Yo, buddy, how are you? Welcome to my read-through of Bakuman Chapter 54: Gag and Serious in which we talk about….sooo much this chapter was a thicc boi including editors being good, gags vs serious, and Gin Tama, just because.
If you is a newbie, please read the following index to catch up. There are no spoilers past the current chapter, so read freely.
If you want to read along and support the mangaka, please consider purchasing the tankobon volume or by subscribing to Weekly Shonen Jump. As a WSJ stan, I suggest subscribing to Jump because you get lots of content cheap. I’m not affiliated with VIZ Media, I just want artists to get paid.
Without further ado
Gag and Serious Summary
Take Your Time?
Saiko and Shujin shoot the shit over Miho’s suggestion to take their time and how now they want to work even harder because of it, even though they recognize they should be intrinsically motivated on their own.
Shujin tells Saiko about Miyoshi’s heavy-handed attempts to get him to move on which include smacking him upside the head but Shujin feels under pressure with the approach. Their next manga is critical to their career.
While reading manga and figuring out what the hell they’re going to do, they express Jealousy at Koogy’s ongoing manga in Jump Square and now Eiji’s untouchability as a force in Jump with his anime. They’ll have to work hard if they’re going to beat him.
Shujin wants a new series but feels performance anxiety at having to come up with a great idea. Saiko suggests a One-shot. He thinks it’s risky to jump into a new series so soon. one-shots are a good way to hedge bets and potentially set up a new series.
Shujin’s surprised by his caution and asks if Miho’s gotten in his head. Saiko explains that Trap was good and a good experience, but ultimately a failure and they can’t make two failures in a row if they want to keep going in this business.
Shujin chews over the slow and steady approach and brings up Takahama’s plans to make BB Kenichi into a series, given it got second place. Given their new amount of free time, Saiko thinks they should focus on manga then.
Shujin asks about going to Yana University together as Business majors since it’s close to Yakusa. Saiko wonders if he can even make it in; Shujin explains it has extremely low bars for entry and a high acceptance rate. When Saiko says he doesn’t want to learn English, Shujin offers to tutor him.
Saiko asks whether he told Kaya: he hasn’t, and she’ll probably want to join in. Kaya asks for tutoring when offered.
Saiko cleans the studio and Shujin complains that Kaya will join their tutoring efforts, but he didn’t want to go to the same university as her. Shujin complains that it’s hard to talk to other girls when she’s around.
Shujin and Saiko discuss the possibility of College Mixers, and whether they’re out of fashion. Saiko wonders why that’s even a question given that they’re not going to college to party. He then asks whether Shujin has any new ideas.
Shujin thought Trap was the perfect idea when he saw it so coming up with new ideas will be extremely difficult.
Shujin muses on what things sell in Jump and his conclusion is heroes do well. When asked, he explains that they may not have hero names, but Crow is a functional Gatchaman story, and there are other supernaturally endowed heroes like Goku, Luffy, Naruto, Gon, Ichigo et. al. Superhumans battling other superhumans.
Saiko isn’t thrilled at the prospect of doing another battle manga but Shujin fears it may be the only way to push forward. He thinks maybe a sports manga would also be good, but he’s not sold on it. Saiko compliments his storytelling and notes that even if he does battle, he’ll still have an elaborate story.
Shujin chews on that and asks which kind of mangaka is the best. When Saiko takes the bait, Shujin explains that the best mangaka are those who can render ordinary life in a compelling way.
Shujin explains that a mangaka who can make a manga about an ordinary high schooler going about their day is a genius who could make any story seem interesting.
Jesus, no ego there Ohba.
Saiko plays down his rambling as stress. and tells him to relax.
At Shueisha, Aida asks why Miura hasn’t submitted anything to the Serialization meeting. Miura apologizes and explains that BB Kenichi will not be ready for February but will be good for April. He’s hopeful with Ashirogi, however. Aida gives him an order to capitalize on his “two golden eggs”.
Miura realizes that despite his good fortune he still hasn’t gotten anyone serialized, nor has he made a hit. He also recognizes that Trap is Hattori’s accomplishment; he failed to see Mashiro’s health issues and the series got canceled. He knows it’s his job to get a series started as soon as possible or he’s in deep shit.
Meanwhile, Kaya and Saiko suffer through studying Middle School English which Shujin forces them to study because they don’t know the basics. Shujin’s a martinet and tells them not to be little bitches.
Kaya complains about wanting to go to a prep school like Miho. Shujin thinks she’d be a fish-out-of-water which Saiko agrees with. She immediately whips their asses for being assholes. Shujin tries to appeal to her sense of decency: they have a meeting at Shueisha and they shouldn’t look bruised and swollen. She asks why when they don’t have storyboards.
Miura told them to come and see him when they said they didn’t have any ideas on what to do for their storyboards. She drops them and tells them to go.
At the meeting, Miura thinks the decision to go to college makes sense and suggests they have storyboards ready for serialization by April.
Saiko’s shocked by the suggestion and mentions he wants to do a one-shot. Miura’s equally shocked by the lack of “confidence” doing a one-shot. He tells them that they already had a series, they don’t need to do that; not only that, Sasaki says they’re an asset to the magazine.
He also informs them their contract is being renewed with the same fee, but a 1,000 yen per page increase. He’ll bring it next time.
Saiko and Shujin are floored and Miura explains that the office and readers want them to get serialized again soon don’t let them down.
Saiko still thinks a series is premature which confuses Miura given Saiko’s habit of being overly hardcore about everything. Saiko doesn’t want to make a series that has no guarantee of being popular. Miura asks them to have faith in the editorial department. If it doesn’t work they’ll try it out. Whatever it is though, serialization is key.
The Next Direction is gags?
Saiko doesn’t buy it. Trap still failed, and two failures in a row is something Saiko wants to avoid. Miura thinks Trap was a success despite the hiatus. Saiko pushes: doesn’t a successful series last for years? Miura explains Trap would still be in Jump if it hadn’t gone on hiatus.
Miura feeds them the standard shonen line to have faith and be confident and don’t be negative and all that and leave the editor’s work to the editors.
Shujin goes along with it and when Saiko protests, he points out they both want a series. Saiko weighs the two options, still thinking the one-shot is the way to go but should he have faith in his work? It’s unclear.
Shujin explains that they want to create a series, but are at a loss for ideas. Miura suggests a…
Shujin and Saiko immediately see this as a bad suggestion. Miura points out the final two chapters to Trap – the comedy and rom-com – both rose to 13th pace among the last chapters. Shujin counters that that’s not much better than 17th. Miura thinks the jump was genuinely incredible and thinks Shujin’s research paid off: Shujin has a good sense of humor.
Shujin questions that logic so Miura tries an alternate tactic: it doesn’t have to be a gag manga, but it should be something funny.
Shujin uses Gin Tama as a potential example (yeah boi) even though that is one hundred percent gag manga. Miura continues his dissertation on Gag manga: Otter No. 11 and Kiyoshi Knight both do well, and they’re both humorous while Hideout Door and Trap lacked humor and look whose still popular?
That specious reasoning aside, Saiko points out that most of the most popular series are serious battle manga. Miura’s saying they can do it, but it should also be funny. Shujin’s humor is a weapon that needs to be utilized. Saiko thinks that’s nonsense, and totally against Shujin’s style.
Shujin’s all on the flattery train though and buys into it. Miura uses the failure of their early chapters as additional proof.
He then tells Saiko that they can’t compete against those battle manga at their own game, rookies fail that way. Serious manga will not overcome those juggernauts.
Saiko still thinks the advice is questionable and that Miura’s deflection. Saiko smells bullshit. Shujin’s all aboard the humor train. Shujin thinks the story should be simpler too. Saiko keeps on the defense and tells him to wait until they’re back at the studio to come up with ideas.
Miura, seeing the futility of continuing and ends the meeting so they can lay the groundwork for a comedy. Shujin agrees to try it.
Miura’s no good
Saiko thinks all that advice was hot nonsense and that Miura’s full of it. Saiko thinks a one-shot is the only way to get a series rather than a new series.
When asked the difference, Saiko explains that with a one-shot you can do some audience testing you don’t get with a series. The two disagree on whether getting a new series early is ideal or not.
As the elevator, they run into Hattori who notes how quickly they’re back here to make a new series.
Saiko asks which Hattori would choose: a one-shot or a new series. Hattori thinks it’s a hard question, but defers to Miura, as he’s their editor. Shujin pushes him a little harder and promises not to tell. Hattori isn’t falling for the bait and tells them to defer to their editor.
His one piece of advice is that they are allowed to argue with him if they need to.
The boys discuss Hattori’s meaning: Shujin thinks he’s on their side but Saiko isn’t so sure.
Should they Be Serious?
Saiko discusses Miura’s failure as an editor for Trap who couldn’t recognize Shujin’s strengths and cultivate them. He also points out that despite his enthusiasm he’s hackneyed and gives generic advice anyone could give noting his only actual contribution was to make the dialogue better. Like Otter No. 11.
His first impression of Trap was that it was too stiff. Shujin asks if Saiko’s accusing Miura of pressing his biases on them. Saiko says sort of, and that they shouldn’t follow him one hundred percent.
Shujin defends Miura for being a good guy, although he thinks Hattori is a better editor. Saiko doesn’t care about nice, he wants to be successful, and nice isn’t helping. He asks if Shujin really thinks he can do comedy.
Shujin agrees but points out they’re stuck with him no matter what. Shujin worries that Saiko might break the contract and go to another magazine. He won’t but he’s worried. Shujin is worried about tuition but Saiko’s worried about their prospects for the future even including a contract.
Shuijn admits he found it odd to make a gag manga as a suggestion. Shujin decides to settle the issue the only way he knows how.
He calls Eiji while brushing his teeth. Shujin asks as a rival: would you read a comedy by Muto Ashirogi. Eiji jumps into buffed mangaka mode and tells them he’d read anything by them but thinks comedy won’t unlock their full potential.
They need to be heartless and dark. Shujin takes that and tells Saiko. They think about the advice and remember the world is all about money and intelligence. The only story that Beat Eiji by any margin. Hattori agreed with this approach early and Eiji and Hattori understand them. They’ve decided to do mainstream though. how to fuse it?
They agree Miura is no good. and they’re allowed to disagree with him.
So they’ll fight tooth and nail.
With that, the chapter concludes
Gag and Serious Reaction
Panel of the Week*
My panel of the week this week is scattered throughout the blog. Namely, the tankobon volumes and characters’ relationship to them. It’s more a motif of the week.
Each shot of Detective Trap is paired with some legacy element – Taro’s Hero’s Legend manga – or is looked at by Miura or Saiko with longing and disappointment. Even though Trap is looked down on by the characters, it’s shown from imposing angles.
Same with Koogy’s miraculously still running manga, and Crow in the opening.
While it’s not technically a panel, it is a great visual motif to establish a sense of disappointment and lingering regret over the events of Trap. It also gives us a sense of powerlessness embodied in an object. Trap is still very much influencing everyone involved, and it’s appearance throughout the chapter – and the framing of it – underlines that.
So, we’ll get to Miura in a second, but what struck me most in this chapter is Shujin’s inability to come up with a new idea by marrying himself to Detective Trap. I’ve been there, and it is a weird feeling.
I actually feel the pressure on Shujin more acutely in this chapter than I have before. To date, he’s been less of the subject of external conflicts, because Saiko tends to be the drama queen and is kinda the actual main character of the series for better or worse. We’ll also get to his…continued nonsense, in a minute.
But Shujin being unable to come up with new ideas is probably the most real part of this chapter that I was able to personally identify with.
You’re probably familiar with the feeling of emptiness and derailment that comes after finishing a long-term project, or series that you’ve watched. I’m under no illusion that when I finish this particular writing project it’s going to set me adrift for a bit trying to figure out how to fill the time that was taken creating it. Probably another blog, but right after the fact it’s going to be weightless and blocked.
But I think Shujin is also running into a fairly rookie mistake. And that may sound uh, rich, coming from a guy who has only published one thing, but having finished several projects creatively and then putting them away to wait on revision, I know the process of starting and finishing projects, and the one thing you cannot do is marry yourself to one. Especially when it’s your job. Coming up with ideas is part of the lifestyle that that career entails. Unless you’re famous for one work, you gotta hustle.
So I think the best thing for Shujin to do is to stop idolizing Trap as the best idea he’s ever had and take some professional distance from the idea. Part of the mangaka grind is finding new stories to tell after you’ve finished one because, presumably, you have more stories you want to tell.
Especially when you’re a stand-in for the guy who authored Death Note.
And, on that note, let’s get into the crux of this chapter.
Should the Boys Do A Gag Manga?
No. And I’ll tell you why.
It’s because this series is partially autobiographical. As top commenter Rusty has pointed out, most of the editors are based on the actual editorial staff at Jump – Aida is the boy’s actual editor IRL, Yujiro, Hattori, Sasaki, Torishima, Ibaraki et. al. – and to a degree, this depiction of their lives is mired in autobiography. Obata worked on some Gag Manga early in his career, but a lot of his work is dour and serious, like Ral Grad, All You Need is Kill, and Hikaru no Go.
Although he did just start Show-ha Shoten with Asakaru-sensei which is just Bakuman with Stand-up Comedy. It’s good, though, read it.
Where was I?
So the meta of this story is that, at some point, Ashirogi is going to come up with something akin to Death Note that is going to skyrocket them to success. It’s building to that moment. I haven’t spoiled myself, by the way, it’s just the logical progression of this very metafictional autobiographical narrative.
Of course, you can’t just jump directly to the Death Note part of the story, and we still have a ways to go, so I’m sure it’s going to take oodles of Chapters before we get to that point.
But Gag manga is not Ohba/Obata’s strength, and it’s clear from the most compelling moments in Bakuman that they are not suited to Gag manga. Their humor isn’t poor, but it’s not risen to the level of a gag manga. It’s a relatively serious take on its subject matter with a smattering of humor thrown in to keep things fresh.
To take a brief detour into Gag Manga
I am a Gin Tama stan and will take any excuse I can to talk about it. It is kind of THE Gag manga that manages to marry serious elements. While there are more famous Gag Manga out there like Bobobo Bo-Bobo, and Nichijou, Gin Tama is, to my mind, what gag manga reads like.
And in that series, unless it’s a serious arc, there are jokes every other line. half of the damn story is an extended Manzai Routine, and the other half is elaborate Dick Jokes and parody. And the other half is fourth wall breaks of epic proportions, and the fourth half is absurdist Japanese references. And the final half is actual honest to god serious storylines, and those are also peppered with sight gags, dick jokes, puns, and fourth wall breaks.
But there is almost no breathing room unless a serious moment calls for it.
It’s also 700 chapters, but that’s because Sorachi wanted to end every single dangling plot thread.
Where was I?
Oh right, Ohba and Obata do not project that chaotic energy that’s required to sustain a successful Gag Manga. They insert naturalistic humor in moments where levity is welcome. Not at every single possible opportunity. And it works.
And the series has not played coy with the fact that their ultimate end goal is to be a serious manga writer. Hattori basically gives away their hand early on when he tells them to focus on a niche cult-like story and pushes them to do The World is All About Money and Intelligence.
Speaking of Hattori.
Miura’s Watch part…uhhh
I should have kept track of how many times I’ve questioned Miura’s editorial ability. But right now, right here, the conflict has come up to the fore.
Is Miura a good editor?
It is not looking great, right now, I’ll tell you what.
With the benefit of this chapter, we’re getting a perspective into how limited Miura’s abilities are. And again, this isn’t a question of who he is as a person, or his kindness and general decency. He comes off as a decent dude but throughout this chapter, he’s demonstrated both objectively, and character-wise, his deficiencies as an editor.
By objective, I mean his lack of ability to create a hit. It’s pretty clear that the life and death of mangaka – at least administratively – is on the shoulders of the Editors. And while Miura is young, the fact that he has no out-and-out successes to his name is a strike. I don’t know how many editors strike gold in their first year, but the fact that he’s gotten considerable talent that’s sitting on the sidelines isn’t great.
But what’s more, he’s written by Ohba to go against the grain of being “good” at his job, according to the big three jump ideals: Persistence, Friendship, and Victory.
While he isn’t totally wrong about Gag manga, his satisfaction with mediocrity is the opposite of “persistence” and “victory”.
And his emphasis on Humor – as the boys point out – is starting to get stale. But also, he’s doing the one thing that he himself resisted when Trap was in trouble: he’s giving in to his fears. He’s also not listening to his wards, but that’s a whole other can of worms.
His current desire to serialize is not motivated by the interest of the mangaka, but over fears for his job. Which, while not unfounded is a poor motivation to force your mangaka to take a path to which they are not well suited. He’s forcing a situation. And forcing a situation creates friction, but moreover, it can totally fuck up the boy’s careers even further if he fucks it up.
This is one of those situations that wasn’t outlined in the good editor/bad editor debate that still makes for a bad editor: desperation. And an unwillingness to push past limits and potentially grow.
What I’m saying is, it’s worrying.
So Miura’s editorial abilities are under question more significantly than ever, which does not bode well for the boy’s future.
What is Saiko’s Deal?
I’m still ambiently frustrated with Saiko from his whole kerfuffle in the hospital, but I’d classify it as odd that he actually wants to play it safe with a one-shot rather than try to get a new series. I don’t think, abstractly, that it’s a bad tactic. One-shots are a good measure of audience interest in an idea, and plenty of famous series including Naruto, Berserk, Bleach, and One Piece are included.
So that’s not the issue. It’s that his motivation is to hedge his bets against making another dud.
In this case, I do have to agree with Miura: Trap wasn’t a failure due to its lack of ability. it failed due to external circumstances. There is no guarantee it would have continued doing well, but it wasn’t an abject failure as Saiko seems to think. IN fact, the reason it died is precisely due to Saiko’s overenthusiasm.
It may be rather crass of me to be calling out Saiko’s more tentative approach to the second manga, but I think he needs to have just the tiniest bit more faith in he and Shujin’s abilities as mangaka. they have the right stuff, they just have to find the right idea.
Presumably, that right idea will come along in another..uhhh 120 chapters, but for now, I guess they’re stuck with gags.
Now, in the interest of fairness to Saiko, I have heard a rumor from unreliable sources that Jump can be unforgiving to those who consistently make series that fall apart early, and that there is a limit of three cancellations before you’re out. So if that’s the case, then Saiko’s fears are in fact perfectly justified because, no matter how good they are, if that policy were in place, it’d still be a failure, like he said.
But I just don’t feel like that’s the case here, especially with Sasaki practically demanding that Miura get a new series from them and seeing so much potential in them. It just doesn’t jive with the direction of the story.
Oh well, I guess we’ll see what happens.
With all the above in mind, I still find Saiko being hard-headed to be his worst trait. The boy could stand to listen to others just the tiniest bit more.
But then we wouldn’t have a story. Sigh.
On some final notes, it looks like Shujin and Saiko are going to take the low-hanging fruit college-wise and take the easy way out. I can’t say I blame them – I kinda did the same thing – to keep the focus on my work, but it is weird to see someone so actively choose to prioritize their career over a good education. Especially in Japan where the mores on that type of behavior are way more intense than they are in the US
Not that I’m in any position to judge.
It also looks like Kaya is the friendliest barnacle, eager to join the boys wherever they go. I’m not sure how healthy that is, but given that she’s kinda given up her own dreams to serve Shujin, whatever.
I’m sad now.
I guess we’ll see whether they follow through on their plan to not listen to their editor.
What could go wrong?
Until next time,