Welcome back to the Sinical Weekly Cyclical, the feature that may not actually be weekly but most certainly does have cyclical themes. This week we'll be introducing a new theme, "You Should Be Watching", where I'll take one anime that is airing this season and put it in the spotlight. This week we'll be covering...Comic Girls!
The idea of a series based around cute girls working in the anime/manga industry is nothing new. From Sore ga Seiyuu to Shirobako to New Game (this one is about video games, but regardless), the idea has been done before multiple times, and that a show would come out simply calling itself Comic Girls is rather bold. After all, the name implies nothing about the series other than that it is about girls who make comics, and more than that, its blandness is likely to scare away potential viewers. Hell, I only decided to watch this show because I thought it was going to be bland and boring.
Thankfully, I couldn't have been more wrong.
What I expected was a show about cute girls doing cute things and who also happened to create manga, much like how in the anime Gamers! the characters only really play games when it's convenient to the plot. It's not an uncommon practice, such to the point that a short form series called Teekyu is based entirely around parodying the trope, featuring a tennis club who only ever plays tennis in a handful of episodes (and constantly makes reference to it). What I got instead was an earnest look at the suffering artist and the anxiety that comes with being overshadowed by those better or more normal than you.
Kaoruko Moeta, better known as Kaos, is an aspiring manga artist who, at the behest of her editor, moves into a dorm for manga artists to hone their skills. Problem is, Kaos is sheltered, has the appearance of a much younger child, and has little to no confidence in her own abilities. She constantly beats herself up over the inability to cope with the smallest things and often inadvertently puts herself down to make others feel better. It's only with the support of her friends that she is able to lift herself up.
By itself, this setup sounds pretty run-of-the-mill, and to some of extent it is. Make no mistake, Comic Girls is indeed a "cute girls doing cute things" show, but what sets it apart is the genuine nature by which it presents its characters. The four main characters of Comic Girls are all over-the-top, with Tsubasa, the shounen artist, being very stoic and eccentric, Koyume, the romance manga artist, being a spirited high school girl with a lot of friends and an unending craving for sweets, Ruki, the adult manga artist, who is generally mature but cracks easily under pressure, and Kaos, who loves cute things (girls included) and is self-deprecating to a fault.
Putting all of these characters together, you end up with a pretty normal cast for this genre. What makes these characters any more or less genuine than another cute girls show? The show being about these characters and their struggles as manga artists and high schoolers that are growing up.
Despite being an adaptation of a 4-koma (a manga which is presented in a series of four panel scenes) and a slice-of-life, a format and a genre that are not traditionally heavy on consistent progression and character development, Comic Girls does its damnedest to make sure that every single episode creates some impact in the story that will have an effect on the show overall. This show is about its characters first and foremost, and while it certainly excels in areas other than its writing, that is where it truly shines.
Kaos is the character that probably sees the effects of the consistent progression the most (though all of the characters are given a solid amount troubles and development). From the outset, Kaos tears herself down again and again as she goes from being rejected by her editor to rooming with manga artists that are better and more successful than she is. This is shown to be even more of a deep-seated habit as she finds that she can't interact with other people the way a normal person would. At the end of most of the episodes early on, Kaos is inspired by the events of the episode and creates a storyboard based on them, only to be turned down by her editor for one reason or another. This initially seems like a running gag, but it becomes clear that these continuous rejections not only affect the way Kaos thinks, but also that they are eating away at her more and more as hopelessness builds.
Despite this, Comic Girls never feels mean spirited. The show just as easily puts Kaos' lack of self-worth or Koyume's insecurity in regards to her feelings up as a joke as much as it takes them seriously and oftentimes it will do both simultaneously, usually with the jokes flowing seamlessly into something more substantial. This balance of comedy and sincerity is what makes the show's writing work, and it's because of how well this style melds with the characters and their dynamic with each other that the show is worth looking into for people who aren't normally interested in SoL or cute girls shows.
Other than the writing, Comic Girls' greatest strength lies in its art, direction, and animation. The series opens up with some beautiful background visuals and doesn't let up for a moment. This is only complemented but the simple yet gorgeous character designs. Granted, the main cast follows a mostly conventional design logic of "candy-colored" hairstyles and outfits, but that doesn't stop them from being fun to look at. This is helped by the fact that school is only rarely used as a setting for events in the show and, similarly, rarely has the girls wearing the same thing. It makes the series feel more alive, especially as they go to different locales.
All of this to say, Comic Girls is one of the most pleasant surprises in a season filled with quality shows. It might seem a bit strange that, of all shows to cover on this spotlight, a show about girls drawing manga was the one that was chosen, but that is simply a testament to how good it is. So finish your Darling in the FranXX, your Boku no Hero Academia, your Tokyo Ghoul, but once you have, come on over and try something a little bit more mundane, and perhaps a little bit more fun.