In 3 Illustrations and 3 Stories, Things Get Super Heartless (Bakuman Chapter 55)

Hi there, and welcome to my read-through of Bakuman Chapter 55: 3 Illustrations and 3 Stories, in which a debate about tone becomes another meta-touch, and Ohba gets ruthless.

If you have not read any previous chapters, please use the hand-dandy-candy index right here. There are no spoilers past the current chapter, so read at ease, newbies.

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3 Illustrations and 3 Stories Summary

Saiko and Kaya continue bitching about their need to learn English and Shujin ain’t having none of their shit. When asked, he explains that he’s grumpy because he has to come up with a Gag Manga idea. Kaya thinks it’s because the last chapters of Trap were so funny.

Shujin loses it when Kaya agrees with Miura: neither of them gets his style or strength. Kaya points out that it never hurts to be a little funny which changes Shujin’s tune instantly. She defends herself: girlfriend, hello?

Shujin asks for Saiko’s input: should they stick to what their editor wants or not. Saiko thinks they should explain their perspective to him first.

Nakai on the Struggle Bus

Meanwhile, Nakai has been holed up in his apartment doing nothing. He calls Aoki and asks whether she has any new Manga ready to go. He also expresses his desire to draw her next manga for her.

She tells him she’s no longer working for Jump. When asked why she explains she’s going to go back to Shojo and will illustrate it herself. Nakai pathetically expresses his hope to continue working together.

Aoki politely puts him down by complimenting his artwork and that he should find a writer who will support his excellence; she’s simply not built for Shonen work.

Nakai does not seem to understand the concept of “No” and keeps mewling about his desire to work with her. She doesn’t understand what the big deal is and asks what the deal is. And then Nakai

…Confesses his love.

Oof.

Aoki says she respects him as an artist but doesn’t otherwise see him that way. Nakai is devastated.

Aoki’s Dilemma

At the same moment, Aoki gets a call on her house phone from Yamahisa. He explains that he’s her new editor and wants to meet her soon. When she tries to explain the situation, Yamahisa feeds her a line about not giving up and about how he read her work in Margaret Magazine: she can totally make it. He’s certain.

Yamahisa goes on that she should be working on romance manga and that Aida didn’t use her potential properly. He’s sure she’s guaranteed to succeed in that genre. Aoki is skeptical but Yamahisa is certain that Romance is the way to go for her to express her feelings.

The only thing she needs to do is include panty shots.

…bruh.

Yamahisa is sure it’ll be successful. He likes the way she draws girls and Jump’s most successful manga have a bit of smut and naughtiness. With Aoki at the helm, it’ll be serious and not a rom-com. It’s been ages since a romance like that has graced the pages of Jump so it’ll seem fresh and will hyakku pa-se-n-to be a hit.

He then also drops a hint that a pretty mangaka will no doubt bolster her popularity. Besides, in Shojo, romance has to be extreme to work as well right? This isn’t Josei after all. All Jump wants is 3 panty shots a week and it’ll be a runaway success.

*holds in the urge not to projectile vomit*

Aoki remains unconvinced and asks how he’s so certain. Kawaii girls and realistic girls’ underwear? It’s getting Yamahisa hot and bothered already. Aoki is not totally on board but offers to think about it.

Nakai – still on the line – wails in despair.

Miura’s Desperation

Yamahisa asks Aida why Aoki didn’t know about the transfer and Aida explains that the transfer isn’t even done yet so she was going to wait until it was done. Yamahisa celebrates his success at having maintained Aoki’s tentative support. Aida finds Yamahisa’s brashness a good trait for a Rookie Editor and scolds Miura for not having found a hit, despite having been there a year longer.

He then pushes Miura to hand in Ashirogi’s contract: the higher-ups are impatient for it. Miura apologizes for forgetting and Aida chews him out for giving them the opportunity to join another magazine and be poached. Miura flips and goes to get their signatures immediately.

Miura decides to get their signature after his meeting with Takahama.

At the studio, Shujin asks how Saiko can keep practicing so diligently. He just likes drawing and he likes it enough to make a career out of it. Shujin apologizes for his creative spigot being dry.

The phone rings and it’s Miura. Shujin answers and asks for a meeting to talk about their next work. Miura flips out and hopes they’re not joining another magazine. Shujin has no idea what that’s about and he explains Aida chewing him out. Shujin explains the situation to Saiko who is still ambivalent about signing a new contract with Miura.

Gag or Serious

Saiko and Shujin run into Takahama on his way back from the meeting. Takahama is meeting about BB Kenichi and he seems bummed. He explains that Miura’s desperation to get serialized is overwhelming and makes it hard to work with him. Saiko and Shujin put 2 and 2 together.

Takahama also gets frustrated by the demands for more humor despite Takahama thinking his main character isn’t goofy like that.

Because of the pressure, Takahama’s struggling to make storyboards.

At the meeting itself, Miura apologizes and brings out the contract to sign. Before that, Shujin discusses his lack of interest in making comedies, not seeing it as his strength. Miura downplays his concern with the good results from Trap .

Saiko mentions The World is All About Money and Intelligence and how it put them in actual competition with Eiji. If they want to be competitive that is their best shot. Miura explains the difference between Jump and Akamaru: plenty of works do well in the latter without doing well in the former.

Saiko doubles down on Ashirogi’s desire to play it seriously and put jokes in as extra spice where appropriate.

Miura asks whether they’ve made a manga like that already.

They haven’t.

That being the case, Miura flips out and demands they do what their editor says. He explains that his decision is more than just simply advice; there’s a lot that goes into it. One of those things is often a genre change when a veteran mangaka does a new series. With that frame, Humor is a natural follow-up.

Saiko and Miura’s argument gets heated as Saiko still believes humor isn’t the way to go and Miura asks whether they think he’s wrong.

Ashirogi says yes and Miura flips out at them and tells them if they don’t trust their editor they’ll never make a career out of manga.

A Compromise

Shujin offers two stories. One Comedy, One Serious. Saiko worries about this compromise.

Miura asks whether they’ll really do six chapters worth of storyboards. They’ll have the editorial team look at both of them and decide which to go with. Miura pushes back against the proposal: he’s never heard of any mangaka doing that. He’ll only be able to submit one to serialization.

Saiko realizes he’ll choose the gag manga if that happens and Shujin pushes to get editorial input outside of his auspices.

Miura goes absolutely apeshit at the suggestion and yells at them for their total lack of faith in his editorial abilities, slamming the table and yelling at the top of his lungs. So loud, in fact, that other editors tell them to take it outside if they keep raising their voice.

Hattori watches with concern and Saiko believes this wouldn’t have happened under his care but he won’t help because he’s not their editor. It will come down to their story quality.

Miura agrees to their compromise starting with the manga he wants them to make. They modify the agreement to have them turned in together as long as they hit their deadline. He agrees to their terms and asks for six chapters of storyboards by March that needs to be excellent.

An Alternative route

The two sign the contract which has a non-compete clause with Shueisha so they’re tied to Jump no matter what. After the Meeting Shujin – with a cooler head – realizes that they might have just fucked things up worse. Saiko thinks it’s good to push back against your editors when they give bad advice. Regardless of the outcome, they have to follow their creative impulse.

Saiko asks whether Shujin’s resolved to follow through now. Shujin’s resigned to doing so although he doesn’t want to stir the pot. Saiko asks him if he’s willing to fight.

Saiko, however, has a plan which he tells Shujin about at the studio: The Treasure Rookie award. Eiji is a guest judge for this one in addition to the entire editorial team including Sasaki and Heishi. Saiko proposes they enter so they can get other editor’s feedback without breaking the contract.

Shujin asks whether Miura will flip shit. That’s why Saiko asked whether he’s geared up to fight. They agree to follow through on their original plan, but Shujin’s going to write a third set of storyboards for the Treasure Rookie contest.

First, they’ll work on that, then the two series. Shujin sees it as a possibility but questions whether this plan is a little too…Machiavellian, or legal.

Saiko – with an evil gleam – simply claims that they’re just rookies starting from scratch. Besides, they’re not acting like published mangaka so that’s fine.

Shujin sees through his rationalizing bullshit pretty much instantly but mentions he still has no ideas but eventually sees how in character these insane shenanigans are and jumps on board. He realizes that the harder the situation the more exciting it is and the more motivated he is.

He agrees to make three storyboards so excellent they won’t be able to choose which to serialize.

With that, the chapter concludes.

3 Illustrations and 3 Stories Reaction

Panel of the Week

3 Illustrations and 3 Stories: Nakai is in despair after Hideout Door is cancelled.

So I just love this entire sequence because it’s so ruthlessly put together, but it’s also incredibly ruthlessly drawn. The shading and all the attendant details surrounding Nakai are drawn in the most upsetting way imaginable. But also the way Nakai is drawn to be so small in the frame, looking out at the night, full of greys, away from the reader is so evocative. It’s similar, but also alien to Miho’s little crisis about 15 chapters ago.

But here it feels like winter, bleak and unforgiving, it is an effective portrayal of grief and directionlessness.

I agree with Shujin. Serious is how they should play it. Speaking of that…

Meta-Analysis: Tone

So, I guess Ohba and Obata also listened to Eiji’s conversation with Saiko on being heartless and ruthless, and then they decided to write the next chapter in that vein. And man, it paid off in spades.

This is the first chapter that felt like the previous Ohba and Obata team effort, and that’s a good thing.

For the record, I’m not saying Death Note is my favorite series (it’s not, by a wide margin) or that Bakuman needs to be a cut-throat morally dubious examination of the ride or die life of mangaka, but it’s nice to see Ohba and Obata using their talents to keep pushing the tonal versatility of the series in all sorts of directions.

It keeps it fresh.

but, more importantly, it gives a sense of development towards what is likely to be the endgame of the series: A Death note style serious, a limited manga that will give the boys success, and an anime adaptation and Saiko his dream of finally ending up with Miho.

It almost feels like the two authors are having a debate with their real-life editor Aida this chapter about the direction Bakuman needs to take to maintain popularity and their flexing with their dark and grimey vision of the world.

Let’s start with the most aggressive moment so far:

Nakai’s fall from grace

Nakai is someone I’ve been mixed on since his introduction, but I’ve been rooting for him for my own meta-reasons. But I’ll say, seeing how mercilessly he was treated this chapter – especially in terms of the panel work of his apartment with its lush, slimy detail – was truly a wonderful underline to their desire to do serious stories.

It felt so comparatively bleak with the rest of the series, but not an unearned bleakness.

It’s become increasingly clear that on the spectrum of “Women <—————> Manga” that this series is uncomfortably obsessed with, Nakai is interested in dating. And it’s gross. Now that he’s confessed to Aoki and it has fallen apart, I can’t say I’m happy for him, but it felt like a brutally effective moment.

To be clear, confessing love is fine, but the dude is going about it entirely the wrong way. Also, clearly, Aoki isn’t into him, which she’s been forecasting pretty loudly to this point in every way but the most explicit, and the fact that he hasn’t picked up on it is, well, a problem. Otaku in his mid-30s or not, you can learn to read social cues. And this one has been slapping him in the face.

But I genuinely was not expecting to see just how abrupt and gruesomely it was written, with Aoki on the phone with another prospect already. Ouch.

And like, if this were where Nakai ended up, I’d say that Saiko’s argument would hold water because it would be a dark despairing endnote for a complicated character who tried and failed.

Speaking of Aoki though

Yamahisa Disgusts me

I’m already done with yamahisa. But this chapter just did more to fuel the fire. With the whole dissertation on panty shots in romance, I was thoroughly disgusted with his blatant belief in the objectification of women to sell magazines. And hitting on Aoki too. Eek.

It doesn’t help that the series pulls an *aggressively* meta moment by showing, presumably, Aoki’s brassiere, panties, and skirts in photorealistic detail on the floor of her apartment to sell the message. Gross man.

But in fairness to yamahisa – as fair as I will allow anyway – Jump does seem to basically have this mindset. Although it is shifting, cute girls have pushed the magazine since time immemorial, and even my favorite manga in the magazine are guilty of aggressive over-sexualization of teen girls. Momo from My Hero Academia has made me deeply uncomfortable since the first time I saw her. So Yamahisa is parroting basic folkways of Jump magazine. Not to mention Torishima built his career as an editor by including cute girls in a manga which boosted its popularity.

That said. It’s still fucking gross. It’s still fucking unnecessary. And I still don’t fucking like it.

But to his point, the recent addition of the excellent Blue Box to the ranks of Jump shows what a fresh romance can look like. And it’s generally sweet, to the point, and emotionally mature. And gloriously absent of titillation. Although there are moments of (mild) intimacy that are appropriate for the story.

It’s also written by a woman, so maybe that has something to do with it.

Anyway. This is gross. And I don’t like it. And I want it to go away. But Aoki’s thinking about it, which is likely to translate to actually doing it at some point.

yay…I’m not desperate not to see that at all. At least, not as desperate as Miura. speaking of.

Miura’s Desperation Part ???

This is where Miura’s failings are becoming a more interesting conflict than they have been previously. His desperation to get serialized is bleeding through everywhere, and the cracks in the hull of his editorial ship are showing. It’s somewhat terrifying to consider because of how powerless it (relatively) renders Saiko and Shujin and how it might box them into a route they don’t want to go down.

The meeting where the main gimmick for the beginning of this arc comes out, in particular, is expertly set up to create tension, which is somewhat ironic given that they’re arguing about whether to do a gag manga or not. To date, Miura’s been a bit of a blowhard and cheery, but he’s never lost his temper.

To see him pull rank and be a martinet this chapter was more alarming than threatening. And it speaks to his character setup that his declaration that he’s their editor and the boys should do what he says didn’t come off as a meaningful threat, but as a desperate attempt to rein in his wards. One that even the boys aren’t cowed by. See exhibit A: Shujin’s negotiation by the ridiculous gambit.

The fact that he’s so transparent about his back is against the wall is kinda peak shitty editor behavior. And the fact that he has to reiterate that he is an editor so they should trust his judgment means he’s already lost the battle.

What Makes a Good Editor?

Because this series fundamental conflict surrounds what it takes to make a good mangaka, and what being a good mangaka is about, it’s also asking the same question of editors, audience, and the support staff. What goes into making a good manga?

In my early 20s, I wrote a small – admittedly unfocused – series of reviews about this list of great albums. it’s a project I would like to revisit someday in more detail, with better production values. I wrote it as a personal blog with an emphasis on the personal. And then it got picked up by a small magazine and I was assigned an editor – who shall remain nameless – who oversaw its writing and production.

They were a bad editor.

The reason the editor was a bad one had nothing to do with their editorial ability – they were a professional and they’d done it before and are probably doing it now – but they did one thing that I think no good editor does.

They didn’t loop me in or listen to me.

Some of the reviews on that site are barely my writing. They were merciless with their cuts, but more importantly, they had the final say over my writing. I didn’t. It was not a cooperative relationship in which I was given notes and then I made changes. I submitted the first drafts and those drafts were edited and published. Sometimes functionally rewritten – especially on albums which the editor had prior knowledge on and liked – and submitted under my name.

After this editor left, I briefly worked with another editor on the same website who actually gave me notes, and we had back and forth, and my writing actually improved. Imagine that.

I’m still salty about this. But I have a point.

This is the essence of a shitty editor: a lack of communication and cooperation. Writing is collaborative, despite its singular nature.

Miura, in his desperation to get something serialized is breaking this cardinal rule by ordering the boys to do things instead of giving them notes on how to do things and then having them creatively break through their walls to get to the point where they are good.

And to be fair to Miura, he’s got responsibilities and sensibilities and those will inevitably clash with mangaka who have their own subjective interests. And if necessary, he’ll have to pull rank to keep his mangaka in line. But so far, he’s not working with Ashirogi so much as forcing them to do something to save their own ass based on his own faulty beliefs in the power of comedy.

The boys are partially right: they can’t just blindly accept all the notes. They need to push back and leverage their own artistic sensibilities to find the right middle ground.

Because a good editor isn’t just good at editing. They’re good at cultivating an artistic and editorial relationship that yields something greater than the sum of its parts.

….In any event, there are other things we need to talk about

The Boys Gambit

For some reason, this gambit – well the two, I should say – feel like a rehash, and highly immature. Saiko’s really going all out to be a petulant child with the whole treasure rookie bit. The scene where he rationalized that to himself was highly infantile and silly.

That said, it might work.

Now that we’re far from the shores of the beginning, but still, far from the shores of the end, there is a clear need for sustaining conflict to keep the story going. And the whole – submit a ridonkulous amount of storyboards against a time limit – is being used again, albeit under different circumstances

For the most part, this works because Ohba’s showing a more tentative side to Saiko and Shujin who want to play it safe going into their next serialization and want to get some reader’s surveys in. So there is a level of dynamism to the conflict that keeps it fresh.

And it’s still a rehash of the hospital – let’s make a ton of storyboards so they have to do it – and then let’s make 10 storyboards and a one-shot so we have to get serialized conflict.

At a certain point, this is probably going to become stale. And its expiration is already coming. but for now, it’s interesting enough. One of the benefits of this structure is we get to see some new ideas for manga.

By that same token, the boys are locked in with that non-compete clause, and they’re going to have to figure something out. So this is probably the best way forward.

At least I hope so.

Stray Thoughts

–Nakai being on the phone as Aoki gets another job. Ouch.

–Saiko practicing art obsessively is similar to how I feel about making art these days. The more I draw, the more I want to draw. I want to make a manga so I’ve been practicing. It’s really fun.

–I feel for Takahama. And now I’m a bit worried about BB Kenichi. Hopefully, it does ok.

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