In Step Up and Watch, I’m Doubtful About This Arc, but I make it work (Chapter 104)

Hi ho Christian Soldier, and welcome to my read-through of Bakuman Chapter 104: Step Up and Watch, in which I explain Mary Sue’s, definitively, and make an argument that is impossible to lose.

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Step Up and Watch Summary

Training Arc?

step up and watch: Saiko vows to get a new series

Picking up where the last chapter left off, Saiko vows to make a series on his own. Shujin is gobsmacked by the declaration. But Saiko explains that since PCP will never get an anime, he has to make something that will instead of calling off his stupid bet with his girlfriend.

Sigh.

Shujin clarifies: why is he going it alone? He’ll turn down Loveta, and they can work together. Does Saiko not have faith in Shujin’s abilities?

Saiko confesses that he has mixed feelings about Loveta and has been thinking about another series for a while. But that’s just not as possible as it seems.

Shujin thinks it’s out of character for Saiko to act this way. He should at least try to make this work. Saiko explains that he is: he’s been learning to draw faster, but he’s still not quite enough. Shujin is ahead of him by being able to write two stories at a time, but he can’t handle two comics worth of artwork. It still takes five WHOLE days to make a chapter of PCP. He can’t sacrifice quality for speed.

Oh the humanity of having human limitations.

Saiko reiterates that he thinks Loveta will be good for Shujin. He wants Shujin to make a fantasy story. Shujin clarifies again: Saiko wants him to level up with Loveta while Saiko levels up his art.

Yeah, that’s what Saiko wants. He’s going solo until he’s good enough, and then they’ll work together again even though they’re already working together. Shujin argues that Loveta should be written by Ashirogi. Saiko thinks that’s a lie. Saiko’s already too busy with his own work, and it’ll take a while before he can manage art for two series.

Eiji’s already doing that, and more so, he knows he can do it if he gives it his all. He needs to match his pace, or he’ll never beat him. This is the challenge to take them to the next level

No….but anyway.

Shujin is shocked that Saiko has thought so much about this. Saiko points out that Shiratori is pumped for this, and he doesn’t want Shiratori to be screwed over by Shujin backing out.

Shujin is still uncertain about whether he can actually do two stories at once. Saiko reminds him he doesn’t have a choice; he’s committed to it. Shujin points out that if it affects PCP, he’s out.

The two part ways, Shujin panting and out of breath.

Speed Demon

Monday, three days later, Saiko tries to finish a page as fast as possible. It takes him 93 minutes and 43 seconds to finish the pencils. That means it’ll take 30 hours to do 19 pages. That’s not enough. He has to finish a rough draft in a single day.

Showing some character growth, if he wants to be able to rest, he’ll need to keep it at 18 hours or so. One day for Storyboard redraws, one pencils, and one day for inking. He’ll never pull off a second series if he can’t do that.

He can’t let his quality drop. He has to have even BETTER quality. He has to improve…even if he needs to miss sleep.

Saiikkkoooooo.

step up and watch: shujin mulls over his deicsions.

The next page took 100 minutes, but he gives himself a pass; it was a detailed page.

Meanwhile, Shujin’s chewing—literally—on the PCP debate as he eats dinner with Kaya. He wonders whether he should start making a story for him right now in addition to Loveta and PCP. That’s impossible for him. He’s not sure he can manage it. He sees Loveta as a test to see how well he can handle two series at once.

Kaya scolds Shujin for his bad manners, leaving chopsticks in his mouth, and asks what’s on his mind. Work, yeah?

Shujin poses a hypoethetical about Hattori wanting a new series at every opportunity. Kaya sees that as part of his job. Shujin doesn’t want to explain the whole situation because he doesn’t want to burst Kaya’s bubble about PCP not getting an anime.

He can’t decide whether to back out of Loveta and focus on another story with Saiko or give three stories a try.

He shouts his frustrations, which only confuses Kaya further because, you know, the lack of explaining what’s going on thing. He explains he doesn’t know how to live his life, and Kaya – bless her heart – tells him to chill a bit

The Mines of Moriya

On Tuesday, Orihara catches Saiko timing himself. Saiko explains his hope of getting another series to work on simultaneously soon. Orihara is thrilled by the ambition and sees Saiko as the next Eiji. Saiko explains that given Eiji’s whole situation, he probably can’t get a second series in Jump, so he’s thinking about Jump Square, maybe.

On Thursday, Orihara smugly observes how fast their chapter got done: Thursday at 7 p.m. they were fast this week. Saiko thanks him for the hardwork.

Moriya, meanwhile, hurries to leave as fast as possible.

Shujin thinks that Shiratori’s success has spurred Moriya’s ambition in a good way.

Upon leaving, however, Moriya looks to confirm the belief that his work is, in fact, good, and he’s definitely not just overthinking it and defending his lack of skill.

He calls Shonen Three and asks to speak to Manaka: an editor willing to read his work. He offers to come by at 8 that night but Manaka isn’t free. So they scheduled it for tomorrow at 6.

The next day, at the cafe Jelado, Manaka reads his one-shot. Moriya’s in his own head about how right he is about the awesomeness of his work, and that Jump’s view is too limited to conform to their style.

Manaka finishes. His verdict?

You’re pushing your ideas on the reader too much, Moriya. He points out that Shonen Three is for shonen manga, so it needs to be brighter, with more flair—Moriya’s gutted.

Mangaka tries to comfort him. He’s still young, and the art is good. Moriya takes the bait, and Manaka praises his backgrounds and makes it clear he thinks his assistant experience has been helpful. Moriya confirms that he’s been assisting Muto Ashirogi.

Manaka perks up at the mention of Ashirogi, and his surprise when he made his debut. Manaka re-assesses Moriya’s work, and he doesn’t mind being Moriya’s editor and reviewing future works. Moriya is surprised and pleased.

Shiratori’s Decision

At Shiratori’s mansion, Shiratori passionately sketches various dogs when his mother calls him for dinner from the phone (eek). At the dinner table, his mother asks about his departure for Paris. He tells her flatly he won’t be going to Paris. His sister asks whether he’s decided to work for Papa (sic), but he won’t do that either.

His mother thinks he’s acting childish, but he has decided he’s going to be a manga artist. His family is shocked, thinking it is a crass joke. His mother scolds their father for going too easy on Shiratori and letting him study art.

Yikes.

His father tries a different tactic: if he wants to make a living as an artist, try another route. Not manga.

Shiratori is unmoved: it’s manga or nothing. If he can’t, he’ll leave their house.

His sister points out that a sheltered kid like him will never make it on his own. He leaves to pack up.

His sister, worried about him asks if he’s really going through with it. She asks what he plans to do about money, and he claims he’ll use his savings from being an assistant.

She correctly points out that it won’t be a comfortable life, and she offers him a credit card to use whenever he needs it. But Shiratori is undeterred. There’s no point in doing this if he can’t make it on his own. His sister is surprised by his independence, but he counters that he’ll never be independent at this rate.

Peace watches him leave.

His sister let’s their mother know that Shun really left. His mother is confident that, once things go pear-shaped for him, he’ll return to them on hands and knees.

Moriya’s Big Mouth

At Moriya’s meeting, Manaka talks about his admiration for PCP and his surprise that Jump allowed them to make it after two series were canceled. Moriya agrees they are very hard workers.

When asked, Moriya confirms to Manaka that Ashirogi is a pair, which Manaka didn’t know. He points out their dedication to craft and how they’re always aiming for the top. He also lets slip that Shujin is writing another series now.

Dumbass.

Manaka presses for more and wonders if there is some tea to be spilled between the two before Moriya explains that they get along well.

Manaka points out that they’ll never be able to do what EIji does by having two manga running in jump because Eiji is currently doing that. This is the exact moment where Moriya realizes he was a dipshit for letting so much private information slip.

Dumbass.

Shiratori and Peace

As Shiratori wanders the cold, cold streets, he debates his options for living. He only has a key to the studio, so he considers that before he gets hugged by Peace.

Shiratori sees that Peace knows he isn’t just going out for a bit and praises him for his intelligence. He also thanks Peace for coming with him, and he lets him know that he will ease his loneliness, but he also realizes he won’t be able to take the train or taxi with a dog. Nor will he be able to go to a studio.

Shiratori wonders what to do and wonders if he could simply walk to yakusa before his job starts again.

Meanwhile, Hattori, over the phone, approves the next chapter at the studio. Shujin’s excited. They can move up the assistant schedule and get PCP done by Wednesday.

Saiko explains it’s still a no-go as it would take five days for the whole process of one chapter. To do two series, he’ll have to condense that into one day per part of the process each week. Shujin’s shocked that he’s starting on pencils now. But Saiko reminds him he has to take every moment that isn’t eating or sleeping to draw so he can save time.

Saiko has done that but it hasn’t made him any progress on this front. . Shujin sees the writing on the wall. It will take him a while before he can do two series simultaneously.

Meanwhile, Shiratori gets dropped off outside the studio in Yakusa after having hitchhiked. He thanks the guy who gave him a ride. He recommends that Shiratori not take up hitchhiking, especially since the guy sees that “Shiratori is as cute as a girl” (oy). Shiratori sees the light on the 9th floor and admires the amazing work that Ashirogi does.

He doesn’t want to cause any trouble, so he decides to spend the night in the park.

He gets ready, freezing, but content. He thinks of a plan to find a new place before Tuesday when work starts, as the chapter ends.

Step Up and Watch Reaction

Frustration

There was a lot of good in this chapter. I don’t know if I’ll ever read a truly bad chapter of Bakuman. But also, we’re still very much in a narrative slump following the peak thrills of the Iwase rivalry fight/ticking time bomb. I’ve said this several times and will likely say it a few more times. Let’s start a counter, baby.

So, I’m definitely being overly harsh about this. However, the assistant’s and Saiko’s stuff, while more interesting than previously, and the general tenor of the manga are very… slumped over. Words, I have them.

I might be biased, but I’m just not super interested in Shiratori’s arc so far. Him drawing dogs and being a poor rich kid who finally found passion is a perfectly adequate storyline, but I dunno, it just doesn’t feel super impactful. Have I said that too many times yet? I’m just as much in a slump trying to find things to say about these chapters. yeesh.

I guess it’s because, so far, we haven’t really been given, like, legit character flaws for Shiratori. Not that he’s not a flawed character or anything. He’s very naive, and that’s already biting him in the ass with the literal homelessness with his massive dog Peace that’s accounted for.

But mostly, he seems like a humble, sweet kid who is very talented at art. He has finally found something he’s passionate about and is pursuing it in the most noble way imaginable.

Which is great on paper. Shonen characters don’t have to be defined by their moral grey or complexity (save that for Seinen) but Saiko, Shujin, and all the rest of the characters have legitimate character flaws that have advanced the story. So far, Shiratori has only had external obstacles, especially since he humbled his way to an early serialization: something that took our main character over 32 chapters to attain and years of struggle.

So, uh, that’s not great. And let’s briefly talk about what I mean so I’m a little more clear:

Mary Sue’s are Pretty Rare, but People Don’t Get Character Flaws

Alright, so I’m going to blow your mind. Ready?

Narratively, there are two kinds of character flaws: productive, active flaws, and passive flaws.

This requires a fine-tooth comb to dissect. And it’s a pretty subtle thing, but it’s also becoming clear to me that people want to claim that some people are a Mary Sue when they aren’t. They just don’t have plot-relevant character flaws.

An active character flaw is one that inhibits the character’s ability to continue to their goal in the story. A passive character flaw is something about the character that is a problem but has no bearing on whether they will attain their goal. Simple, simple, simple.

And I think it’s hard to pick out when a character’s flaws are plot-relevant, but also, not really, because it’s obvious when someone is flawed in a narratively valuable way.

We’ve all seen people bitching about Mary (or Gary) sues (status) online, and although most of them are blowing hot air because they get paid to be shitkickers, the criticism isn’t entirely unwarranted.

Sometimes, characters will be given flaws like insecurity, low self-esteem, or hot-headedness, but they will never come into the narrative in such a way that it would impact the story.

Rey from The Force Awakens does have character flaws. She’s headstrong and she’s awkward, and she thinks she’s right even when she’s wrong. But none of these things impact her development or the trajectory of her plot because her strengths overcome them easily. Even though she’s new to it, Han solo admires her ability to pilot the falcon. Kylo Ren overstimates his ability to his detriment and so she wins with less struggle than we might want to see. .

So, even though she’s flawed, it doesn’t feel like she’s flawed. So people call her a Mary Sue.

There is also embedded sexism in the critique, and no, I’m not getting into it.

However.

Saiko has many obvious character flaws which we’ve litigated ad nauseam. The big one is his need to overwork himself to achieve his dreams and even though, yes, there is a lot of plot enginerring to keep him from his goal (especailly this chapter), ultimately, this need, this drive to become successful very tangibly impacts his ability to get throuhg to the end of the story.

He’s also very bad about not speaking up when uncomfortable because he wants his friend to succeed, another good character flaw. One is coming into play here, leading to the story’s most frustrating decision to date.

Which is what this tangent was leading to.

I TRICKED YA

Two Series

Yeah. Hate it. I think it’s dumb. I hope it doesn’t succeed. Because it’s silly. And I want PCP to get an anime through…I don’t know, fucking magic or something.

And I should be clear: even though I see the narrative machinery—the engine—of this conflict so clearly—obviously, Ohba has to keep the story going, so he’s going to invent a reason not to get an anime—it’s still ultimately up to Saiko’s character flaws to push the story forward.

And I can think of no greater marriage of character flaws than his trying to work on two series at once by himself because he doesn’t want to inconvenience others, especially his friends, who are pursuing their own goals and dreams.

It’s simultaneously frustrating and admirable. But it’s also a plot-affecting flaw, and that is the important thing.

So, I will give it a pass.

We’re also getting what seems to be a legit training arc in the series for Saiko, reiterating what I would hope is obvious: he is the story’s main character. Unambiguously, and he has always been the main character of the story.

I know people often see a story with two “main” characters, but that’s never the case. One character is always main-er than the other. The deuteragonist often has an important role to play, but there is almost always only one character who is the protagonist.

And for us, it’s Saiko. He was our point of entry. He was given the call to action in Chapter 1, and he’s the one around whom the story molds it’s arcs. Obviously, Shujin has had his subplots, as well as his own struggles and arcs. The culmination of which we just had with Iwase.

Ultimately, Saiko is the main character. Fight me.

That distinction matters when discussing this series because we must acknowledge that even though I think this particular arc is kind of tedious, silly, and frustrating, Ohba has still found a way to keep the character from stagnating. And that’s by giving him a new challenge to draw even faster.

And I’ll be real with you. I actually like this in the sense that I like all the over-the-top training of the Shonen series. I love progression fantasy for the same reason. It’s really satisfying seeing someone work on something until they become a master of it. And for Saiko, learning to draw and storyboard fast feels like a natural progression of character, regardless of the dumb circumstances in which it has come about.

If he can have an epiphany about his drawing—which I suspect might be the case—that’ll really double down on his protagonist syndrome.

I also appreciate, however grudgingly, that Saiko is considering his flaws and trying to address them adequately. Character growth is great, and learning to be a better person over time is one of my favorite things, so I am okay with that part of this arc.

Do I think he can storyboard, though? It remains to be seen. I’ll reserve judgment. And ultimately, I don’t think the series will end with him becoming a great solo mangaka. Despite my spiel about him being the main character, he is also very much a team with Shujin, and that dynamic has so colored the series that his going solo would feel like a genuine character betrayal.

Speaking of betrayals

Moriya, what is you doing??

This was a fun bit for me because it’s actually a very… uhm, real gag, for lack of a better word. It also makes Moriya wayyyy more interesting than Shiratori, but I already talked your ear off about that.

But seeing Moriya go to get his own beliefs confirmed only to get shot down again was fucking hysterical. It’s such an amateur writer thing to do. Obviously, these guys are wrong, and I’m a genius, which is a symptom of early writers that some people never get over, so they remain amateurs. But like, yes, you are bad. Even the best writers in the world are bad at their job to start.

And writing is rewriting or some shit. Not this blog because it’s perfect. But you know, other, creative writing, with genuine oversight.

But really, it was nice to see this little gag continue.

But what I found interesting, and another example of a potential plot relevant failing was Moriya’s lack of discretion or tact when it came to letting slip the identities (at least to some degree) of Ashirogi to the new editor. That felt like a distinctly Ohba chekhov’s gun, because Ohba is really good at writing information as a bargaining chip in his stories.

I have a feeling that assuming this isn’t a one-time thing or like Eiji’s Chekhov cancellation, which I assume is never coming back again at this point (I hope I’m proven wrong, though), this editor is trying to get the skinny on Ashiorgi by leveraging their assistant, which is actually really cool. And I think that there could be some interesting blowback down the line if Ohba plays it right.

But it has to return for that to happen, and it has to be plot-relevant.

Otherwise, it’s just a passive flaw.

Oh, well, this is another passable chapter, but one that is starting to paint an endgame in the very distance.

Until next time,

Peace

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