With the series’ focus narrowed to showing what makes great Shonen Jump manga, it narrows the focus further still as aspiring creators Mashiro and Takagi now have to determine what kind of manga will work well in Jump. Smartly, they realize that pirates, ninja, and shinigami have already been taken, so they have to come up with a new hook for their series. This is much to the chagrin of their editor as he still believes that they’d be better off trying to create a “cult” series. He decides to indulge their plan and gives them a six-month deadline to come up with a concept that’ll impress him. The only problem is that while Mashiro’s art is getting better and better, Takagi can’t seem to come up with a winning story idea.
The “behind the scenes” aspects of this series continue to thrill as writer Tsugumi Ohba and artist Takeshi Obata manage to make all these scenes of talking heads feel as intense as any fighting manga. That’s likely due in part to the fact that the reader is being bludgeoned by the large amounts of text on each page, but the creators invest a real sense of antagonism and passion in the debates between the various creators. We also get a real “crisis” feeling when manga wunderkind Eiji Nizuma shocks the hell out of his editor by drawing the first chapter of another series instead of the one that had been decided on for his debut in Jump.
I also liked how Nizuma’s introduction to Mashiro and Takagi didn’t play out in the way I had expected it to. Though he’s still the poster boy for the off-putting social quirks that accompany genius, we find out that he really liked our protagonist’s debut story and even looks up to them. This leads to a more interesting dynamic as Mashiro works with Nizuma later in the volume as an assistant and winds up helping the boy he viewed as a potential rival work out the kinks in his series.
The new cast members are also shown to have more than one dimension as well. While Nakai, an older background artist, and Fukuda, another young creator who has just made his debut, come off as a depressing sad sack and a huge dick, respectively, that’s not how they remain over the course of the volume. We see that Nakai has amassed a great deal of skill as a background artist, and Fukuda starts coming off as less of a dick once he demonstrates that he isn’t just all talk, but is also operating at a financial and logistical disadvantage as a creator. Characters making friends with people they thought were initially rivals is a hallmark of Jump storytelling, and while the creators don’t really avoid the cliche here, they still execute it with style.
Hopefully this means that they’ll handle the obvious plot point described in the “next volume” page with equal cleverness and style. In a story about any kind of team, you’re eventually going to get one where they’re in danger of breaking up. The problem is that the series was built around Mashiro and Takagi acting as a writer/artist duo, so it seems VERY unlikely that they’re going to split despite the internal and external pressures they face. Worst case scenario is that the series’ momentum grinds to a halt as the two renew their partnership and arrive at the conclusion we all saw coming. Best case is that the creators tweak our expectations as they did here and put a neat spin on a familiar trope. I’m looking forward to finding out which it’ll be in three months.