story by Tsugumi Ohba; art by Takeshi Obata; adapted by Hope Donovan
published by Viz; $9.99 US
The boys are now in college, where they run into a classic debate. A former classmate wants Takagi to write prose stories instead of manga because “novels are a higher form of literary expression”. This challenger, Iwase, is quite the achiever, writing an award-winning literary novel while maintaining straight A’s in school. While trying to impress each other, she and Takagi debate whether recognition or sales are more important, plus the value of entertaining people through their work. It’s a debate many comic fans will be familiar with.
Iwase is an intriguing figure, especially since she seems to have a need to compete with Takagi, even though he praises her accomplishments in her chosen field. Turns out she has a crush on him and wants to replace his girlfriend. (A motivation that, to this reader, came out of thin air, since Takagi is not particularly desirable.) This is more fodder for those upset by the stereotypical female roles in this manga, since Iwase is yet another one, the ultra-competitive ball-breaker. Yet I can see why this new plot was included, since a rival for Takagi’s devoted girlfriend Miyoshi provides some relationship drama as well as wish fulfillment for the boy readers. (If Takagi can have girls both beautiful and brainy fighting over him, then anyone could.)
The problems the various manga creators face range from the understandable — Takagi and his editor want to make sure the comedy story has enough jokes — to the oddly (culturally) specific, as when Miss Aoki has to draw not just glimpses of underwear, but panty shot poses that the boy readers will find appealing. (Apparently, there are panty shot angles that they don’t enjoy. I’m not sure I believe that.) So her editor works to get her an assistant specializing in “drawing butts and panties”. What a job description. I thought this couldn’t get any creepier, until later in the book, they interview one candidate in a sequence that has to be read to be believed.
Aoki’s work is one of three strong contenders to get a new series running, a challenge Takagi and Mashiro are devoting themselves to as well. But that’s not the only competition this volume, as the relationship complications keep spiraling out of control. Between someone using Mashiro and Azuki’s pure romance for manga subject matter and Azuki getting involved in the complications with Miyoshi and Takagi, everyone’s in love trouble.
Ramping up the personal sacrifices and emotional involvement makes this more than just a manga about making comics; it’s a story of teenage life, trying to follow your dreams in every area. I’m finding it disturbingly addictive and surprisingly funny — although part of the humor is me laughing at how silly some of the boys’ self-rationalizations are. They’re not making smart decisions, but that’s part of the entertainment, watching them learn their lessons as they grow up.
This is a very dense work, which makes for a lot of value in these cost-conscious days. Many things happen, there are exciting twists in every chapter (a relic of the story’s serialized origin), and the art is impressive in how many different ways conversations are dramatized. Panels are often two people talking (or worse, one person on a cell phone), with lots of dialogue to convey, and it’s a sign of Takeshi Obata’s skill that they’re still expressive, even with less than an inch of space for the face.
The best part about this series for me is how all these young manga creators, Takagi and Mashiro and their friends-slash-rivals, are still helping each other out even though they all want the same prize of magazine serialization. Their editors want them to avoid talking to each other and just focus on the competition, but the kids have a new vision of how to create, one that involves respect for the skills of others and a more open, modern approach.