Medium: Manga (3+ in Japan, 2+ in US/UK)
Author: Satoko Kiyuduki
Genre: 4koma, Comedy
Publishers: Comic Gyutto! (Now discontinued), Manga Time Kirara Carat – Hōbunsha (JPN), Yen Press (NA/UK)
Release Dates: July 2004-present (JP, includes hiatus), April 2009-present (US/UK)
Age Rating: Teen (13+)
At a recent convention, I came down with a rather peculiar illness which only manifested itself within the Dealers’ Room. The main symptom was a need to throw money at the stall staff, and even after getting the items I desired, the illness persisted. One purchase I made while in this haze of feckless consumerism was Geijutsuka Art Design Class (abbreviated as GA), which I snatched up with very little consideration. In fact, the full thought I put into these books before buying them went as follows: “Oh sweet, it's set in an art school? Maybe it'll be charming and enjoyable like Hidamari Sketch!” Only after I was safely home and the illness had subsided that I realized I had made a terrible mistake.
The main issue I have with GA is that it is very hard to determine what purpose it serves. Is it a comedy, a character-focused series, or a lighthearted instruction manual on artistic techniques? The synopsis and cover design make it appear to be a little of each. The manga is laid out in vertical 4-panel (4koma) strips, which are usually the mainstay of comedy series, but the series rarely elicits a laugh. This is simply because they are genuinely not very amusing, and in some cases hampered by a large cultural boundary that the translation, even with its impressive translation notes, does little to help you overcome. While the jokes are never gut-bustingly funny, the main problem that hampers the humor is the ham-fisted delivery and in particular the art.
While vibrant and detailed, the art is completely ruined by rampant overcrowding. Characters, and their humongous heads, fight for precious little space against speech bubbles as well as all background elements or props in panel. The end result is a very hard-to-read mess that leaves you exasperated and grasping for clarity instead of laughing. In a more whimsical moment I imagined the art bursting out of its tight square confines and using the full page instead of the 4-panel model, something I believe would have benefited the series. In the infrequent moments when this does happen, the overall flow of the manga is a lot more enjoyable.
But perhaps I have it wrong. Maybe the series is not supposed to be amusing, but instead endearing — "moé", perhaps? After all, the manga is serialized in a seinen (young adult male) anthology in Japan. The all-female cast of cute, strangely-proportioned girls are all instantly forgettable despite multiple attempts to differentiate them from one another and establish them in the mind of the reader. There are two splash pages in the first volume alone dedicated to introducing the cast and their individual traits in the most straightforward manner possible, but even these failed to make an impression on me. I can say that, without hyperbole, I would put the manga down for five minutes to make some tea and in that short time I would forget the names of the entire cast. Part of the problem is that they are all so archetypal and bland that it is hard to take them seriously or bother taking notice of them. There is the tomboy, the nervous one, the childish one, the mysterious one, and the other one so nondescript that I can't even remember what her archetype is — let alone her name. All this made it exceedingly difficult to bring myself to become invested in the characters’ antics on the page or care about the lackluster jokes they made.
Finally, there is the possibility that the series is instructional, using the characters and attempts at humor to help you learn real-life artistic techniques. Sadly this falls victim to the ham-handed art and some downright confusing dialogue, which leaves you unsure as to whether the advice is sincere or not. This is not helped by multiple author notes imploring the reader not to take the artistic advice seriously.
All these problems quickly left me baffled, uninterested in the manga, and unable to determine the actual point and audience of the series.
It is hard to find more to say about GA, despite having read both volumes multiple times to ensure I was not missing anything. The whole series feels horribly confused, unsure of what it wants to do and unable to provide any enjoyment as a result. Had I been in my right mind I probably would not have bought these volumes, but then again hindsight is always 20/20. I really can't recommend it to anyone, and it should serve as a warning to people to keep a calm head on your shoulders when you are in a convention Dealers' Room lest you too end up buying a clunker of a manga.
This review is based on a set of Yen Press graphic novels purchased by the reviewer.