In Novel and Letter, Iwase is a Surprisingly great character (Chapter 62)

Hello hello hello, and welcome to my Read-Through of Bakuman Chapter 62: Novel and Letter, in which I go on a dialectic of High vs Low a bit and admire the existence of Iwase as a character.

If you are not caught up and would like to be caught up because being caught up is the tits, please use this index here to do so. There are no spoilers for the future of the series. Read easy

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Novel and Letter Summary

Iwase’s Goal

Shujin admires Iwase as having gotten insanely hot before trying to figure out what the hell Iwase is doing at the zoo. When asked, Iwase explains that she is in the literature department with Aoki. Shujin’s impressed by her academic bona fides.

She hands him a copy of her award-winning book not showing off or nothing and Shujin properly freaks out about it. He asks whether Shueisha awards the prize: she mentioned Shujin to her editor and he knew that she worked in Jump. Shujin wonders if she’s been tracking him down.

Novel and Letter Iwase confronts Shujin

Nah. Of course not. nope.

She jabs him with her straight-A record while writing her first novel.

Shujin don’t like the implication and asks if she thinks he’s dumb because his own academics faltered due to manga. Aoki intervenes to save the situation from disaster and explains in a less condescending way that she just wanted him to see her.

Shujin thinks she’s amazing always reading novels and being a published author who still does well academically.

Shujin thinks that’s all, and decides to cut out. Iwase presses the manga issue as he leaves.

The Value of a Manga

Iwase asks if he’s “Still” working on manga. When Shujin takes offense, she explains she’s read his work and thinks he could do well as a novelist. Shujin’s snarky about it: should he write novels now?

Aoki translates: novels are higher than manga as an art form. Iwase confirms. Shujin takes that information appropriately and kindly tells her to shove it, in so many words.

Iwase asks why he would waste his entertainment on such literature if he knows it’s not valuable as high art.

Shujin didn’t realize she doesn’t understand sarcasm and points out it’s bullshit to judge which goals are worthy and which are not. Aoki agrees: writers of every kind want to make something that readers will enjoy. On a weekly basis, millions of people read Jump and buy graphic novels en masse. If so many people enjoy it, it is worth pursuing.

Shujin addends that statement with the obvious “successful” manga selling millions of copies.

Iwase is shocked by the relative readership, since only 30,000 people bought her novel. She goes for the old pretentious art snob rationalization of “sales don’t reflect quality” but Shujin parries with “that’s why I’m not comparing them”. It’s meaningless to compare the two forms because they have different appeals and audiences.

Iwase declares in a fit of pique that she’s going to write manga, then.

Iwase’s determination

Shujin freaks out about how petty Iwase’s being to prove a point. He wonders why she’s so obsessed with competing with him. She’s got her own accomplishments that are huge: people who like novels should write novels ad talent like that is rare.

Iwase doth protest that she thinks he’s afraid she’ll do better. Shujin points out that that’s obviously not what he’s saying – even though she wouldn’t anyway – he just doesn’t understand what she thinks she’s doing.

She wants to stand on equal ground with him. She doesn’t want to “lose” to him.

Shujin is lost which sorta makes sense but she’s clear enough.

When Shujin’s grades started slipping she took it personally as he could just get Straight As if he wanted to. She gets an award for literature and Shujin still gives her lip and thinks he’s better than her.

On second thought, maybe Shujin’s right here.

Shujin, eager to end this conversation, says that it’s not about that, but if she sees it that way obviously she’s the winner. Iwase ain’t having that shit and thinks he’s lying.

Aoki realizes that this might have been a mistake while Shujin explains how, objectively, Iwase is doing better than him on literally every metric: She’s at a good school, with an award-winning novel and she’s hotter than sin; even hotter than Kaya.

Bruh.

Iwase says the quiet part out loud at mention of Kaya and says they should go out if that’s the case.

Shujin explains that he likes Kaya thousands of times more than Iwase. Iwase confirms her own beliefs and walks away from the conversation in a huff.

Holy fucking shit.

Shujin and Aoki both try to figure out what the hell is Iwase’s case. Aoki sees it as a combination of seeking approval and liking him. But he doesn’t understand why she sees him as a rival

Because of her high-strung personality, she doesn’t have many friends so she wants someone to accept her as a friend and colleague. He wonders if she will really try to write manga. Aoki sees it as not only likely, but probable, and that she’ll also do it well.

A Change in Their Dynamic

Aoki and Shujin discuss their roles as competitors in Akamaru, and how it isn’t feasible for them to be working together anymore. Shujin doesn’t agree still seeing the benefit in these conversations so they’re both growing at an appropriate rate. Aoki agrees. Shujin offers to go back to the studio and talk with Saiko. If he says yes, would she be open to continuing their *Strictly* professional relationship?

Yes.

Shizuka’s Eccentricities

At Shueisha, Yamahisa’s laughing up a storm prompting Yoshida to ask what the hell he’s doing. He explains he’s on chat with Shizuka, the author of Shapon. Given his misanthropy and social seclusion, he can’t talk Face-to-Face but he likes talking on the computer a lot. He scanned and emailed storyboards.

Yamahisa gives the handouts to Yoshida who immediately sees a problem with the story: it features on-screen humans killing humans, a strict no-no in Jump. Yamahisa points out that at the end it’s revealed that the villains are “true humans” and not actual humans. He thinks it feels fresh. Yoshida finds it radical.

Yamahisa sees it as suiting the modern generation’s penchant for gratuitous violence, having been raised on videos game from the cradle. Shizuka’s artwork is also good enough that it could surpass gaming.

Yoshida pulls out his old man hat and thinks the world’ll go to hell if this is popular. yamahisa wants to run it in the next Akamaru. Yoshida sees the talent but requests that he make it clearer that the True Humans are not actually human. Yamahisa likes the ambiguity but he’ll tell him to revise.

The Shocking News

At the studio, Saiko’s shocked to learn of Iwase’s new goal. Shujin explains her competition with him and gest a little sexist with hot girl holding literary fiction is hot, what’s the big deal bro.

Shujin then continues admiring Iwase’s adult look and how girls look so good with makeup. Saiko warns him not to tell Kaya about it. Saiko asks about the book itself. He gave up 1/3 of the way through: he prefers genre fiction.

Saiko takes offense on Iwase’s behalf and tries to read it only to find it is quite…literary and totally over his head. Aoki said it was good.

Saiko thinks her manga will suck unless she changes her style considerably. Shujin tells him about Aoki’s belief in her ability. Shujin gets in a snide jab before moving on to Aoki’s one-shot and his continued dalliance with her professionally. Saiko thinks it’s fine as long as it improves his work.

At that moment, Takahama calls.

Takahama’s woes.

He warns the boys not to do a gag manga unless they’re a natural at humor: you’ll run out of jokes quick and ruin yourself coming up with more. Go with what you’re best at.

Saiko thanks him, but explains Shujin’s already ready to go with the jokes. Takahama apologizes.

He then brings up one more thing: did Saiko know about Kato’s crush. Uhhh, yeah, he sorta did. He tells Saiko not to worry now that she appears interested in Nakai. Shujin asks about Nakai. He’s working with Takahama temporarily and Kato is vibing his drawing skills hard.

When asked about Nakai’s affection for Aoki he explains Nakai has been going full throttle with Kato and she’s been responding well. Takahama doesn’t even feel welcome at his studio anymore. Shujin thinks Nakai will hit on anything with a pulse.

After hanging up, Shujin thinks it’s good that Nakai is moving on especially since it made Aoki so uncomfortable. Shujin decides to go home and let Aoki know the news about Nakai and their conversations. Saiko don’t care as long as he provides storyboards.

Saiko forgets to give Shujin Iwase’s novel as he leaves and he decides to conspicuously leave the book on the shelf where NO ONE WILL EVER FIND IT. Convinced, that it proves his total lack of interest in her.

Kaya’s Sorrow

Aoki takes the news of Nakai mutedly and Shujin doesn’t notice the change in her demeanor. She’s conflicted by his unbelievable behavior.

Two days later, Saiko and Shujin get a call from Miura, who thinks that the storyboard is great and their audience shift paid off. He thinks it needs more gags though so he wants to meet. They agree and race to get the storyboards for the second chapter finished.

At that Moment Kaya comes over and they explain their abrupt meeting with Miura. They offer to clean it themselves. She decides to clean for them regardless of their protests and pushes them out the door.

Saiko gives her the key to the Studio. She’s thrilled to get some much trust and she starts cleaning all happy.

Poor girl.

At that moment, the book falls out as well as a letter.

The Letter is from Iwase, implicating Shujin in far more than he bargained for. Explaining her obvious true feelings and their “Date” at the zoo.

Kaya’s in shock, remembering Iwase from middle school. The date on the letter is from two days ago. She puts the pieces together re: Phone calls and she realizes she’s been had.

She drops cleaning, drops the key in their mailbox takes her bike back home, and tries not to weep from the shock until she gets home.

Oh, Kaya.

Novel and Letter Reaction

Iwase’s a piece of work, and still a better written character than most of Ohba’s output

There, I said it.

Even though a lot of her behavior was, on a personal level, absolutely obnoxious, frustrating, and a situation of familiarity breeding contempt – not on the actual material success front (I’m no successful novelist, nor did I do amazingly in school) – but on the complicated strains of both affection for, and rivalry towards Takagi, who I’m going to start vacillating the naming practice on because I feel like it.

The whole opening sequence was a beautiful display of actually good character writing. I’m not saying Iwase’s a great female character, but she is miles ahead of most of Ohba’s output to date, including Aoki, Kaya, and Miho.

Because, again, even though she’s defined in relation to Takagi and her not even subtextual attraction to him, she’s fulfilling the role of the rival. And she’s empowered, but not in a masculine punch-and-kick-my-problems to oblivion that a lot of empowered women are.

Like, in the incredibly problematic women empowerment schtick of Kill la Kill, Ryuko and Satsuki are empowered insofar as they are able to whip shit and kick ass with huge swords and could beat boys in a duel; but they also don’t mind wearing horrifyingly skimpy clothing to make some bullshit statement that subverts the traditional fan service narrative.

But that’s very much self-empowerment in a strictly male gaze setting. They aren’t defined by their own empowerment, but by how they are empowered in a male system that values both physical strength and beauty.

Do you see the difference?

Iwase is flawed – which is good – and she’s also empowered by her intellect and her self definition. She has a degree of self-determination that means that she’s a threat to the boy’s career in manga. She can get straight As at one of the best universities in Japan while writing on the side and winning a major award. And she has enough pull that she can get info on her love interest from her editor.

That’s genuine empowerment outside of a traditionally masculine narrative. Gotta love it. It’s almost rival levels of power. Which would be awesome, if she actually became one.

And sure, you could argue that we’re replacing physical might for drawing and storytelling. But I’m going to stick with it because I like it. Neener neener.

Anyway.

High Art Vs. Low Art Part II

I’m totally on Takagi’s side this round. Because he’s right. It’s dumb to compare material commercial success with critical success, even though the two are regularly conflated. Because they are different metrics. They don’t actually measure how objectively good something is.

One measures how many people think it has artistic merit, and one measures how many people went out to buy the art to go consume it.

To put it in another frame of reference: more people have seen The Room and Birdemic, than have likely seen Ingmar Bergman’s masterpiece Persona, or Andrei Tarkovsky’s Andrei Rublev.

By every objective measure, the Room and Birdemic are borderline unwatchable films, and Persona and Andrei Rublev are fucking masterpieces of world cinema.

And yet, The Room continues to pack theaters that upcharge because Tommy’s there, and Andrei Rublev‘s lucky to get put as part of a Tarkovsky retrospective every once in a blue moon.

Does that make The Room a good film and Andrei Rublev a bad film? The answer is obviously not because these films are famous for their quality on both ends of the spectrum.

What I will say is I love how this characterizes Iwase as somewhat temperamentally unsuited to Takagi and how it revealed so much about who she is as a character. She’s obsessed with what is objective, and what is verifiable. It was a wonderful little character moment when she realized that millions of people read Manga while her literary novel only sold 30,000 copies.

I’ve felt that struggle, although for different reasons.

But Takagi is focused on what he finds personally fulfilling. He’s interested in and loves manga. It’s what he is passionate about, which is why he is pursuing it. It’s not necessarily about what is objectively good for him – which is probably school – but what he needs to live. A subjective view of his objective needs.

And that sets up a nice character contrast with the overtly perfect Iwase. Because despite having all the material success in the world, she’s still empty, and lonely, and she’s still pining after Takagi. Her revenge means nothing because it hasn’t done the one thing she wanted it to do.

Which is also why Shujin’s devotion to Kaya was heartwarming, even if he’s still being a total dingus about Aoki. She’s not objectively perfect, she’s just perfect for him. Awww.

I mean, their relationship is well and truly fucked now, but let’s talk about that in a second. For now, we should move on to…

Shizuka and the Sausage

So I guess Shizuka is still in this. I feel like Yoshida is probably foaming at the mouth at the current state of Jump given his conservative views of manga production. But it was interesting seeing Yamahisa be so open-minded about how he needs to interact with mangaka.

Also, man this series dated itself with the novelty of Chat functions. Lordy. Especially in light of the last year where they had to move to zoom.

But what I really like about this whole sequence is how it lays out what is presumably an actual restriction in Jump: no killing humans by other humans. In hindsight that explains a fuck of a lot of things. Although western anime fans are still going to be salty about it.

I presume because the magazine is geared towards teens, they don’t want to tacitly encourage murder by having the protagonists of manga murder other people.

Except for Death Note

And Sakamoto Days,

And recently, Jujutsu Kaisen,

And other series….

Ok. Maybe this rule isn’t so hard and fast, but I would not be surprised if Kishimoto had to do the infamous Pain Talk-no-Jutsu sequence because he was told: Naruto can’t actually kill Pain because that would be bad.

I’m fine with it, honestly. Even if I’m a grown-ass man reading kids shit, I don’t mind when it has to cater to that audience.

But Shizuka might prove interesting, assuming we ever actually see his face. We’ve already gone off this dialectic several times of the new generation vs the old generation, and it’s not worth rehashing, so let’s go onto the other juicy bits of this chapter.

Takahama, Nakai, and Kato

So it looks like Kato is into Nakai, which again, I’m perfectly cool with. Those two are side characters looking for love, and if they can do that, more power to them.

Although I will say that it’s wildly inappropriate for them to do it ON THE JOB. Poor Takahama. The dude just cannot catch a break.

Especially with the alarming bit of news about his lack of ability to do gag work. Honestly, that’s worrying. If he’s feeling the strain already of having to come up with so many gags and he’s just started out. I can’t imagine what Shujin is going to do if he actually gets serialized.

Circling back to Nakai though. The dude is desperate, and desperation is a sure-fire way to fail. While It’s honestly a good thing that he’s not on Aoki’s back anymore, it is alarming just how quickly those feelings seemed to have evaporated. Aoki’s conflicted which, ugh, but Nakai is trying to speedrun this whole dating thing and it’s kinda gross. Also don’t hit on coworkers at work and interfere, dude. Come on.

Also speaking of Aoki conflicts.

Poor Kaya

I can’t believe Saiko would actually allow Shujin to keep doing this. What a fucking idiot. There’s a certain level of forbearance one needs to do, but come on man. Not cool.

Nw that both the boys and Aoki are in Akamaru. They are competitors. What happened to Saiko’s desperate need to win? They need to cut off contact.

Especially since kaya’s already gotten heartbroken in a way that was forecasted so obviously I was expecting it to happen a few chapters from now.

Poor girl. Especially with that reveal that Iwase couldn’t even keep it in her pants and wrote a letter. Just a perfect storm to wreck Kaya’s shit. it’s’ like when one of those police officers is going to retire from the force on their boat the Live 4 Ever. Sigh.

And Ohba really did twist the knife with the whole “here’s the key girl, we trust you even moar now” sequence. My heart. I can’t. Seeing Kaya burst into tears only soured me more on Shjin’s duplicity. She deserves better. The dramatic irony is delicious, but the girl is being mistreated, even if only spiritually.

I hope Shujin takes the wake-up call when it inevitably slaps him in the face. Because Jesus dude. I think Kaya might be done with this relationship. So maybe there is hope for Shujin x Iwase. He even thinks she’s hotter for her literary fiction, which was just gross as shit man.

Blegh.

Until next time,

Peace

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