First Look: Comic Girls

Manga Adaptation by Nexus
Streaming on Crunchyroll

Premise

Kaoruko “Kaos” Moeta is a high schooler trying to make it as a professional manga artist. When her latest work gets released to scathing reviews, her editor suggests she move into a dormitory for female mangaka.

Aqua’s verdict: Paint by Numbers

In the days leading up to Comic Girls’ premiere, I suddenly remembered covering another show in the same vein not too long ago. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t for the life for me remember what it was called. This is not something that happens often. Over the course of the last few years, I’ve covered quite a few shows for this blog, from great to terrible, but for most of them I can at least conjure up an image in my head. Not for Hinako Note, as the show turned out to be called. It shows that for the “cute girls doing cute things” genre, more than any other, is highly susceptible to oblivion. No one watched Hinako Note, as far as I know. No one liked Hinako Note, or at least no one should’ve. And I’m afraid Comic Girls, though not for lack of trying, will end up with a similar fate.

So what’s left to be said about a show that beat for beat mirrors the approximately gazillion shows made before it? Comic Girls adopts the premise and about three fourths of the cast of Hidamari Sketch, minus the visuals and the longevity and the offbeat humor that make Hidamari Sketch, well, Hidamari Sketch. It won’t teach you sod about manga either, unless you’ve been living under a rock for your entire life and still think manga are delivered to your favorite shady scanlator via stork. If you want to know what the life of a teenage professional mangaka would actually look like, look no further than Bakuman, a show admittedly only slightly more comically sexist than this one.

Sexist, you say? Oh yes, Comic Girls is unfortunately one of these moe shows that likes to stink up the usual happy-go-lucky vibes with a dash of the old fan service. That means that  aside from the usual high school girl mating ritual of unsolicited breast squeezes, we also get to “enjoy” the sight of a fifteen-year-old lounging around in a frilly bra for the entire back half of the episode. There’s a subplot about one of the four main girls being basically forced by her editor to turn her cutesy kids’ manga into softcore porn, an old chestnut I can’t help but feel is only there to have her at the butt of a wealth of retorts involving the word “lewd”. This might’ve been funny ten years ago, but that was before we as a fandom collectively realized that for some people, this is actually a turn-on, rather than just a joke. For a show in the year 2018 to miss that kind of self-awareness isn’t just questionable, it actively harms the kind of mood Comic Girls is trying to set.

It’s no surprise then, that the show is at its very best when it does present itself with a nod and a wink, such as when it tears into Kaoruko, a 4-panel mangaka, for drawing the same kind of generic piffle the show itself is guilty of. Readers criticizing her for writing “unrealistic high school girls” while she herself is a high school girl, for example, that’s an idea with a lot of potential — but Comic Girls never gets any cleverer with it than just pointing it out. As is the case with plenty of anime comedies, most of the humor is derived from overreacting to the most minor of inconveniences and the slightest of absurdities. Whatever attempts it makes are workmanlike, with rookie actress Hikaru Akao clearly having the time of her life voicing the scatterbrained Kaoruko, but ultimately, they’re nothing to write home about. And in a genre as overcrowded as this one, being “nothing to write home about” simply isn’t enough.

In the end, the frustration Comic Girls invokes is disproportionate to its actual quality. As far as these shows go, it’s not half bad. We’re at a point, however, where the slice-of-life formula has been polished to such a level of perfection by shows like Shirobako, A Place Further Than The Universe, or just about anything Kyoto Animation produce, that merely being an also-ran might as well make you a shouldn’t-have-bothered-to-run-at-all. Does that make Comic Girls the new Hinako Note? Not exactly. If we were to treat reviewing like the exact science it very much isn’t, Comic Girls would probably come out on top. But the truth of the matter is that at this level, it doesn’t matter which show is only slightly less generic than the other. In the slice-of-life genre, you have to be this tall to get to play. And Comic Girls, like Hinako Note before it, wouldn’t even hit the minimum if it stood on its toes.

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