“Things are never quite as scary when you’ve got a best friend.” —Bill Watterson
Kaoruko Moeta is a four-panel manga artist whose work is met with a cold reception. Her producer suggests that she lodges at Bunhousha Women’s Dormitory to hone her craft. When she arrives, she meets the shōjo artist Koyume Koizuka, who is her roommate, as well as Ruki Irokawa (an ecchi manga artist) and Tsubasa Katsuki (a shōnen manga artist). Settling into life at Bunhousha Women’s Dormitory, Kaoruko learns that Ruki was once an aspiring artist for children’s work, and later that evening, with a deadline looming for Tsubasa, Koyume and Kaoruko decide to help her out. Although Kaoruko begins caving under pressure, she’s inspired by Tsubasa’s kindness and determination, helping the others kick out the pages that Tsubasa needs to meet her deadline. Later, Kaoruko goes shopping for supplies with the others and learn of their passion for their work, before attending school for the first time, and although Kaoruko is nervous, she ends up in the same class as Tsubasa and Ruki. Later, Kaoruko learns that her general inexperience in life and weak drawing are what leads her manga to be counted as implausible and difficult to connect with. Her friends suggest a drawing contest, and when Kaoruko over-exerts herself and fails to eat, Ririka Hanazono, the dormitory’s manager, gets in touch with Kaoruko’s parents to learn of her preferences to make Kaoruko feel more at home. In spite of her best efforts, however, Kaoruko’s editor rejects her latest submission. This is where we stand three episodes into Comic Girls, this season’s Manga Time Kirara adaptation.
Feeling distinctly like a cross between New Game! and Slow Start, the similarity that Comic Girls shares with some of its predecessors are quite apparent. This is the consequence of my having seen so many similar anime previously, rather than any direct shortcomings on Comic Girls‘ part – beyond the superficial similarities, Comic Girls‘ utilises a different backdrop to motivate its characters and as such, is able to create unique interactions despite the characters’ familiar personalities and mannerisms. Comic Girls‘ focus is a group of manga artists and their struggles with content creation, deadlines and the like. From choosing art supplies to working out how to become inspired for manga, Comic Girls presents a world that I am completely unfamiliar with. However, while manga creation in reality has its subtleties, Comic Girls strikes a balance between technical details and depicting common, everyday occurrences that Karuko experiences. The emphasis on gentle humour means that even for folks lacking any formal experience in authoring manga, Comic Girls remains very approachable, providing viewers with consistent scenes of heart-melting humour. The tradeoff of this approach is that Comic Girls fulfills a very similar role to last season’s Slow Start. However, whereas I related to Slow Start because I did a gap year following the completion of my Bachelor’s degree, in between my decision to go for a Master’s programme, the intricacies of drawing comics and manga are lost on me. The most knowledge I have of the process comes from Bill Watterson, and even then, this is only general knowledge. Consequently, because Comic Girls inherits many of the same narrative elements as seen in other anime of its genre, this isn’t really a series I can confidently write about consistently.
Screenshots and Commentary
- Right out of the gates, Kaoruko brings to mind the likes of Slow Start‘s Hana Ichinose: one cannot help but pity the unfair, ironic situations she’s in. Comic Girls opens with her being shredded by critical reviews of her work. I’ve remarked elsewhere that derivative protagonists are often intentional: viewers are familiar with their traits out of the gates and so, have a grounded perspective on the unique worlds that they interact with. I note immediately that Comic Girls proved to be a bit more difficult to write for, and while there are certainly many adorable moments, there are fewer random remarks I could make, so this post will have twenty screenshots.
- After arriving at Bunhousha Women’s Dormitory, Kaoruko meets fellow tenants Koyume, Tsubasa and Ruki. The manga presented the dormitory as having more residents and being of a slighty more modern design than what is seen in the anime, where the dormitory is of a rustic design. Moreover, it would appear that besides Koyume, Tsubasa and Ruki, there are no other residents in the anime incarnation.
- Once Kaoruko and Koyume settle into life at Bunhousha (I wager that this is a deliberate choice, as “Bunhousha” is an anagram of “Houbunsha”, the publishing company that deals with the Manga Time Kirara line of magazines), things immediately take a turn for the wild side once Ruki’s role as an e-manga author is made known. She subsequently feels up Ruki and learns that Ruki isn’t as stacked as initially thought.
- Later during the evening, while helping Tsubasa meet her deadline, Kaoruko makes a few mistakes, being unaccustomed to ink-and-paper. Understanding that Kaoruku is a novice with the medium, Tsubasa and Ruki reassure her, help her correct her mistakes and encourages her to push forwards. The first episode establishes that the characters are quite easily distinguished from one another, and while everyone has counterparts in other series (for instance, Ruki is a true level version of GochiUsa‘s Rize Tedeza), their manga genre specialisations keep them easy to tell apart from one another.
- I’m no expert on the Japanese language, but I’ve been around the block long enough to pick out the patterns. Each of the girls’ family names carry a substring pertinent to their chosen genre. Kaoruko’s surname is Moeta, where moé (萌え) is referring to a sense of affection towards things that are adorable. Similarly, she enjoys doing four-panel manga depicting high school girls not unlike those that are serialised in Manga Time Kirara. Koyume’s surname is Koizuka. Koi (恋) is love in Japanese, mirroring the sort of love stories found in shoujo manga. Ruki’s family name is Irokawa, of which the substring “iro” is phonetically similar to ero, Japanese shorthand for erotic and which is also Ruki’s specialisation. Tsubasa’s family name is Katsuki: katsu (勝つ) is to win, and victory is very much a central topic of the shonen manga that Tsubasa writes.
- Minute details such as these often make the anime a bit more fun to watch, similar to how a part of the joy of Yuru Camp△ was in hunting down Rin’s camping gear set and locating some of the spots that the girls camp in. Here, after a perilous train ride where Kaoruko nearly gets separated from the others, the girls stop to enjoy some crêpes, a commonly-depicted confectionery in anime that originates from France and is quite popular in Japan. Kaoruko is eating one for the first time and feels it’s too beautiful to eat.
- After finishing their crêpes, Koyume, Ruki, Tsubasa and Kaoruko visit an art supplies shop to restock on provisions for manga. Koyume’s run short on funds after buying some of Tsubasa’s manga, and Tsubasa steps in to help pay for things. I couldn’t tell you the difference between all of the different brushes, inks, stencils and other tools required and what the significance of the differences are in manga: like every discipline, being a manga artists has its subtleties, and requires a considerable degree of skill to become proficient in.
- Miharu Nijino is Kaoruko’s homeroom instuctor. Voiced by Ayaka Nanase (Sakura Quest‘s very own Yoshino Koharu), Miharu resembles Brave Witches‘ Takami Karibuchi but is otherwise very strict. Kaoruko’s defining characteristic is her shyness and quickness to tears when met with challenges. At school, she finds herself quickly overwhelmed by the number of students at school, when the begin asking her questions about her background. Being in the same class as Ruki and Tsubasa has its advantages, and they pull her from the situation, sharing a conversation with her on the school rooftops.
- While I watch anime of Comic Girls‘ class with a nontrivial frequency, one topic that often depicted, and one that I never cover, is yuri – I count it as a topic that I cannot adequately discuss. A glance at the history suggests that use of the term to refer to romantic interactions amongst females stems from a magazine in the late seventies, although these female romances have been present in literature as early as the turn of the twentieth century, involving a shy individual developing interest in an older, more mature character. These elements are the forerunners of modern yuri works, and even in anime where they are not core to the narrative, can be quite visible.
- While early yuri manga have academic value for drawing influence from earlier literature and influencing modern shows, yuri elements are now prevalent enough so that they become unremarkable. These dynamics do not seem to have much of an impact on the narrative overall in general: Slow Start is a fine example of where the yuri elements had minimal bearing on where Hana’s directions ended up going, and so, while perhaps amusing, I don’t really have much more to offer on yuri in my posts. Back in Comic Girls, like Ren of Anne Happy and to a lesser extent, Hinako from Hinako Note, Kaoruko has the power to draw small animals to her. She encounters a small kitten after class who is as shy as she is and struggles to pet it.
- Like Eiko in Slow Start did for Hana and Hiroe, Koyume decides to help Kaoruko improve her style when discussion leads to a point where Kaoruko’s manga might be uninspired because of her fashion style, specifically, her lack thereof. It turns out that Kaoruko’s choice is motivated by personal reasons: she sticks with homemade clothing and has long hair to remind her that she’s grown. It’s rather touching, but comes at a cost, so Kaoruko’s friends decide to help her out and by means of a makeover, see how she looks in different hairstyles and outfits.
- Kaoruko’s mannerisms are considered to be a bit unusual, even against the standards of the people within Comic Girls. It certainly sets her apart from even Anne and Hinako, and while some viewers count Kaoruko as a bit irritating, I don’t for the fact that her archetype and all of its variations are simply fictional portrayals of people. I’ve never encountered anyone like the characters seen in four panel manga in reality, and I would hope that this trend continues. In fact, I liken four-panel manga characters to watching small pets playing around.
- Apparently, present discussion has developed a fixation on Kaoruko’s interest in collecting female figurines, and some have asserted that “[Kaoruko is] interested in girls. The thing is, we can’t refute either theory, and they can overlap”. There’s nothing quite like a bit of pseudo-intellectualism to get the neurons firing, and I immediately present the counterargument to refute this individual’s load of bollocks. Simply, there are many males who collect NHL or superhero figurines of Captain America, Batman, etc. If we accepted this individual’s logic, that one has attraction towards the sex of their figures, to be true, then the implications on the population as a whole would be quite interesting. This is naturally not the case – even if Kaoruko has yuri tendencies, her interest in kawaii figurines certainly is not an indicator of thus. The end result: “theory” busted, there are no purported overlaps, and that this conversation is over.
- On a grey, rainy day reminiscent of the weather I encountered in Narita a little less than a year ago and the weather seen in Adventure Time‘s “The Hard Easy”, Kaoruko comes across Koyume and Ruki seemingly doing something quite intimate. Her subsequent embarrassment is strong enough for her to emit photons, giving her face a glow visible on this rainy day. However, as it turns out, Ruki is simply trying to get inspiration for her artwork; using a real-world figure makes it easier for her to conceptualise poses that are possible within the constraints of how humans can move.
- When she tries to get Kaoruko to help out, Ruki finds that Kaoruko is quite unsuited for things. It is quite clear that Comic Girls will have the occasional moment for mammaries and pantsu, which adds to the humour somewhat. Koyume’s physique is described as being billowy – she is rather more defined than the others in some places, and while Ruki is envious, Koyume would rather have a more petite figure similar to Ruki’s. The consequence is a minor fight that Kaoruko is content to watch.
- While Koyume has no problem interacting with Kaoruko or Ruki, the thought of Tsubasa seeing her in this state embarrasses her, and Ruki takes the moment to capture Koyume’s expression. It would seem that Tsubasa’s resemblance to a guy causes this embarrassment, which further complicates the way things roll in Comic Girls. While I could spend sleepless nights wringing my hands about how things work in a fictional world, this isn’t the best use of my time.
- In the laundry room, Koyume, Kaoruko and Ruki run into Tsubasa, who is changing. They feel that her figure strikes the ideal balance between Koyume and Ruki’s, but Tsubasa hilariously desires a shredded physique. One element I’ve not mentioned about Comic Girls so far is that the anime cleverly makes use of manga panel elements to transition between scenes, really giving the sense that the anime adaptation has brought the manga to life with moving visuals and sound.
- Kaoruko pushes forwards with her project to the point of exhaustion, spurred on by a desire to produce something worth reading. Ever since meeting Koyume, Ruki and Tsubasa, Kaoruko’s definitely seen more, enough to motivate her to continue working on a manga that readers enjoy – this forms the basis for the page quote, from legendary comic artist Bill Watterson. The line is sourced from Calvin and Hobbes, and it certainly holds true in Comic Girls. Now that Kaoruko is interacting with peers, she expands her experiences, which will help her create more enjoyable works.
- Kaoruko is not fond of vegetables and natto, struggling to eat. It is when her parents call Miharu and give her insight into what Kaoruko is fond of that she begins eating better. I understand her aversion to natto – it kicked my ass when I tried it in Japan last year, and I’m otherwise pretty open-minded about new experiences. Kaoruko’s dislike for tomatoes and broccoli, on the other hand, requires a bit of genetics to explain. The hTAS2R38 gene plays a role in governing how bitter we perceive foods to be, and folks with two copies of this allele will taste bitter agents more strongly, hence their dislike for vegetables, and interestingly enough, will also have an increased consumption of sweet foods.
- If Kaoruko could produce a decent manga after three episodes, then Comic Girls would end right here, right now, and I would go on my merry way, watching other shows and returning to Battlefield 1. Of course, this isn’t the case, and her editor rejects Kaoruko’s latest work, showing that three episodes in, Kaoruko still has a ways to go yet. I won’t be writing about Comic Girls with the same frequency that I did for Slow Start – even with a mere twenty screenshots, I struggled to write for Comic Girls. I will, however, be returning at the end of the season to do a full-season reflection and see whether or not the anime succeeded in telling an engaging story. In the meantime, Shock Operations (single-map operations) and new weapons, including the Thompson Annihilator, will be introduced in June for Battlefield 1. May might see the inclusion of new weapon variants, including a suppressed Enfield rifle. On top of this, The Division‘s next global event, “Blackout”, begins on Monday, and this one looks fun – I might even complete my exotic weapons collection with the Urban MDR if luck is favourable.
Overall, I will continue to keep watching Comic Girls; after three episodes, the anime has proven to be quite enjoyable, especially for the situations that Kaoruko finds herself in. Like Hana from Slow Start, one cannot help but feel a degree of warmth whenever misfortune falls upon her. Similarly, it is quite entertaining to watch her newfound friends do their best to support her. This is likely what Comic Girls will deal with: Kaoruko does not get what high school girls might be like despite being one herself, so it is logical to imagine that Comic Girls will place her in a variety of ordinary situations and experiences that Japanese high school girls go through, and as she becomes closer to each of Ruki, Tsubasa and Koyume, create precious memories that will help her understand high school life to an extent that she can adequately create fiction about it. A skilful writer can write about most anything even without having experienced it personally, but sometimes, it is useful to draw from one’s experiences in order to write. This is one of the reasons why I was able to write my thesis and conference papers so quickly, and why gaming posts take me no effort to write (in turn, being the reason why there are gaming posts on this blog at all), and knowing how to approach writing, using familiar topics, in turn allow one to develop a process. For my blog, these are the anime posts, and for Kaoruko, as she learns to write her experiences more effectively, it is not inconceivable to see her begin exploring other genres and topics as she improves to produce more engaging, compelling manga as a result of her experiences.