I skipped talking about the last two volumes because they wound up getting mired in my least favorite part of the series: the Mashiro/Azuki romance. While there was some good stuff in vols. 12 & 13, mostly revolving around “Perfect Crime Party” being taken off the “deathwatch” and the personal struggles of Mashiro’s new assistant Shiratori, “Muto Ashirogi’s” relationship is put under a strain after they’re told that their new series will likely never be made into an anime. Naturally this dashes the hopes of Azuki being the voice of the heroine in a manga created by Mashiro and ever being married and IT’S SOOOOO SAAAAAAAD!!! God forbid they should actually get married because they like each other rather than let their happiness be defined by some arbitrary plot contrivance. Anyway, now that the emphasis on that particular event has passed, “Bakuman” makes a return to form with this volume.
The editorial office of Shonen Jump is abuzz with “Classroom of Truth,” the work of clearly talented newcomer named Tohru Nanamine. It’s bold, it’s brash, it breaks just about every rule for what a Jump manga should be but no one can deny its appeal. Nanamine is quickly contacted about the possibility of doing a more kids-oriented version of the story or other work for the magazine, and after he’s assigned a new editor -- Kosugi, the rookie -- he proceeds to break even more rules. After he publishes the original manga on his blog, and generates a huge online firestorm because the magazine didn’t give it an award, Nanamine quickly leverages his fame/infamy towards a one-shot and ongoing series.
Nanamine’s also a huge fan of “Muto Ashirogi” from their “Detective Trap” days and once he’s alone with them, his uber-friendly facade drops and the truth about his work comes out. While he’s still doing the physical work involved with creating a manga, the young adult is crowdsourcing his ideas from a select group of fifty individuals that he knows on the net. This doesn’t sit well with Mashiro, Akito, their editor Hattori and Kosugi who finds himself as Nanamine’s editor, but is steamrollered by the youth’s force of personality. Rather than try and expose the truth about the new rival, our protagonists vow to crush him utterly in Jump’s popularity rankings and show the weakness in his strategy.
Writer Tsugumi Ohba and artist Takeshi Obata do a great job of making Nanamine into a real antagonist -- the first real one we’ve seen in this series so far, and he also happens to be eminently “hateable.” He comes on the stage so bright and full of himself that it’s impossible to not be rubbed the wrong way by his personality, so when the truth comes out you’re primed to see him and his methods fail. I will say that his approach represents an interesting target for the series to attack. The point is made that it’s not technically wrong or against the rules, but his methods diminish the work of other creators who try to create great works by themselves, or with a trusted collaborator and the input of an editor. If it starts to sound like I’m splitting hairs here, that’s because Nanamine makes that point too. However, there are other drawbacks to his approach that aren’t immediately visible and make for some nice surprises as the volume goes on. This also raises the question of what’s going to happen to him after the end of this particular arc. While it’s possible that he could turn into a recurring antagonist, I see “Muto Ashirogi” showing him the error of his ways and extending their hand in friendship with Nanamine awed by their compassion and determined to forsake his questionable methods -- that’s the more “Jump” method anyway.
We also get a lot of great scenes with the supporting cast too. Kosugi gets most of them as he’s put into a nightmare situation for any editor, let alone one who just started at the magazine. It’s really easy to sympathize with his plight at the beginning and you can really understand how he lets himself get plowed under by Nanamine’s plans. Once his fellow editor Hattori lets him know that the creator’s methods aren’t secret anymore, then we get to see him develop some backbone and start offering honest criticism and attempts to reign in this troublemaker. There’s also the surprise return of a character who we haven’t seen for many volumes now. That he’s hired by Nanamine to further his ambition would be reason to hate him too... if he wasn’t so depressingly pathetic. This surprise return also threatens to spark an anti-love-triangle between himself, Hiramaru and Aoki; because, while the two men in this equation desperately love her, she “just doesn’t feel that way” about either of them. It may be played entirely for laughs, but this is probably the first romantic relationship that I’m actually eager to see more of in this title.
It may not have an ounce of subtlety to it, but the story in this volume was as compelling as it has ever been in this title. Reading this on my lunch break proved to be an immersive experience, to the point where I couldn’t wait for my next break to find out what was going to happen next. Now even though I only have to wait thirty days to find out what happens next, the wait is still going to seem interminable.