Summary: As Takagi and Moritaka prepare to graduate middle school, they begin to dip their toes into the world of Weekly Shonen Jump by submitting one-shot manga to the anthology. Meanwhile, Moritaka’s romance with Miho gently coasts along as their feelings grow, and Takagi gets some attention of his own from the ladies…
Content Warnings: Despite the virulent sexism, things are pretty mild
Would I recommend it? Still a big, big, big no
A lot of stuff regarding Takagi and Moritaka’s manga getting published at Shounen Jump happened in this volume of Bakuman, but I’m not going to go much into that because it doesn’t really matter to me. It’s a vaguely interesting look at how the sausage gets made, bogged down by the editorial staff fawning over the main duo. No, I continue to be interested solely in Bakuman’s treatment of women, which, though it isn’t as severe as the first volume, is still quite cringeworthy.
After Moritaka and Takagi’s meeting with a Shounen Jump editor, the story jumps to the start of their second semester. In a move that totally defies suspension of disbelief, their homeroom editor announces that he’s changing the seating arrangement so that the boys will be paired up with the girls, supposedly to “erase the bad image of Class 2 that the boys and girls don’t get along with each other.” This has never been brought up before, and exists solely so that Moritaka and Miho can end up sitting next to each other. This movement brings them mixed joy and fear as, in what is actually kind of a cute moment, they both wonder, “What if my stomach makes weird sounds during class?”
Sitting next to each other deepens Moritaka and Miho’s relationship, insofar as they actually interact with one another. Moritaka writes notes asking her banal things like her favorite season. Miho never initiates a note or writes a response, responding only with smiles or hand signals. Eventually, Moritaka is so taken with her – or rather, his ability to make her smile while she contributes nothing to the conversation – he suggests they forget about their pact not to speak or touch until their dreams are realized. Miho bursts into tears in the middle of class, much to Moritaka’s horror, but then writes down her e-mail address for him. Frankly, I’ve been trying to puzzle out her reason for giving him her e-mail address at this point, with no success. Moritaka and Takagi discuss the move but can’t figure out why – are we, as the reader, supposed to agree that teenage girls are mysterious and illogical creatures? My instinct says it is because Ohba couldn’t come up with a better moment for her to do it, and to yet again create a forced moment of dramatic tension as Moritaka stands outside her window, unable to bring himself to text her. The next day, he writes, “We will be together after I become a manga artist, whether you have become a voice actress by then or not!” When she sees it, she “cried a bit again… but it seemed like her mouth was smiling.” I’m no fan of their relationship or their promise – I think I’ve made that explicitly clear – but his disrespect toward her goal here is infuriating. He thinks that his goal is the only one that matters. After all, it’s a man’s dream! Miho only dreams of being a voice actress because that’s a popular dream for girls. It’s convenient, but nothing genuine. Miho’s response of crying a little bit, but smiling with her mouth seems less like one of acceptance than resignation.
This volume also brings Kaya Miyoshi, Miho’s best friend, to the forefront as Takagi’s girlfriend. Miyoshi is, in many ways, the opposite of her friend: tall, curvy, violent, and pragmatic. She enters the story in earnest when Moritaka comes over to Takagi’s house and finds her and Iwase, the girl who Takagi compared unfavorably to Miho, sitting there. Takagi talks enthusiastically about his manga plans, ignoring the two of them until Moritaka asks what . He mutters, “I don’t know what to do. That’s why I said you came at the perfect time.” According to him, Miyoshi is worried about him after he punched out a classmate, and Iwase, the girl is convinced the two of them have been going out for the last three years since the two of them shook hands on the first day of freshman years. When Iwase asks Takagi if he hates her, he says he doesn’t, despite only a few weeks ago having called her stupid behind her back for working hard to get good grades. The two girls shout for a while, forcing him to choose between liking and hating them; when he says “choosing between the two extremes”, he likes both of them, they get mad. Those wacky, illogical girls! Unable to conceive of a guy being totally neutral on them! When Takagi announces his ambition to become a manga writer, Miyoshi cheerfully agrees to “be his cheerleader”, since she “like[s] guys who have big dreams.” Iwase wants him to quit, and tearfully tells him he’ll regret his his choices, even though he says he would regret it even more if he didn’t try. This brings us back to the idea “men have dreams women can’t understand” line of the first volume. Iwase doesn’t understand Takagi’s big dreams, and can only see him as setting himself up for failure. In her stupidity, as Takagi sees it, she doesn’t realize her place in the relationship would be to support him and instead would only drag him down as she forced him into a boring, normal life. This brings up parallels to a story he told about his mother in the beginning of the volume, who whispered to him as he was studying that he must get revenge for his father, who was laid off. Eventually he exploded at her, and she dropped the subject forever. Miyoshi, on the other hand, is a girl who knows her place, understands her position is to support a man and his dreams and act as his cheerleader. She may never understand those dreams, but she can support them. Women in Bakuman are either supportive angels or evil obstructions, but never people in their own right.
Miyoshi is the exact kind of character I like – spunky, spirited, and practical – so I’m gearing up to see her downfall. Her level-headed bafflement at Miho and Moritaka’s relationship is refreshing. When Miho refuses her invitation to visit them at Moritaka’s studio, she says, “I knew that Miho was shy and a little naive, but this is ridiculous. Getting married once your dreams come true… we’re only in ninth grade. Why would you promise to marry each other…?” At Christmas, a lover’s holiday in Japan, she says, “If they’re thinking about getting married, they should be going out and making memories.” She’s not just confused as a normal teenage girl, but also as Miho’s best friend. She sees her friend entering into a strange, uncertain relationship, and worries about her. This uncommon display of common sense must be quashed, so Takagi and Moritaka rebuff her concerns. Takagi tells her, “This is something Saiko and Azuki decided on together, so you shouldn’t butt in.” As Miho’s best friend, Miyoshi should trust her instincts that Moritaka and Miho’s arrangement – I can’t even call it a relationship in good faith – but instead, she’s told that she needs to mind her own business.
Takagi, on the other hand, is convinced that Miho and Moritaka’s relationship is a sign of exactly how much they love each other. He tells Miyoshi, “Unless Saiko is mistaken, I think those two are in love beyond our wildest imagination.” His interpretation is that “if they started dating now, Saiko’s all she’d be able to think about,” and thus she must keep her distance. Once again, this is not what love looks like. Real, lasting love is borne of familiarity and comfort, not nervousness or holding each other as an eventual goal. A supportive relationship should bring comfort to Miho during the difficult times of working toward her goal, not distract her. What Moritaka and Miho have is obsessive infatuation. Confusing infatuation with real romantic feelings is fairly common in all forms of media, so I can’t pretend this is a particular defect of Bakuman, but it bothers me nonetheless. This is a series that prides itself on realism and the intelligence of its protagonists, so idealizing an “engagement at arm’s length” like Moritaka and Miho’s is extra disturbing. Instead of leaning on one another, Moritaka and Miho hide their struggles from each other. Miyoshi is the one who informs Moritaka that Miho is moving to Hachioji, a fairly distant suburb, and even then it’s against Miho’s request for her silence. Moritaka pretends this doesn’t bother him, saying that they weren’t going to see each other anyway, although secretly he’s hurt, because in the world of Bakuman, expression of emotions is a sign of weakness.
All of this comes to a head after the characters’ middle school graduation. Moritaka catches up with Miho on her way home, and the two proceed to not say anything or look at each other for a full half hour. After this agonizing stretch of time – enough that a couple passers-by remark, “Oh, they’re still there…” Finally, the only words Moritaka can get are, “How long will you wait for me?” Miho, as she walks up the door to her house, replies, “I’ll wait. I’ll wait forever.” From the tension in her body, this is clearly meant to be a huge, romantic moment for the two but considering the lack of a real connection, the scene just made me groan. She’s committing herself to a partner who she barely knows, who she has never had a meaningful conversation with. Miho is the romanticized girlfriend who patiently waits and endures separation until her partner can be with her, whatever the circumstances. Moritaka, on the other hand, makes no such promise, even though Miho has her own dream she’s working toward, one that requires just as much dedication and hard work. The image of a young man waiting for his lady love isn’t one that resonates with Bakuman’s young male audience the way the ever-enduring, faithful girlfriend is.