Teenage Hormones Spike and Writer’s Block rears its head in Bakuman Chapter 21: Wall and Kiss

Hiya howdy hello greetings. This is Eric with your weekly fix of Bakuman. Today we cover Chapter 21: Wall and Kiss, in which fanservice and women are discussed, twists are admired, and teenage hormones go wild.

If you have not caught up on this read-through, you may do so here with my handy-dandy index. There are no spoilers past the current chapter, so read without fear.

If you are caught up and want to read ahead (shame on you, first of all), but also consider subscribing to Shonen Jump or buying a Tankobon Volume of Bakuman to support the Mangaka. I am not an affiliate of VIZ media, I just like when artists make money.

Without further ado, let’s jump into chapter 21: Wall and Kiss

Summary

Bounce, Bounce, Bouncing Balls

With Midterms over, Shujin and Saiko are at the sports tournament featuring Kaya. They discuss the notes that they received from the editors with shock. The fact that the editors have such high hopes is both surprising and distressing. A fact which weighs on Shujin’s ability to generate any ideas.

Meanwhile, in an NSFW version of Haikyuu!! Kaya plays volleyball and somehow defies the laws of gravity with her chest. Shujin and Saiko watch “disinterested”, though every few panels we see action which would put dead or alive to shame. They admire the fact that Miyoshi almost single-handedly defeated the other team.

Saiko and Shujin discuss other up and coming rookies who might get a series, of whom there are 15, according to Shujin.

Kaya walks over to them and asks what they wanted to talk about, given the fact that they stared the whole time. Shujin – with his usual tact mentions her big anime-tiddies were jiggling all over the place. Kaya’s ready to smack a bitch but she senses something wrong.

Shujin deflects but Kaya remembers something.

Kaya shows them a magazine with a small feature for Miho. Kaya knows that Miho wouldn’t have told either of them, because she didn’t even tell Kaya. Shujin freaks out because he doesn’t want to be seen as an Otaku for Idol Culture. Kaya smoothly suggests they look at it later at their studio. Saiko agrees because he’s always up to be a weirdo for Miho.

Dreams

At the studio they discuss Miho’s bit part in the magazine: She has a lot of potential but the feature is very small. The company also put her photo on a website, which got her in trouble with her school, but they made an exception cause she was a good student (LOL). Kaya admires Miho’s luck….and points out it could be good PR for the school if she’s successful.

Saiko shoots that down because she’s just a voice actress. At that point Shujin asks why she came over and she explains she has a dream.

Courtesy of VIZ Media; Never Change Kaya, you beautiful weirdo

Shujin notes that that is….really stupid, until she points out that she means “Cell Phone Novels” that you can apply to various companies and start a blog. If companies like them, they’ll buy what you wrote.

Start a blog to make money. Yeah, real real stupid.

When Shujin asks what she plans to write about she replies: Romance Novels. When Kaya says she’ll use Miho and Saiko’s relationship as a famework Saiko graces us with this beautiful reaction

Courtesy of VIZ Media; Balanced as all good things should be

Shujin is all for this idea to Saiko’s horror. Kaya flirts with Shujin about him helping her “Writing” and she offers a female perspective so they can write better women characters. Saiko proceeds to lose his everloving shit. Shujin ponders whether she could help since they are pondering a manga with the heroine as a protagonist.

As Saiko melts into a puddle of frustration Shujin prods him for encouraging Kaya’s dream before. He backtracks and notes he doesn’t want to interfere with their “Boys” manga”. Sigh.

Kaya pushes back: don’t they need a girl’s perspective to round out their female characters?

Nope: they just need an idealized girl. Coolcoolcool. Kaya still gets all flirty with Shujin about “writing” in case they change their mind. Saiko asks for Storyboards. Saiko doesn’t think they’re bad, but they haven’t transcended the pedestrian quality of Angel Days. Shujin agrees, feeling like all his mainstream ideas aren’t very good. Shujin vows to try harder.

Writer’s Block & Assistantship

Shujin continues coming up with new ideas, but all of them feel stale and unoriginal. While Biking home they ponder how to break through this wall and how to create a living character like Eiji does. Shujin asks to take a break during the summer to get a fresh perspective. Saiko agrees.

Meanwhile, another editor talks to Hattori about having Saiko draw the art for the story that got the Story King award winner; he’s one of the best rookies of the bunch. Hattori sticks up for Ashirogi-sensei and tells him no. Their careers are very new and the strain of drawing for another series might break them up.

The editor sees his point but Yushiro (Hattori) asks him if Saiko would be chill working for Eiji on his series as an assistant: few assistants want to work under someone who is only 16. Yushiro’s solution is Saiko: he’s younger and his art is great. Hattori keeps it clutch and points out Eiji’s status as Shonen Rival No. 1: neither would be interested.

Hattori agrees to ask, however, but only if Saiko and Shujin both agree, which he doubts will happen. Yushiro privately agrees and laments: he still can’t find assistants and with only one assistant (Nakai) who is likely losing it at this point, things aren’t looking good.

A Date & A Bike Ride

Courtesy of VIZ Media; dat dress tho

Kaya and Shujin go on a date and Kaya cleans up real good, a fact not lost on Shujin. Tsundere Shujin downplays the date as a chance to “take off the manga”. Kaya asks what’s up and he notes that he’s hit a wall. She asks what he wants to do: Movie, Bowling, Karaoke. Shujin compliments her on her skills, but she promises to go easy on him.

D’awww.

On the outside, Saiko trains his battle manga stylings hard by redrawing famous One Piece and Naruto fights. Inside though he roils at being unable to make his own mainstream story without it sucking a fat one. He also ponders Shujin’s desire for solitude.

Kaya and Shujin’s Date continues when Shujin gets a call and Kaya (adorably) quiets herself. Hattori asks about the storyboards, then whether he’s cool with Saiko being Eiji’s assistant for the summer. Given Shujin’s writer’s block, he’s fine if Saiko agrees to it.

While Saiko bikes back home, he catches Kaya and Shujin K I S S I N G. Very serious stuff for 10th graders (pfft). Saiko freaks out over Shujin’s loyalty to making manga. Just then he gets a call from Hattori asking whether he should be an assistant. He explains that he called Shujin first and he said it was ok. He then explains it’s for Eiji.

Saiko is shocked and doesn’t want to confront Eiji after all the nonsense he said to him.

So, of course, he agrees to do it immediately.

Panel of the Week

Courtesy of VIZ Media

This panel is zen, to me, for lack of a better word. Not much is happening, other than Saiko and Shujin biking home, but it’s a tranquil composition. The lack of any panel breaks on the whole page, with the dialogue freely floating around the characters in no particular order gives a casual, summer vibe to the image. Kinda lazy; kinda tired.

It reflects the mindstates of the characters: they’re stuck, and they’re just going in circles.

But also, the background scenery is absolutely gorgeous here. I’m unsure how many assistants worked on Bakuman, but I’ll bet it took forever to get this page just right. This is borderline photorealistic in a manga context. And the composition of the frame itself lends itself to the summer quality: the forward facing horizon line leading to the radio towers in the distance which sit right in front of Saiko and Shujin; the high contrast of the flowing clouds and the completely shaded in sky with the airplane contrails cutting across perpendicular to the action. It’s all functional, it’s all methodical.

It’s all beautiful.

Reaction

Let’s talk about Kaya

Hokay. So, initially, I was going to talk about the obvious stuff in this chapter – the fact that Saiko’s going to be Eiji’s assistant – THE KISS, and the general lack of huge payoff at the end.

But right now, I think we need to talk about miss Kaya Miyoshi, the MVP of this story so far. And why her character is, uhm, a bit of a problem.

Blegh. Damn it.

I’ve beaten this topic into the dirt: the female representation in this series is far from perfect. But Kaya has been a bright spot. Her comedic goldmine of stupid anime face syndrome and her general ability to counterbalance both Saiko and Shujin’s nonsense with either punches or a good comment really make her an endearing character.

And she’s cute. She’s patient. She’s….attracted to Shujin, for some reason.

She also doesn’t have her own dreams, and is very subservient to Shujin in ways that are uhm, not great. And the comment that Saiko made about Heroines really changed me view on her.

He says:

It’s a boys manga, we just need to come up with a boy’s idealization of a girl

–Saiko, Chapter 21, page 8

And it clicked.

Kaya and Miho are the main characters because they are idealized young women. And that kinda sucks.

Writing flawed female characters isn’t misogynist

That’s probably going to sound way too intense, but making Kaya best-girl/waifu material really does a disservice to her as a character. Women are people. Shocking, I know. And what are people? Complicated.

Saiko and Shujin are pretty great as shonen protagonists, but they’re also intensely and grossly flawed. Saiko’s obsessive behavior and desire for a storybook romance borders on creepy, and his desire to be the best often overshadow his ability to care for other people. Shujin is sexist and more than a bit of a know-it-all. And those are real, honest-to-god identifiable character flaws.

Eiji is picture-perfect savant syndrome, a loner, and a lot to deal with. Hattori is often over-protective and is as stubborn as his wards. I could go on.

But, to date, the only main female characters who have gotten any development are Kaya and Miho. Iwase – who was a really interesting character – and Shujin’s mother are very much on the side. Even Miho’s mother is an idealized version of what boys think women are.

And that’s a problem.

Even though this series could be way way wayyyyy more sexist and crappy in its treatment of women, I find the fact that the story is, to quote chapter 19, creating “Cute Heroines” without any real genuine flaws aside from ditziness on kaya’s part, and shyness on Miho’s a disservice to the stellar character work.

But that’s not the worst part.

Fan service is fan service

In looking at this chapter, one can see that the focus is on how Kaya represents Ohba and Obata’s idealized woman. In the very first panels when she’s bouncing more intensely than the volleyball like a character out of Dead or Alive and she “Singlehandedly beats the other team” it’s clear how she’s viewed by Saiko and Shujin.

Shujin references her tits regularly to the point where it’s only 21 chapters and I’m already done with it.

And look, I get that this is a series geared towards Shonen and that otaku need fantasies. But come on.

And that’s nothing to say of the fact that the set-up in the beginning of this chapter is meant to prime us for the final kiss at the end of the chapter.

Blegh. I’m gonna step off my soapbox now. But it’s really frustrating to see this. Especially given the fact that Kaya herself is so so close to being a real character and not some idealized cipher. If she had some genuine flaws, she would feel way more real, and less like fodder for the fantasies of the readership.

Anyway

Writer’s Block & Assistants

While a lot of my frustration is aimed at the treatment of Kaya, there was lot going on with Saiko and Shujin’s efforts to be mainstream. I particularly like the new conflict of them (potentially) splitting apart. As far as conflicts go, this one could be a real game-changer for future arcs of the series.

It’s also deeply concerning to see Saiko get so frustrated and mired so deep in his obsession with getting published that he beats himself up and obsessively redraws old battle manga. I’m feeling vicariously tired for him at this point.

I do wonder how his Assistantship with Eiji will pan out. It’s an interesting development, albeit, familiar, given Death Note’s plot progression. I’m pretty sure at this point in Death Note L and Light start working together as well, though I’ll have to check.

It seems to be an Ohba/Obata trope and it could prove wildly interesting if executed properly. I feel like Eiji and Saiko are actually going to get along reasonably well, given Eiji’s obsessiveness and unique point of view.

But I’m pretty done with the mainstream thing. The two boys need to get their shiz together and start working novelistic manga with intricacy and realism stat, or else their careers in manga are doomed. DOOMED I tell you.

Sike, nah, this is a shonen. But for real, it’s exhausting.

I don’t have any stray thoughts today, so if you liked this read-through and want to join the party, follow me on facebook and twitter to stay updated, or sign up on the email list for the latest read-throughs.

As always, be well, and stay safe. Much love.

Peace

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