With this volume, Eiji Nizuma becomes the most interesting character in the series. The brilliant young manga creator has always been a striking presence, from his introduction as the poster child for the off-putting quirks that accompany genius to his current role as a potential catalyst for the greatness of protagonists Moritaka and Akito. He could’ve easily wound up in the role of a “boo-hiss” villain with his request to be able to end any series in Shonen Jump if he became its number one creator, but writer Tsugumi Ohba took a much more interesting track with Nizuma by having his relationship with “Muto Ashirogi” be one of mutual respect and encouragement. Granted, it seems that pretty much EVERY character’s role in this series is to facilitate the pair’s eventual creation of a manga masterwork, but the role fits Nizuma better than anyone else.
Case in point: The previous volume ended with Yujiro, the editor who discovered the pair, hitting upon the idea to have Nizuma provide the art for Iwase’s new series in Jump. The combination of having to compete against not only their contemporary, but Akito’s old middle-school rival, would be sure to spur the team on to new heights. Nizuma agrees an now he has two series in the magazine, much to the chagrin of his friends who see this as being more than a little greedy on his part. This leads to the best scene in the volume as he silently listens to their grievances while going over the cost of the plan in his head. His eventual response gleefully flips from a dead serious declaration that neither of his series will lose to theirs to a wacky “I’m doing this because I want to,” pantomime. Ohba may not have intended for him to become the villain, but even if he’s faking it’s still fascinating to read.
I’d also love to see more of his relationship with Iwase, but they barely get a page together as his exuberance is played against her ice queen demeanor for a cheap laugh. They’re polar opposites and even if they don’t work in the same room together, you’d think that their styles would eventually generate some friction. That’d be more interesting to read about than the current state of relationships in this series which hasn’t improved much since the last volume. Moritaka and Miho’s relationship is still terminally boring, while Akito and Kaya’s is managing to be interesting solely because they’re entering territory that I’ve never seen in a shonen manga before: marriage! I’m not sure it’ll be among the best portrayals of the event in the medium, but it’s intriguing to see it done at all.
The supporting cast is also still fun to read about, but my high hopes for the introduction of Ryu Shizuka have mostly been dashed here. After we were introduced to his brutal manga in the last volume, I thought that the introduction of someone whose tastes were decidedly different than the rest of the cast’s would be a breath of fresh air. As it turns out, he’s a shut-in whose condition is mainly played for laughs. The “Welcome to the N.H.K.” anime wrote the book on hikkikomoris and Shizuka looks to add nothing to it.
Vol. 9 ends with Yujiro’s plan bearing fruit after a very public declaration from Nizuma has Moritaka and Akito reconsidering their current series and overall goals. It’s do-or-die time for them to create their masterwork, which will no doubt lead to an even bigger and potentially more interesting set of problems if they succeed. Even so, I can’t help but think that it would be more interesting to read about Nizuma’s problems than theirs. I doubt that he’ll ever get his own spin-off so we can see whether or not that would be true, but the boy will just have to settle for being a more captivating presence than “Bakuman’s” ostensible protagonists.