What’s it about? Kaoruko Moeta seems to have gotten a head start in life—at 15, she’s already a published manga artist, writing 4-panel comics under the nom de plume “KAOS.” But with terrible anxiety and no real human friends, her humor seems artificial to her readers, and she’s doing poorly in the reader surveys. Her editor has her move into a dorm just for young female manga artists, in hopes that they can nurture her young talent and help her find her authorial voice.
There are two kinds of “cute girls doing cute things” shows. Some are built on archetypes that bear little resemblance to how real girls act and think. Others portray more authentic relationships and emotions, with care to make them relatable and interesting. Comic Girls and its heroine Kaoruko fall somewhere in the middle, with moments of relatability mixed in with trope-driven comedy.
You know those times where you’re anxious about an upcoming encounter and keep playing the worst possible outcomes in your head? Like when your boss calls you in for a meeting and you’re sure you’re about to get fired, or you see two people talking across the room and you’re sure they’re talking about you even though they definitely aren’t? That’s what’s going through Kaoruko’s head every time she has to talk to someone.
These are represented onscreen as KAOS theater, delightfully rendered in still frames drawn in the styles of classic manga. Will she be able to relate to the other girls? Will they exclude her for not being successful enough? Kaoruko’s persistent anxiety can get old, especially with the squeakiness of her voice actor, but hell if it’s not relatable.
Anxiety issues tend to show up over and over in moe comedies, and for good reason. If the goal is to inspire a protective instinct in the viewer, there’s little better than in wanting to reassure a girl that she did nothing wrong. If the goal is to make the character relatable, then starting at a point of zero confidence makes pretty much any accomplishment a victory.
I’ve never really cared for those characters, with the sharp edges of their issues sanded off and their mental health struggles on display for male consumption. However, every once in a while an anime comedy nails it. Kaoruko’s overactive imagination, while useful in a creative profession, makes it easy for her to work herself up and hard to calm herself down. It resonated with my own fear of rejection and exclusion, and how easily I’m convinced that the people around me don’t actually want much to do with me.
Her fears are, in fact, unfounded, because this is a “cute girls doing cute things cutely” show, not a ’70s boarding school shoujo drama. I enjoyed her dynamic with her new roommate, Koyume, a shoujo manga artist who can’t draw cute boys. They quickly develop an easy back-and-forth as two people with common interests and similar woes. The writing strikes a nice balance between realism and humor, where it feels like how people talk but cleaned up to be interesting to outside parties. Koyume’s inability to draw men is also pretty funny—I’m hoping to see some parody of shoujo’s narrative conventions, provided they’re affectionate and not mean-spirited.
The latter half of the episode, which introduces two more manga artists, Tsubasa and Ruki, struggles more. There’s some shipteasing between Tsubasa and Koyume that’s likely to go nowhere, and everyone makes a big deal out of how Tsubasa is “like a boy,” but it’s played more like narrative “No Homo” contortions to justify Koyume’s crush than as actual trans representation. There’s also a dumb stock boob-grab joke, but that’s not the worst part.
I take major issue with the way Ruki’s editor pushed her into drawing erotica, especially at such a young age. Ruki got her start very young, published before she even entered high school. She wanted to draw cute stories about animals, but her editor decided her style was more suited toward adult content, and convinced her to draw that instead.
Bluntly put, that’s sexual harassment, if not outright abuse. It’s unacceptable to force anyone to engage with sexual content they’re not comfortable with; forcing them to generate it is beyond the pale, especially when they’re a minor. She has no frame of reference of her own, and legally isn’t supposed to consume anything that would give her one. I understand that people without sexual experience can create sexual content, or else fanfiction sites would be near-barren. However, those works are (presumably) created voluntarily. No one should be forced to engage with sex if they do not want to. Period.
Of course, that’s only a small part of the show and there’s plenty to like about it otherwise. I can’t tell just from the first episode where it will end up on the artificial archetypes-to-authentic experiences spectrum, but it might be worth it to find out.