GA: Geijutsuka Art Design Class, Vol. 7

By Satoko Kiyuduki. Released in Japan by Houbunsha, serialized in the magazine Manga Time Kirara Carat. Released in North America by Yen Press. Translated by Sheldon Drzka.

At last this 4-koma series devoted to both the study of art and the usual ensemble of cute girls has come to a close. You can tell it’s wrapping up by the final selection of color pages. In past volumes they’ve discussed color palettes or periods of art in history. Now we see how art can become a career, and how difficult it can be to make a living at it. Of course, our main cast are still first-years, so they won’t be graduating. But the secondary cast, including Awara and her best friend Mizubuchi, *are* graduating, and are beginning to realize that their future paths may not rely on them always being together as they have in the past. And what’s more, what’s to become of the Art Club?

There is, of course, still stuff to teach, as we learn with the girls about art patrons, and how being a designer means listening to your client as well as your muse. We get some backstory for Usami, the cute and insecure teacher, and we even manage to work in a love confession. (No, it wasn’t a yuri confession. Like manga Manga Time Kirara series, there is a level of yuri you can walk up to but not quite walk past.) Some are having trouble moving forward, like Miyabi, who has oodles of talent but whose future has been somewhat set in stone, so it’s difficult for her to fantasize. (This, naturally, leads to a dream sequence, which has been a common motif for GA volumes.) And some are wary of taking that big step, like Awara, who has an opportunity for a big art career move… but it means not going to college, something she finds rather difficult to confess, and we see why as it leads to a big fight.

Awara also has to decide what to do about the art club. She could give the club to the second years, but they’re clearly there to make up the numbers – none of them really understand WHY you would want to have an Art Club in a school that’s already devoted to art. Naturally, we do know one person whose love of art is strong enough that she would be the perfect successor. The scene where Kisaragi figures out what it is she wants to do going forward, and asks to join the art club, is one of the best in the whole series. And, because none of her friends would dream of letting her do this by herself (they all admit they’d be reluctant to join if it was any of the five of them EXCEPT her), they’re able to make up the numbers as well. We even get a look at the next generation, as the girl we saw during the last summer vacation seems to be on her way to becoming Kisaragi’s new kohai.

I know this series got a bit of flak over the years. It was too similar to Sunshine Sketch, or it prevented the artist from drawing the more critically acclaimed Shoulder-a-Coffin Kuro. But I felt its combination of art education, cuteness, and character moments was just right, and it always filled me with a warm, sunny feeling. I can’t recommend it enough.

GA: Geijutsuka Art Design Class, Vol. 6

By Satoko Kiyuduki. Released in Japan by Houbunsha, serialization ongoing in the magazine Manga Time Kirara Carat. Released in North America by Yen Press.

As ever, one reason that GA is probably my favorite “4-koma about girls in a school setting and their daily lives’ manga is the art school setting. Art pervades the entire title, and we get explanations of art history each time by the cast, who are trying to understand it themselves. This volume it’s the periods of art history, ranging from the Ancient Greeks to the Renaissance to Baroque and Rococo periods, with each represented by a cast member in the appropriate pastiche. If a point needs to be made that falls outside the scope of modern life, we can have the cast members having a dream, which Kisaragi (typically) does at the start, and Namiko (far less typically) does later on. The characters’ eccentricities drive the comedy, but art drives the plot. (Such as it is – this is still a 4-koma at heart.)


Speaking of the characters’ eccentricities, this series usually has one chapter per volume that takes a closer look at quiet, reserved Miyabi, and this one is no exception. When asked to identify student’s artwork from a random selection, hers is the first they pick out, because it’s the best. As we discover, she’s been talented her entire life, but getting told that she’s good in everything she does has become somewhat meaningless to her, to the point where she seeks out advice from a teacher. Miyabi has a lot of other issues North American readers don’t have to deal with (her impending arranged marriage, for one), but I think many will feel for her here, and be intrigued by her obsession with the color black, which has mostly been used comedically in the past. Of course, it’s Kisaragi who ends up pulling her out of her funk – the two have the deepest bond among the cast.

The other chapter that really caught my eye was the one that traveled back in time to 1972, looking at a period when the school’s fashion department was separate from the art school. We see five students – who of course look amazingly like our own cast, but with different names and slight variations – dealing with their own issues, mostly revolving around current trends in fashion. They try to imagine what the school uniform will look like in 2014, and come quite close to Kisaragi’s own uniform. This odd time machine-like chapter is one reason why I never really get tired of GA despite its comedy antics – there’s always a new perspective on things.

There are also typical school plots here, though done with an art school touch. In the athletic competition, they have to create art to be used, and one boy overdoes it with a giant paper mache crane (which ends up, by various wacky events, becoming more of a riceball). The best gag here is probably the relay race and its resolution, which relies on family resemblance. Towards the end we have the school festival, where Awara and her art club members are pulling out all the stops in creating a 3D art exhibit, and rope in Kisaragi and her friends to help. It’s nice to see the groups, which rarely interact within the series, coming together like this – something lampshaded by Awara herself.

The usual caveats apply – if you don’t like 4-koma comedies with lots of one-liners and cute but eccentric girls, this will not change your mind. If you do but are a bit tired of the sameness, give GA a try. If nothing else, you’ll learn about art.

GA: Geijutsuka Art Design Class, Vol. 5

By Satoko Kiyuduki. Released in Japan by Houbunsha, serialization ongoing in the magazine Manga Time Kirara Carat. Released in North America by Yen Press.

As I have mentioned before, there are an awful lot of 4-koma series coming out featuring a bunch of eccentric, yet cute and lovable girls around high school age. Indeed, most of them are also being put out by Yen. And yet I’ve always enjoyed reading GA the most, particularly as it rewards detail-observant readers. There’s a lot going on here, not least of which is how much this series has taught me about art. And about how to draw a panda properly.


Actually, much of this volume takes place over the summer break, meaning we get the opportunity to observe the girls outside of the school environment. (Though this does mean we get less of the ‘B’ cast, i,e, Awara and company.) We even get to see a couple more family members, particularly Namiko’s sister, who turns out to be the sort of aggressively good at everything big sister that would drive Namiko insane (which is indeed what happens). We also get a brief view (back only) of Noda’s gorgeous big sister of legend. The siblings in GA tend to show off a lot of that ‘we can’t stand each other, but love each other deep down’ dynamic you like to see in comics like these.

The ‘art’ parts of the volume focus on the four seasons, and how you get your piece to show off what spring means, or summer, etc. This includes several examples of works that do precisely thins, both Western and Japanese, so you can go to Google and look up paintings like ‘Autumn in the Village’ by Marc Chagall or ‘Beach Baskets in Holland’ by Wassily Kandinsky. The art actually helps you to understand the girls better, as you see how they might see the world, and what kind of canvas they want to create with it.

The girls, by the way, are exceedingly cute here, as you would expect. A trip to a summer festival is enlivened by a fox spirit briefly taking the place of one of the girls (Kisaragi being Kisaragi, she goes to the fox shrine the day after to thank them for having fun with the rest of the girls). A trip means postcards, which the girls hand-draw, and discussion of how to balance picture and words (it also shows Namiko and Noda talking about getting married one day – sorry, yuri fans!). Perhaps the most poignant chapter shows Noda unknowingly showing up for school the first day of summer break, and having lunch while pretending her friends are there around her. Noda surrounded by people is the best Noda, I think we all agree.

As ever, if you’re looking for a deep manga with a lot to say about the human condition, this isn’t the one for you. It’s a 4-koma about cute high school kids, and no amount of praise from me is going to change that. If you do enjoy this genre, however, GA is fantastic, balancing humor, cuteness, and an appreciation of art, even if you aren’t artistic. It doesn’t come out very often (it’s caught up with Japan), but is always recommended.