Anime: Comic Girls
Season aired: Spring 2018
Number of episodes: 12
Genres: Comedy, Slice of Life
Thoughts: Over the last few years, a certain subject has been gradually increasing in popularity in anime, one that wasn’t much present in the past: the otaku industry. There have been plenty of shows that portray the otaku culture, but barely any have tackled the inner workings of the market and origins of our favorite shows. Koe de Oshigoto, Bakuman, Shirobako, New Game, Seiyu’s Life, and Gi(a)rlish Number are the most prominent examples of this trend which can eventually contribute to its own sub-genre.
Then comes Comic Girls, a slice of life anime that follows the daily lives of four (sometimes five) manga artists, all in high school. The protagonist, the low-confidence and overly anxious Kaoruko, is a 4-koma mangaka whose editor constantly rejects her seemingly uninspiring and not interesting enough scripts. To help her become better and more assertive, she moves into a dorm, which is shared by other mangaka of her age: Koyume, the shoujo romance lover; Ruki, the doujinshi H-artist; Tsubasa, the battle shounen enthusiast; and Suzu, the creepy horror-obsessed upperclassman. Together, they write manga, go to school, visit stores to buy writing goods, and support each other on their scripts to make it through deadlines.
A recurring focus of the show are the ways a mangaka can find inspiration for his or her story, a true to life obstacle for any artist. Exercising, getting some fresh air, discussing ideas with other writers, relaxing with food or a bath, or even doing something completely different and unrelated to manga for a change of pace, are actions the characters do to keep a fresh mind. However, even with those, the life of a mangaka isn’t easy. Getting your manga serialized isn’t a walk in the park and can take a long time, which is what happened to Kaoruko (and Koyume to a lesser extent), and that’s only the first hurdle to get through. All the previous mentioned anime make the hell of deadlines very clear, and Comic Girls certainly doesn’t miss on that aspect. Ruki and Tsubasa, both already professional mangaka, have to deal with a never-slowing and tough pace if they hope to keep their series serialized, frequently need to go through all-nighters, and have more responsibilities, like participating in signing events, having meetups and responding to fan-letters. Comic Girls never trends the cynical route of Gi(a)rlish Number or the detailed and hectic schedule chaos portrayed in Shirobako, but it’s always there to remind us that, despite its light-hearted and positive nature, it remains a series about the otaku industry.
Failure is another part of an artist’s life that Comic Girls often comes back to, primarily through Kaoruko. She is almost its embodiment as she has come up with dozens upon dozens of scripts and ideas over the years, only for every single one of them to be rejected or fail in publication. Moments when she becomes discouraged and questions her skills and worth aren’t rare, but she never gives up, coming back stronger each time. Perseverance is Kaoruko’s key trait and has saved her more than once from depression. Her newly-made friends are there for her, and she’s there for them in return. One could say camaraderie is as central in Comic Girls as Kaoruko’s journey. Back to the aspect of failure, the three adults in the show (Kaoruko’s editor, the girls’ homeroom teacher, and the landlady of the dorm) are all ex-up-and-coming mangaka who didn’t manage to keep up their work alongside school and their imagination couldn’t take them very far. An episode on them as its focus shows the other side of the coin for artists and our successful main characters: those who never achieve anything, failing to obtain the grail, and the pain and regret that come with it. The fact that the older characters are relevant to the show and are not just background comic relief is something I greatly appreciate.
The setting and plot progression of Comic Girls works fine for the type of show it is, but isn’t groundbreaking and, outside its commentary of the manga industry, doesn’t do anything that hasn’t been done elsewhere. Each character fits a trope already done countless times (the anxious one, the responsible one, the outgoing glutton, and the cool, popular one), which may sound lazy on paper. However, our girls aren’t tied to them, their individual experiences and characteristics weighing more than the categorization to a trope, which explains why it’s easy to keep having fun with them. The accomplishments and struggles they have are close to life and are neither overdramatized nor overblown in proportions, while the portrayal of their double life as students and mangaka feels accurate and is enjoyable to see. Finally, the bonds they develop over the course of the one year they spend together at the dormitory are meaningful and unforgettable. The help and courage they offer to each other encourage them to strive to become better in their career and, for Kaoruko, meeting these girls became life-changing. Episode 12 contains the most emotionally impactful scene of the entire series: Kaoruko’s dream having come true, and her failures, redos, and perseverance finally bearing fruit.
The presentation of the series is sadly rather lackluster. While the color palette is vivid and the character designs are both cute and subject of many great facial expressions, there’s certainly nothing to write home about the animation or the soundtrack. You won’t remember any tracks from Comic Girls, except maybe the somewhat catchy opening if you’re lucky, and the art, while not bad, doesn’t provide much spectacle. I also wasn’t a big fan of Koyume; she doesn’t do anything specific to annoy me, and she does have good moments, but her gluttony and the focus on her large breasts were sometimes the only things I could think of to describe her, which isn’t a good sign. Generally, some of each character’s quirks feel dragged out sometimes: Kaoruko apologizes and hids in a corner way too often, Ruki comments a bit too much about her embarrassment over being an H-artist, and Tsubasa’s “transformation” into shounen protagonist mode, while fun at first, becomes silly fast. Surprisingly, one of most one of the easiest archetypes to mess up, the creepy girl, was the only one devoid of repetitiveness and was consistently funny. Good job, Suzu!
I think an important drawing point of Comic Girls is the relatability one might have to the struggles of being an artist, whatever the medium is. Creative slumps, all-nighters, positive and negative comments, the joy felt from completing a chapter, a painting or a song you’re satisfied with, relief from getting accepted, depression from getting rejected, tenacity, deadlines… many people live in that world combining heaven and hell, and so do these girls. I myself am standing on the border separating that world and the outside one. Kaoruko and Ruki were the most relatable to me, as I’ve personally had to face and overcome similar hurdles; both the happy and hard times rushed back to me and it felt great.
Comic Girls fits in an interesting spot for “cute girls doing cute things” shows. While there is an abundance of those that manage to have nice light fluffy interactions but with little depth, it’s rare to see a show like this where the depth of its subject matter is the highlight. With Comic Girls, there is a lot of depth given to the characters for who they are, what they’re aiming for, and the growth that they have as comic artists. And I will miss them.
I am planning to rate all my anime based on the anime rating system that Japanese anime critics use. I will have 5 categories, each with the top score of 10, and then a final multiplier of 2.
Voice acting: 7
FINAL SCORE: 67
Comic Girls is now streaming on Crunchyroll.