After the rather eventful last week, which was full of character development, this episode concentrates on the development of manga. And boy, we have quite a few changes and twists along the way…

PCP, as per agreement with the Editor-in-Chief, needs to be on equal footing with both Crow and +NATURAL within the next six months or it will be cancelled. In light of this revelation, 6th place in the survey rankings doesn’t bode well for Ashirogi Muto-sensei. Even the all-knowing Niizuma-kun, who serves as the Bakuman‘s version of the genius detective L, predicts that PCP is not ready to beat either Crow or +NATURAL. The release and warm welcome of serialisations of Fukuda and Takahama doesn’t help Mashiro and Takagi the slightest bit.

The typical ‘Obata Takeshi’-type realistic style

Niizuma’s comment as well as some pieces of advice from the PCP assistants are the catalyst for Mashiro’s analysis. He quickly notices that his manga is not shounen-like. Nearly every frame includes full background – an amazing achievement from the point of view of an artist, however a questionable decision when considering this issue as a reader. This is the exact problem I have with Obata’s drawing, especially in Death Note – while they look gorgeous, sometimes there are just too many details in a frame and it makes reading the page actually harder. Bakuman suffers from this syndrome as well, though to a lesser degree – Obata uses more distorted faces and typical anime tricks instead of spamming the reader with detailed backgrounds, which makes the entire experience smoother.

Now that’s more like it, Mashiro!

By contrasting and comparing PCP against Crow and +NATURAL, Mashiro decides to forego the ultra-realistic style and aims for a shounen style, with more screentones replacing the details. His gamble pays off – PCP catches the attention of the previously uninterested teenagers and manages to rank up in the surveys. Mashiro once again proves just how perceptive he is, plus it serves to reinforce the notion from Season 1 – if you want to learn about manga, then study the already released ones. Of course, brainstorming and whatnot is important, but in the end, without a frame of reference that is other manga, it’s hard to notice where potential improvements could be made.

Nobody likes to read nowadays, so why bother with dialogues, eh, Eiji?

At this point, a true battle between two artists – Niizuma and Mashiro – begins. Niizuma, in yet another spur of brilliance, gambles the established position of Crow in order to show Ashirogi Muto what he’s capable of. Eiji’s weakness has always been the story – while he can do excellent art in a fraction of time needed by other illustrators, his stories usually lack the depth and intricateness of Ashirogi Muto’s works. That’s why he turns this disadvantage into his weapon – by creating a chapter with no dialogue at all, not only does he introduce a novelty among Shounen Jack’s series, he  also forces the readers to focus on the art – Niizuma’s greatest assets. And to the surprise of both fellow authors and the editorial staff, his gamble pays off, heightening the bar for Ashirogi Muto even further.

Crow x +NATURAL? Call *that* an overkill…

The episode ends with a cliffhanger – Mashiro and Takagi’s plan to dominate Eiji’s works with a colour spread cover is foiled, when our local genius crosses +NATURAL with Crow. The implications of this aren’t known for now, but I think we can expect a massive boost in popularity of +NATURAL, especially since the +NATURAL anime has begun airing as well around the same time.

My, my, Iwase is becoming more and more… *gulp*… cute oO

The second subplot regards Iwase and her love life. She has started blushing quite a lot ever since Niizuma told her, that she is talented. While it may seem that it’s just her vanity speaking, I believe that Iwase has finally found what she was looking for – not victory, not love, but acknowledgement. Not by Takagi, who is wary of her, nor by the editors who are all ogling her whenever she appears, but by the genius boy himself. Eiji doesn’t see her as a ‘woman’ – she’s just a fellow author, whom Eiji really holds in great respect. And perhaps this is exactly what attracts Iwase to him. Unfortunately, we don’t get to know how Iwase really feels about Niizuma, because all their later interactions, received as a relationship by the editors, is just one big tease for Crow +NATURAL crossover. Nevertheless, it will be interesting to see in which direction this particular plot will move.

Of course, I couldn’t leave out Hiramaru and his antics. Yoshida organises a tea party, in which Aoki and her assistants are going to take part. Unfortunately, Hiramaru quickly discovers that the information regarding Aoki supplied to him by Yoshida is false. Yet again, Hiramaru’s plans for impressing his crush fail. How this event will affect the already rocky relations between Hiramaru and his editor? I don’t know, but I’m sure that it will be most entertaining and will provide me with my weekly dose of “YOSHIDA-SHI!!!” :D

Technically, the episode disappoints. The animation quality was drastically lowered and there was a surprising lack of memorable scenes. Even the distortions of faces were few and far between. Character movements were pitiful and the visuals felt really cheap. The only saving grace was a quick peek at the beginning of +NATURAL anime and the short Otters #11 commercial. I can only hope that the creators are saving their budget for some big things later in the season…

All in all, it was a good, if not especially phenomenal, episode. The change of gears from personal relations to manga business is welcome and I hope that it will continue at least for an episode or two, because seeing the behind the curtain works of the industry and the rivalry between fellow authors has always been the most interesting part of Bakuman.