Volume 15 today. Amazon and Books-a-Million list it as coming out next week; not sure why it was on the Books-a-Million shelves this evening, but I ain't complaining! (Although they didn't have Drama, so I was a little irked at that.)
Anyway, to catch you up on the story, Mashiro and Takagi have been managed to do fairly well for themselves as mangaka. Their current series, PCP is consistently ranked in the top three, and the two creators are very well respected. Takagi's gotten married, but is still finishing up college. Mashiro still has his romance-through-separation with Azuki, and she's started making a decent living as a voice actress.
Volume 15 wraps up the story arc with Tohru Nanamine, who had been using a cadre of internet folks to develop story ideas for him. His plot is discovered and winds up blowing up in his face, but his freshman editor seems to finally smack him into shape. But this also leads to the dismissal of his assistant, Takuro Nakai, who drunkenly goes to confront Ko Aoki, who he blames for his life's failures. Kazuya Hirammaru tries to come to her rescue, gets a serious smackdown of his own and winds up befriending Nakai. Mashiro and Takagi witness the end of this and can do little more than stare on in amazement at what happened.
Mashiro attends a class reunion and is forced to compare his relatively busy yet solitary life as a mangaka against the seemingly more fun and enjoyable lives of his old classmates. He ultimately realizes that he's enjoying what he's doing, even if it's not "normal." But the news soon brings concern as someone has begun committing acts in real life based on what they read in PCP. Though he agreed with Mashiro's take on being a mangaka, Takagi is mortified, and begins questioning himself, going into a deep depression. And just as he starts coming out of it, the copycat pulls another stunt lifted right out of the pages of PCP...
Well, let me say first that I have really been enjoying this series since the start, and has easily cemented itself as my favorite ongoing comic right now. I have found myself laughing out loud at least once with each new volume just from the sheer joy of seeing where each issue takes me, this one included. It is, by far, the best long-form serial I've read in probably 25 years.
That said, this was probably the weakest volume to date. The art and storytelling were top-notch; Takeshi Obata knocks it out of the park, as always. Where I felt things lacked a little was in the wrap-up to the Nanamine story and the follow-up on Nakai. That Nanamine's plot would fail was never in question, and how it failed made sense. But the character became rather unhinged towards the end in a way that didn't seem to fit how he had been previously established. There were a couple shots that definitely had a bat-shit-crazy-Joker vibe to them, which seemed a little over-the-top for the story/character. Though he eventually calms down and seems to be on the track to become legitimate competition for the protagonists, that his editor had to slug him -- twice! -- seemed a little off for the series.
The follow-up story about Nakai had a strange ending to it as well. How he became unemployed and went to see Ko made sense, but then it seemed to become a battle manga suddenly that ended just as abruptly. It had something of a comedic ending that also didn't quite fit the tone of the series and, on reflection, seemed like just a quick way to ensure the character didn't get dropped out the series for an extended period like had happened before.
Plus, in both of those stories, Mashiro and Takagi were largely bit players. C-3PO and R2-D2 watching the action happen around them. Fortunately, the volume ends on an up stroke with the last several chapters focusing on them again, and dealing with the real pressures and concerns of mangaka. It was in these last chapters that I found myself laughing again at the brilliance in execution and the interesting turns the story takes.
Despite this volume having, as I said, some of the weakest stories in the series, that was primarily due to a shift in focus and tone. Considering that it has a 'main' cast of over 20 characters, it's hardly surprising that trying to juggle everyone's storylines is going to result in some seeming mismatches. Particularly when so many of the characters have very different styles and attitudes. While this makes for interesting interplay with the most central figures, it also makes for a very different story when the focus is on them.
But ending back on Mashiro and Takagi and some very significant -- and realistically tackled -- issues for them makes the volume end well, and encourages me to come back just as enthusiastically as before. Considering that even this weak volume is still better than so many other comics out there, I continue to highly recommend this series. This volume may not be the best to start reading with, but I can heartily assure you that, at over half-way through the series (there's 176 chapters in total; this volume brings the English translations up to 133), this story is well worth picking up!
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