For years I’ve been hearing about the difficulties women artists have had working for the American comics market, especially with DC and Marvel, and judging from what I’ve heard, you only have to look at DC’s “reboot” to see how that boy’s club handles female characters. Others have accused Bakuman of being male-oriented in a different way: no scantily-clad warrior women in spine-breaking poses, but girls mostly subservient to their boys and their dreams. So it’s interesting getting a glimpse, in this fictional world, anyway, of how a shounen magazine might treat some of its female artists, in this case, Aoki.
You also have to wonder what a delicate shoujo artist like Aoki is even doing in a magazine that requires a basic number of panty shots in every story and where these shots have an art and tradition of their own. Why is she doing this to herself? It’s not like she particularly likes shounen manga or even knows anything about it. Part of me thinks that it’s because she’s drawn to the maleness of it. Notice how she would easily slip into long phone talks with Takagi, innocent as they were, and how by the end of episode 16 she was happily enduring Fukuda’s abuse. Even so, are the offenses she’s endured recently worth it?
Last episode we saw lonely, aging, Nakai insist that Aoki date him if she wants his help drawing shots of women that men like (which right there tells you something about the industry). He was slapped down, and the other male characters at least shook their head over it, well, Fukuda merely challenges his desire to get serialized on his own. Nakai is an interesting figure, nearly tragic in that he is getting older and lonlier and so making regrettable mistakes over the people around him, on the other hand, you want to warn any reasonably attractive female who might come near him to stay way. Why Katou didn’t slap him as well, or at least complain to Takahama, I suppose I can understand. She doesn’t want to make waves. She is grateful for the work she has. I wonder what would happen if she DID speak up?
This week, still looking for a panty-shot artist, it somehow gets in Kaya’s head to ask Ishizawa, who, as it turns out, is even worse than Nakai. It makes you wonder if treating female artists as nothing but potential girlfriends or swimsuit models is the norm in shounen manga, rather than the exception. So it’s a nice twist that Fukuda comes to her rescue. He’s abrasive and rude, on the other hand he’s the first collaborator since Takaki who has no romantic interest in her. Maybe THAT’S why she responds so well to his training.
Episode 17 brings us back to the boys and their attempt at getting serialized with a series that in their hearts they don’t want to do. No sexual harrassment here; Nakai has even decided that he’s burned enough bridges that he cannot draw manga anymore. He gets a small, symbolic sendoff–Saeko and Aoki drop by to thank him, Fukuda to shout at him one more time. Romantic elements come with Aiko’s attempts at undeserved revenge against Takagi, and Kaya’s brief but funny accusation that Takagi deliberately let the manga quality drop so as not to get serialized–and so put off the wedding. The former is more interesting as we get Eiji involved. It looks as though the rivalries and schemes of the editors are going to get some attention this time around. It’s something they’ve hinted at but never explored, so it should be interesting. I said recently that Bakuman was becoming a manga of working life, now it also seems like it’s expanding beyond the central characters. For a series that shows no signs of leaving, this is a good thing. But this episode feels like a small letdown compared to the one before it.
Falling two episodes behind isn’t a problem with Chihayafuru since episode 16 was plot-recap and humorous filler. I liked the filler. The catchup is useful and also reminded me of something. The orchestral score is lovely and the first time you hear it build up to a climax it’s genuinely exciting, but since then it’s become overbearing. It never seems to change. I rarely hear anything new in it. Episode 17, back to the story, jumps all over the place in order to get each character’s current state and goals set so that the series can build up a fresh head of steam. Each character has some problem to deal with, such as the newbies’ physical training or Taichi and Nishida’s struggles to make class A, and the amusing lengths they will go to get there. And there’s Chihaya, learning that her speed and instincts, great as they are, won’t get her any farther. It gets a bit unbelieveable here. Desktomu shows her stats on her card-taking and suggests a strategy. Surely someone in the club had noticed and asked him before what he was scribbling in that notebook. And Kana gives another card history lesson, which is fine, but it and Chihaya’s realization that the game is more than a sport is one they made early in the series. This is just a rerun, though, to be fair, now the whole team is listening.