In 4th Place Votes and Series, Some Spurious Logic Leads to One of the Greatest Meta-arcs in the series (Chapter 96)

Howdy, my dudes, and welcome to my resumption of Bakuman with Chapter 96: 4th Place Votes and Series, in which Hattori makes a logical leap, and I finally hit the pinnacle of the series.

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And for people reading this for a while: I’m sorry for the hiatus. I’m ashamed, but I’ve been working to make sure it doesn’t happen again. Let’s prepare for the next 80 chapters and the conclusion of he series, one day!

4th Place Votes and Series Summary

Picking up directly where the last chapter left off, Shujin is furious at how unfair it is that Nizuma and Iwase are doing this crossover, using Crow’s popularity for a boost. Hattori explains that Iwase was persistent and, at least for the time being, Nizuma has agreed to it. Saiko, however, disagrees.

He sees it as a reasonable tactic to achieve a more popular series and make it better. I.e. The thing pros are supposed to do. Shujin shuts up at that, and Saiko continues: only Eiji could have done something like that, and he thought it was sus that Iwase freely gave away such a massive hint. She’s become a true ribaru now, and Hattori agrees that he underestimated her.

Shujin sees it as truly gutsy to do this on their front page/color page issue. Saiko wonders if they can even win this round. Hattori says under normal circumstances, it wouldn’t do as much, but given how “brilliant” Iwase’s story is, it’s going to siphon off votes from Crow.

Saiko keeps track of their ticking time bomb: they have approximately 10 chapters left until Chapter 25, and their doom is sealed. If they can’t surpass Eiji or Iwase by then, their goose is cooked. That doesn’t count the 2 finished chapters, which means they really only have about 8 chapters left. They have to do as shonen protags do and surpass their limits. Or else.

Saiko does point out, however, that they can argue that they’ve kept pace with their rivals, but they’re going to have to work relentlessly to beat them. Hattori agrees, given the end of Tanto. Hattori tries some copium – perhaps Crow will do worse this week – before realizing that he’s hedging and they simply need to focus on doing better.

Third Place or Last?

On July 6th, the final results are released, and Hattori is disappointed to see the color pages didn’t do anything for their standing. The places have not shifted at all, but now PCP is lagging +Natural by even more votes than before. Miura, however, is thrilled to find that the gap between +Natural and Crow has closed to only 4 votes, and Mikata of Justice is in 6th place. He sees a promotion in his future.

Uhh…..no. Buddy. No. Yujiro and Aida agree with me.

Hattori is shocked that Mikata of Justice is only 10 votes behind PCP, especially since it has “so much dialogue” (pffffffft). Hattori reviews the chapter in which the attorney solves the big case with a huge courtroom twist. Right below Mikata is Road Racer; Takahama and Fukuda are catching up.

Miura notices his concerns and somehow goes in the opposite direction of comforting by pointing out that PCP’s ranking on the survey is consistently third. If he’s not careful he’ll drop down. Hattori – not being Miura and therefore an actual good editor – points out that Miura is rubbing it in, and he already knows that.

Miura apologizes while Hattori facepalms at Miura’s complete lack of chill. Hattori ponders over the problem of too many third-place votes and sees that most readers will choose a battle manga as their first choice. What’ll it take?

At that moment, Hattori has a revelation. The third place is a blessing in disguise. Hattori, in his excitement, runs to meet with the boys and promises Miura to surpass +Natural by Chapter 25.

At the studio, Hattori explains that the most votes were for third place. His interpretation of this information is that PCP is the third most-liked manga in Jump if you only consider third-place votes.

Uhhhhh….wat.

Crow and +Natural are often the first and second choices for plenty of people, but not many put them as their third choice. Saiko and Shujin see this information as confirmation that they are still, in fact, getting rekt.

Hattori continues with the old truism about third: be careful; its votes will disappear if it falls to fourth. Again, the boys struggle to follow the logic until Hattori asks them to consider counting the fourth-place votes: if they got a lot of third-choice votes, they probably also got a lot of fourth-choice votes, which would likely put them over the threshold to beat both +Natural and Crow.

All they have to do is get the readers who currently consider it their number four to bump it up to their number three, and theoretically, they can get even more votes.

Hattori thinks the gambit is a little cheap in the grand scheme of things, but it demonstrates room for growth, and it’s also easier to pull off. Shujin sees it as theoretical because they don’t gather data on fourth, but he thinks Hattori is, ultimately, correct.

That is until Hattori lets them know he hasn’t thought that far ahead yet.

Bruh.

Regardless, they can now see a means to beat +Natural. Victory is in sight! Even though in the absolute third choice isn’t ideal, it’s to their advantage in this case.

Too Much Dialogue

The three strategize on how to make this work and draw 4th choice to 3rd. Crow did it sans Dialogue, +Natural with a collaboration, but Saiko points out PCP’s whole schtick is based on dialogue. Hattori also points out that Nizuma’s…Nizumahood is what let him get away with these more or less cheap tricks.

Hattori thinks that the opposite would work in Shujin’s case: MORE DIALOGUE.

NOOOOOOO. These summaries are stupid long already.

Shujin points out that wordy manga fares worse than the inverse. Hattori points out their boy Takahama’s Mikata of Justice: it made 6th despite being very dialogue-heavy. They all agree this week’s chapter was great. Shujin wonders how wordy it actually was though.

Upon reviewing the chapter, yes. It’s wordy as heck. But it works because there is a trial. Saiko realizes that there are several series that rely on heavy dialogue. Hattori also calls me out by noting that there are plenty of Jump readers who work cover to cover, and those are the ones who tend to finish the surveys. Meanwhile, those who only stick to the most popular series tend not to send surveys.

Hattori points out the obvious: Dialogue doesn’t matter as long as it’s not too over the top. At the end of the day, what matters is that the story is interesting. That’s all.

Hattori gets a little propaganda-y: editors appreciate that readers are so passionate about Jump. Hence, they care enormously about what the readers have to say about the series they are reading, and thus, the surveys do matter a lot.

Shujin is still reading and notices something.

Arc Arc Baby

Shujin asks about the placement of each chapter: 1 made 3rd, Chapters 2 and 3 were 7th, Chapter 4 was 9th, and Chapter 6th was 6th. Shujin sees Takahama’s play as straight-up ballsy: he did a three-chapter arc and introduced a bunch of characters this early on. Shujin guesses that he planned this before going into serialization. Saiko admires the gutsiness of not doing one-off stories to start like most Jump manga.

4th Place Votes and Series: Shujin argues in favor of making an arc.

Shujin remembers that arc enders for Trap were their best-performing chapters. Shujin decides we need to change from One-Chapter/Two-Chapter arcs: instead, why don’t they do double or nothing by devoting their remaining six chapters to one long arc? If they can craft an exciting conclusion to an arc, their ranking will shoot up. Mikata and Trap have done it before.

Hattori sees the logic, but finds the move risky: it takes their chances from 6 possible rank-ups to 1. And if the readers don’t like the arc, they are going to be SOL. They also risk losing their foothold rank-wise with this approach: Mikata did well at the end but also dropped due to the middle chapters.

Shujin will not let that happen. He promises to make each chapter better than the last. Hattori warns him that the element of surprise won’t be available to him until the last chapter: is that a risk he’s willing to take?

Further, people who don’t read week to week may miss a chapter, and the impact will be lost.

Hattori’s Admission

Shujin points out that Hattori said that people mostly read cover to cover: he can’t make his characters progress substantially in just one chapter.

Shujin thinks they could expand some ideas, like making the bullied kid the coolest guy in class, but some ideas are too thin to make a longer arc. Hattori thinks that those shorter ideas are still entertaining, and the idea that’s too thin – replacing all the toilet seats with electric seats – still got 5th place, which is good.

Shujin points out that Hattori himself said 5th wasn’t good enough. Shujin continues his assault: they can’t build subplots, or expand the world with their current approach. Hattori is truly outclassed – you love to see it – before Shujin asks for Saiko’s input.

Saiko is more in line with Hattori’s thinking, but he sees the writing on the wall: their competition is stepping up their game, and they won’t be able to keep up if they maintain their current pace. Saiko agrees with an all-or-nothing approach. Saiko agrees with Shujin about the entire premise, and they both beg to try it.

Hattori finally relents and asks what ideas he has: None at the moment, but Saiko is giving it his all; it’s time for Shujin to step up as well. He’s aware of the risk and that they are getting ahead of themselves, but he is aware of the stakes and he wants to give it his all.

Hattori finally relents and reminisces about when he told them a managka must surpass their editor. The time has finally come.

Hattori thinks it’s too early for an arc. But seeing these two now, he feels they will come up with something truly spectacular. The effort they’ve been putting into their work, Saiko’s epiphanies on his weakness, and Shujin’s use of story arcs to gain the upper hand. They reached these conclusions before Hattori: they’ve surpassed him. They’re not top-of-the-line, but they’ve progressed significantly.

Fuck. I’m gonna cry, man.

Hattori pulls out the kamina and tells them to believe in themselves. He won’t give them orders. It’s their manga, and they need to do what they want.

They enthusiastically agree and are happy to take this route even if it leads to cancellation. They’re going to have faith and win this. Hattori warms up to the arc idea, given Shujin’s storytelling style. He can only advise from this point forward. If they’re going to do it, they must ease the readers in. Make it friendly, and detailed. Don’t worry about words.

4th Place Votes and Series: hattori gives the boys his blessing

I’ll worry about that because this summary is stupid long.

They will take all the fourth, fifth, and sixth choice readers and bump PCP up to their number 3.

They’re going to ganbatte and take on Crow and +Natural with full force.

LET’S DO IT MOTHERFUCKERS.

With that, the chapter ends.

4th Place Votes and Series Summary

We’ve Hit the Peak

We’re here, at the peak of the mountaintop, for the type of storytelling that Bakuman excels at. Relish this, my dudes. Breathe in that sweet air and take it in. We’ve hit several of the ultimate meta-techniques, and the boys have finally done the shonen thing of surpassing their limits.

Wooo.

We’re heading into the Arc Meta.

As I have observed in previous arcs, Bakuman likes to operate in miniature arcs that run for about a volume at a time. That can be anywhere from 5 to 10 chapters – the standard length of a tankobon volume. That plays to Ohba’s strengths as a writer, who is better with a more condensed time frame for drama, rather than say something like a One Piece or Naruto, in which arcs tend to be behemoths because they roll their action narratively into large-scale action sequences with lots of moving parts.

And now Ohba is tipping his hand regarding this tactic. I’m sure if I went far back enough, I could trace when those mini-arcs started. It might even be with the first volume.

Probably not, as most mangaka start out with self-contained chapters to start before branching out into more long-running arcs. It makes sense; you don’t want to alienate new readers by throwing them into a story that, if they start at chapter 2, will be lost on them. Especially in the theoretical 2012 the series exists in. Instead, you need to give them a sampler for those first few chapters, at the very least, before branching out into a more compelling long-term arc.

It’s a little different now because digital manga is slowly taking over the world – like Shonen Jump’s vault – but back in the day, when the physical magazine was still dominant if you missed a week, you’d miss a chapter. So arcs – outside of well-established properties – is, in fact, a huge gamble.

If you look at the first few chapters for most popular series, you can see this. Black Clover has several mini-arcs that lead into the Entrance Exams, and then from there, the story branches out into a much longer form storytelling.

But any successful manga will branch out into longer arcs eventually; it has to keep the series alive unless it’s something like a Case Closed.

But in real life, it’s probably not the result of the main character trying to one-up their opponents. I assume there is a much more standard calculus going into it. It’s probably a hint of remembering their youth as they read their favorite manga.

So to see Bakuman call out this tactic is personally delightful because it adds texture to the way manga evolves as it is made. Manga does not exist in a vacuum. Unlike, say, a novel, or a movie, where the plot progresses at the author’s whim, manga exists in real-time. As a direct result, it has to be far more adaptable to the economic and popular whims that let it exist.

All this to say, I’m excited by this turn, because it means we’re also going to break down how a mangaka makes an arc and develops it. Because it’s more improvised than planned.

Anyway, I’ve digressed too much, but I’m excited, man. Let me have this.

I was also intrigued by…

Hattori’s Third Place Logic

On the face of it, it’s pretty absurd. It assumes that taste is pretty static and that a manga’s place can be more set in stone than it is.

Buutttt, the more I think about it, the more sense it seems to make. At least as I think about my own reading habits. I am, like Hattori says, one of those people who read the magazine cover to cover. Have been as long as I’ve read the magazine, and it’s partially out of respect for the mangaka – it is a brutal job, and they deserve to be read even if they aren’t very good.

And, as Hattori points out, I have my private rankings that are mostly static – there are a few series that are consistently high-priority reads, and some that I’m indifferent to.

And while that list changes irregularly, my interest in any given series waxes and wanes based on the general quality of what I’m reading. And while I don’t have fixed rankings, I do have series that I’m more interested in reading week after week because they’ve consistently been exciting and emotionally engaging.

Martial Master Asumi is a good example of a current series that is slowly climbing my personal ranks, while Do Retry is falling. Their approaches to the same narrative are radically different. Still, one of them is consistently improving on its formula, and getting more compelling, while the other is going off the rails and will probably be canceled soon, if it isn’t already.

Edit: It was. Sorry guys.

All this is to say that Hattori is kind of right. Do I think it is as straightforward as he makes it out to be? No. I don’t think there is a strong correlation between 3rd rank and 4th ranked series.

But, as I’ve just demonstrated, the logic is sound enough to be used as a particular plot device for this stretch of the arc.

Which is also delightful because:

The Ten of this Arc

As we’ve already discussed Kishoutenketsu and Bakuman’s meta-commentary, it’s worth recognizing that this chapter is the pre-money shot money shot for the 25-chapter rival time bomb arc.

Naming, I’m good at it.

This arc started about five chapters ago and has been ramping up intensity with each chapter. A parry riposte, parry, but with manga. It’s also been a unique, but incredibly effective Rival battle. And it’s also been following Kishoutenketsu on a macro level.

  1. Introduction of a conflict – Shujin and Saiko have to overcome their rivals to survive or risk annihilation
  2. Development of the conflict – Shujin and Saiko fight their rivals by developing as mangaka, at Hattori’s urging and advice
  3. Twist/turn – the Boys, having learned everything they can from Hattori and their rivals, see the only logical conclusion is to risk it all with an arc.
  4. Resolution – the boys win by making an arc and set up for the next mini arc.

There is a real genius in turning all of that into a compelling narrative, but Ohbah has successfully done it. And it’s because he’s couched all these beats in the emotional growth of the main characters.

This hinge point might be one of the most high-level commentaries on manga structure we’ve seen, and it’s also being leveraged into a compelling conflict that will resolve itself in a way similar to the structure we’re seeing proposed.

I am le happy, with all of that.

And it’s also a bonus to see that previous plot beats are being used to reinforce the current predicament: from Takahama actually taking their plays and going with more dialogue (lol) and riskier storytelling to get marginal advancements, to the boys coming to this via their own incredibly technical calculations to get marginal improvements to win.

I mean, it also tries to justify the absurd wordiness of these chapters, but I’m willing to overlook that for one other, really really important reason:

The Boys have Surpassed the Master

The boys have done the thing in a narrative I love and have hit a developmental peak by overcoming the master. This chapter was about as Bakuman as Bakuman can be: talking heads figuring out how to make good manga and commenting on the process.

But it would not work if the relationship between Hattori, Saiko, and Shujin was not so strong and well established. The boys have chafed under his tutelage and struggled to get better, and they have listened and made changes, and improved progressively. And now, they’ve finally overtaken their master.

That double-page spread of the boys being acknowledged was supremely satisfying as a moment of epiphany not just for the boys, but for Hattori. It really shows how far the boys have come in terms of their emotional and artistic growth and maturation, and makes the fact that I’ve spent so long with them feel really worth it.

And I also love that their growth has been facilitated primarily by their rivals.

These are all my favorite things rolled into one.

Cue the John Coltrane.

I’m really looking forward to the resolution of this peak arc, but I’m also going to be a bit sad that it has to end because it has been fantastic.

Until next time.

Peace

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