then…

The entire cast appears to host a giveaway and both Saiko and Shujin see her. Saiko observes, curiously, that she is not smiling with her eyes. They discuss how she didn’t really stand out because of all the cute girls in the commercial. Shujin notes that she was probably embarrassed because she was in cosplay and on TV for the first time.

Saiko thinks that she wants to be in the front row. And he is reminded that both of them have a long way to go in pursuit of their dreams.

Notes on the project

Hattori calls up Shujin and Saiko for a meeting. He contemplates how everyone of them believes in the two, but that they probably didn’t hear that due to the shock.

At the offices, Hattori asks them about the Gold Future Cup. He recognizes their frustration and is glad for it. He then hands them the notes for their project: the notes from the editorial board are positive. Some even admire how well they did with a mainstream piece, considering their first two works were so radically different.

Two of the highlighted reviews note the quality and professionalism of the work. However, because of their true potential, they want to hold back on publishing this work because it would hinder their progress if they were rewarded for just doing a good job.

Shujin has a bit of a breakdown reading the good – and bad comments – but they recognize the common thread. It is not a lack of ability. It is a desire for the two to enter the stratosphere with their work that prevented them from being entered into the Gold Future Cup.

With that, Saiko recognizes the long climb ahead.

Reaction

Wonkiness

This chapter is a weird one to react to, to put it mildly. All the elements I like about the series are here, but this feels very much like a transitionary chapter to something meatier down the line. Which I guess makes sense, now that we’re 20 chapters in.

Like, all the concepts here line-up, especially the “Go beyond, plus ultra” idea that gives the chapters its narrative thrust. But it was…wonky.

The moment where Shujin got angry at Saiko constantly belittling their success felt very…weird. I thought he was angry at Saiko for constantly downplaying their accomplishment but he…really wants to make a popular series and he’s stressed about that?

I don’t know man. It makes plenty of sense that Shujin is feeling the pressure to perform making something mainstream; and he’s definitely started chugging industrial quantities of the “if it ain’t mainstream we’re never going to be popular” kool-aid that Saiko has been mainlining for a whole 4 chapters now.

But it didn’t feel right for the character.

Recessed theme

I think the reason I’m struggling with this may be due to the fact that this chapter has quite sub-themes and storylines at war with each other and none of them really take precedence. The most obvious and the driving force is the idea of Saiko and Shujin wasting their potential and doing something that is potentially harmful to their careers in service of moderate short term success. But all the stuff with Miho – which is very much front and center this chapter – skews that progression and throws everything off-kilter.

I have come to appreciate the in-universe depiction of the Editors at jump in this read-through. They come off as passionate about the craft of manga, but also have a clear appreciation and desire for talented voices to show through and at least in this – let’s face it – romanticized vision of manga production, they are willing to sacrifice short term gains for potential dividends in the future.

And that final moment with the editorial board reviewing the two’s manga, there was a very satisfying element to disappointment.

But it’s still pretty recessed and sideways in this chapter.

Theme (continued)

One of the biggest elements that have made this series so joyful is, so far, its adherence to a strong thematic pull for each chapter. in 10 and 2, everything had a concrete center around which the story spun. They need to get 2 out of 10 surveys, and they need to make something good enough, even if niche to get to that number. In Rival and Friend, the conflict hinged on Saiko and Shujin’s rival dynamic with Eiji. But here, there is no immediately satisfying conflict that addresses the theme.

But this chapter is focused not only on the “future is a long way away” dynamic, but also the “you gotta go beyond, plus ultra” theme which runs counter to that incremental future premise. Lemme explain. There’s other stuff too, but there isn’t a strong center.

The incremental future is all about developing and cultivating talent in a methodical lowkey pace. But going beyond is very much an in-the-moment surpass your limits type idea that really works in…uhhh…battle manga.

And I do appreciate how Saiko and Shujin do, technically, break their limits with the mainstream manga by taking the notes and making them excellent.

but ehhh….

This chapter is also stupid dense with shit going on that recess that theme even further than it was already.

Like Miho’s premiere which we 100 pa-se-n-to need to talk about

Miho’s Premiere and the smile

Ok, yeah. Was anyone else thinking something more sinister about Miho’s smile that doesn’t touch her eyes? Cause I didn’t read it as “Oh, she’s bummed about being a bit part”. I read it more as..

Oh god, did you fucking touch her you piece of powerful shit. Must protect. Must protect.

I am probably oversensitized to these depictions of sexual-harrassment in media these days thanks to having a ton of woke friends (Stay woke my dude(tte)s). But this is a shonen manga; a fact I need to keep reminding myself of. It probably is, in point of fact, that she is bummed about the bit role.

But I worry for my poor baby Miho. She don’t deserve no weird-ass executive perving on her as such.

But it’s definitely in the back of my mind. And I think that alarming little tit-bit made it harder to focus on the A-plot of this chapter. Because it’s worrying.

My distaste for the approach to women this comic is well-trod territory, but that is changing. If my suspicions are correct, I think that maybe more mature than what I initially saw in that chapter. Although that would make this series CONSIDERABLY darker if it did do that.

Eiji

Eiji continues to be hilarious and somehow the best and worst at the same time. I’m really appreciating him more now that he’s shown himself to be chill with the main characters, and like, weirdly lonely too. I gravitate towards those types of humans. The fact that he has faith in their abilities does actually help the theme of this chapter too.

Meta and Storyboards

Because this series is a meta-commentary on the art of making manga, it’s worth considering how this chapter reads as a reflection of what it says about the process. I’m not entirely certain the “meh”ness of this chapter was unintentional. It was a perfectly serviceable chapter, I’m hating on it a bit, but I liked it.

But it totally lines up that the chapter is not greater than the sum of its parts at the same point where Saiko and Shujin struggle to go beyond. I think this chatper might be as much venting about the story as it is this particular point in it. In some ways, that actually strengthens the chapter overall.

But the meta element I love the most is the storyboard.

This chapter actually features an image of storyboards, and if you look at the back of each chapter – which features Obata and Ohba’s storyboards – you can see that the storyboards are drawn exactly like Obata’s storyboards. It’s a small touch. But it’s definitely appreciated.

And it lends itself to the idea that this chapter is a bridge/transitionary chapter with no strong immediate payoff.

I don’t have much else really. Other than excitement for what the next chapter will bring. Hopefully some more thrust.

Stray Thoughts:

The Frontispiece is legit:

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peace.

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