What do you get if you cross Lucky Star, with Sketchbook ~Full Colors~ and Hidamari Sketch? Answer: Enough slice-of-life to entertain a small army of otaku for a few hours, and, apparently, GA: Geijutsuka Art Design Class.
This latest offering to the gods of plotless slice of life anime follows the day-to-day lives of (surprise, surprise) a group of five schoolgirls. Much like Hidamari Sketch before it, Geijutsuka’s setting is a specialist design school, although, in contrast to its predecessor, this series takes a much more concentrated look at the art world. The series offers an odd combination of educational content and the standard wacky antics of any comedy anime. The show bounces back and forth between somewhat informative subjects like the basics of pictograms, how to improve your photography, and a brief history of surrealism and more inane sketches such as the adventures of the ‘Irodorangers’ – an artistic incarnation of the Power Rangers.
As someone who spent four years of her life studying in an art college, the more didactic side of the series amused me. Small details, such as sketching with soft pencils only to find that the side of your hand has gone black, make me smile because it’s something I’ve done a thousand times before and can relate to – and yes, bread can actually be used as a makeshift eraser when drawing with charcoal. Additionally, I want to know where these girls get their putty rubbers from; stuff that stretchy looks far more entertaining than the stiff things I use.
Most slice of life series are relatively slow-paced and, when well executed, it can have one of two effects: it will either encourage the viewer to marathon the entire anime in one sitting, or each episode leaves you feeling so distinctly satisfied that you savour it over a longer period of time. Sadly Geijutsuka doesn’t incite either of these reactions. While the lethargic nature of gentle shows such as Strawberry Marshmallow or Sketchbook ~Full Colours~ actually adds to their inherent charm, the madcap Geijutsuka merely feels sluggish by comparison and never manages to draw you into its world. As a result the series doesn’t get the chance to shine as much as it could.
In keeping with the artistic theme of the series, Geijutsuka occasionally employs some appropriately creative imagery that gives the impression of having been drawn with a crayon or painted with watercolours. This often appears as an abstract background or illustrates a story as told by one of the characters. I find this a nice little touch that adds extra creative flair to the show without being intrusive, garish, or out of place.
Aside from that, the series’ character designs and animation are relatively standard, and while they are in proportion to the rest of their bodies, I’m not a fan of the stubby hands that each person seems to possess – how can they draw with fingers that tiny?! Graduated shading also adds a softer quality to the visuals, which nicely accentuates the show’s cheerful atmosphere.
Geijutsuka is one of those series that deems it necessary to fill every moment, of its twelve episode run with music. The score of any anime should aim to intensify the mood or set the scene, and not just simply serve as background noise – especially not the kind of racket that is reminiscent of someone repeatedly banging on the keypad of their mobile phone. Unfortunately Geijutsuka opts for the latter producing a cheesy and, at times, unnecessary soundtrack that would be perfectly at home in a Harvest Moon game.
In any episodic show with zero ongoing narrative, it’s pretty safe to assume that none of the protagonists will develop from their first appearance, and in this respect Geijutsuka doesn’t disappoint. Such is the standard of this genre, each character fills a certain role and never deviates from it. Noda, as the ‘weird one’, instigates most of the fun and wacky events that surround the girls, while her partner-in-crime, Tomokane, steps up as the series’ energetic tomboy. Namiko is the token normal girl who, more often that not, acts as the ‘tsukkomi’ to Noda and Tomokane’s ‘boke’*. Kisaragi takes on the role of the archetypal naïve ditz, complete with massive glasses and kitty fetish, and Kyoujyu fills in as the quiet, mysterious one who never smiles.
None of these personality traits are unique by any stretch of the imagination. Sharing practically the same name and a worryingly similar haircut, it’s no surprise that Tomokane feels like a regurgitation of Tomo from Azumanga Daioh, while Noda is very much like the non-otaku version of Konata from Lucky Star. However, in spite of following this familiar recipe, Geijutsuka’s cast is ultimately likeable and entertaining to watch.
The key to fully enjoying Geijutsuka is to have some interest in art and design, since that’s the only unique selling point. While I’ll still happily – and relentlessly – lap up any similar offerings of the sort, the whole cutesy schoolgirl thing has been done to death, though few anime place such intense focus on the world of art as this. Sadly Geijutsuka’s greatest asset is also its biggest weakness and, consequently, it creates a niche market for itself. Anyone with even the faintest curiosity about the creative world may find this series charming; others would probably do best to find another bevy of wide-eyed schoolgirls to satiate their palette.
* A popular form of comedy in Japan, called ‘Manzai’, consists of two performers – the ‘tsukkomi’ (straight man) and the ‘boke’ (funny man). The straight man often berates or corrects the funny man’s various misunderstandings and antics.
The students of the Geijutsuka Art Design Class study all the various fields of art, from sketching and painting to graphic design and photography. While the mischievous Noda is always thinking up new ways to have fun with her partner in crime - tomboy Tomokane - the ditzy Kisaragi is content with doodling cats in her sketchbook. With Namiko attempting (and failing) to keep the energetic duo in line, the quiet and mysterious Kyoujyu seems happy to observe the odd behavior of her classmates. Whether they are transforming a congealed lump of paint into a sculpture of a pudding, playing ‘color tag’, or making thought collages, the gang live their life to the max through both their friendships and their art.
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While I like a variety of different genres, if you give me comedy or slice of life, I'm bound to be happy – and if it's dark humour, all the better! I'll review whatever takes my fancy at the time, and whether you agree or disagree with my opinions, feel free to drop me a line.