The Summer 2016 Anime Preview Guide
This Art Club Has a Problem!
How would you rate episode 1 of
This Art Club Has a Problem! ?
What is this?
Middle school student Mizuki Isami is a relatively normal member of her school's Art Club, but its other members are rather eccentric. Subaru, the boy she likes, is only interested in 2D girls and joined the club to practice painting his perfect waifu, the club's president is always napping (except when he's snapping illicit photos), and their fourth member Colette is regularly absent. Mizuki gets frustrated with Subaru over the way he dramatically alters her appearance when using her as a model one moment, and Subaru declares his intent to leave the club once he finishes a portrait of his “ultimate waifu” the next. This art club may have a heap of problems to work through, but at least there's never a dull moment after school! This Art Club Has a Problem! is based on a manga series and can be found streaming on Crunchyroll, Thursdays at 3:30 PM EST.
How was the first episode?
There's a very strange disconnect in This Art Club Has a Problem! When it comes to its fundamental narrative material, the show isn't really interesting at all. This first episode is constructed around one core dynamic and its repeating jokes - Usami likes Uchimaki, Uchimaki is only interested in his waifus, comedy ensues. There are a bunch of moments of Usami yelling at Uchimaki, plenty of moments of Uchimaki being a skeeve either towards Usami indirectly or about his waifus, and all the usual misunderstanding humor you get from a low-tier club comedy.
None of that actual narrative/comic material really did anything for me at all. There were some occasional good sight gags (Uchimaki walking down the aisle with a cardboard cutout) or funny lines, but the show leans very heavily on one joke that can't really support that much weight. On top of that, neither Usami nor Uchimaki come across as particularly rich or compelling people - Usami just likes Uchimaki because, and Uchimaki is the standard oblivious otaku. There's no chemistry between the two of them, which means the show lacks the sense of warmth that can often make low-key comedies work even when the jokes aren't so sharp.
But for all that, it seems like this show's team believe in it utterly. Director Kei Oikawa and his team at studio feel. bring this show's mediocre material to life with all the aesthetic care they can muster, elevating Usami's insecure feelings through purposeful direction, lovely color work, and tons of great incidental character animation. This isn't all that surprising, since this is the same team responsible for last year's phenomenal My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU 2, but it's somewhat strange seeing such thoughtful, intimate care of execution applied to material that just wholly lacks that show's equally fantastic writing. Usami is a totally one-note character, but that note is expressed with the care of a master craftsman, as shots focus on her insecure body language or capture the strained silence of the moment before she confesses to her crush.
Still, it's hard to recommend this show when the actual base material is so flat. If you're more a fan of club comedies as a genre than I am, This Art Club Has A Problem brings some uniquely impressive aesthetic chops to the table. But if “I like this boy, but he only likes waifus” isn't enough of a pitch for you, this is probably an easy skip.
I enjoyed this much more than I had anticipated. Rather than being what I assumed, another “cute girls doing cute things” show, This Art Club Has Problems is a story about middle schooler Usami Mizuki and her unrequited (for now) crush on fellow art club member Uchimaki Subaru…who is only in the club in order to draw his perfect 2D waifu. The other club members appear to be the perpetually absent Collette, whom we probably see in the opening and ending themes but never meet, and the club president, who sleeps on the couch when he's not taking creepy pictures of Usami. For her part, Usami isn't quite as normal as she seems or would like to be, which comes out in the fact that she only appears to draw apples. Seriously. That's all we see her draw and paint, including when she attempts to take Uchimaki's advice and anthropomorphize one. For his part, Uchimaki has a hard time drawing anything that isn't moe, much to Usami's dismay – even when she models for him, he turns her into some sort of adorable anime character.
What saves this from just being another zany club anime is that crush Usami has on Uchimaki. We're not sure how she fell for him at this point, because the flashback to their first meeting shows her being thoroughly unimpressed. Now she's just disappointed that he seems to mean it when he says that he only likes 2D girls…and yet he keeps throwing her bones. She models for him and he draws a character instead – but then he goes back and makes a real picture of her and gives it to her. He says he's going to leave the art club and she cries – and he decides that maybe he'll stay after all. He always phrases his reasons and compliments as liking “that aspect” of her, not Usami herself, but there's an implication that perhaps he does like her and is uncomfortable with the fact. If the series can maintain this hint of feelings on his part, and possibly eventually develop them, This Art Club Has Problems could turn into something both sweet and funny.
Not that the humor is laugh-out-loud at this point, but the episode really is entertaining. From Usami's appleman to her reaction to Uchimaki's initial club application. The club president is a bit more of a sticking point; his secret panty picture didn't sit well with me, and if that's going to be a habit of his, it could have a detrimental effect on the series as a whole. (Likewise the underwear scene in the opening is a little concerning.) On the whole, however, this is a cute half-hour with the possibility of developing into something a bit more. Here's hoping it becomes the pleasant surprise of the season.
I like the way This Art Club Has a Problem uses its premise as a source of humor. Where a mediocre slice of life comedy will rely almost exclusively on its characters’ outlandish personalities, a good one will also find the humor in whatever activity happens to bring those characters together. Some of the funnier moments in this episode come from Mizuki and Subaru actually sitting down and drawing something, and that's a good sign in terms of this show's ability to distinguish itself from the crowd. Mizuki's attempt at anthropomorphizing an apple is one of the better sight gags I've seen in a while.
As far as the more standardized character humor goes, the show seems competent if unspectacular. Mizuki generally ends up playing the straight man role by reacting to Subaru's antics, though there are a few amusing reversals where she loses her cool and ends up acting like the craziest person in the room. Not all of the jokes stick the landing, and a few routines rely a little too much on putting Mizuki in uncomfortable situations. Things ultimately balance out to more hits than misses, which is a decent result for a series that's still trying to find its comedic footing.
The episode's second half features a genuinely emotional moment that eventually serves as the setup for a punch line, and it's here that the show seems to get a little confused about what it wants to be. If the scene's purpose is solely to act as part of a joke, then it does too good a job of getting the audience emotionally invested in the characters. It seems kind of mean to laugh at characters we were sympathizing with a moment earlier, and that makes it harder to enjoy the comedy than it should be. On the other hand, that constant need to end on a comedic note will eventually be an issue if This Art Club Has a Problem turns out to have a genuinely sentimental side. I'd almost rather see the series just pick a direction and stick to it.
From where I'm standing, This Art Club Has a Problem is about half a step behind New Game, which seems to be its only competitor in the laid-back comedy niche this season. It looks like it has the potential to be funnier than New Game, but it lags behind in terms of tonal consistency. The good news is that both titles appear to have some promise, which should be encouraging news for fans of the genre.
So this looks like it's going to be a slice-of-life comedy series about the antics of eccentric members of an otherwise-ordinary club. Breaking the episode into two vignettes will, I'm guessing, be the normal pattern for the series, as the half-episode lengths of those routines felt about right. And since anime (and manga) has shown time and again that it can make entertaining comedies out of the antics of school clubs, I have no doubt that an Art Club will provide ample fodder for material. After all, Subaru's quirky laser focus on his particular type of artistic effort is amusing, especially how he can morph Mizuki into a fantasy girl, and the episode's best joke involves Mizuki imagining him marrying the cut-out of his ultimate waifu. (See the screen shot). Mizuki also seems to have her own obsession with drawing apples that will, no doubt, come up more as the weeks progress.
What was surprising about the first episode, though, was how straight most of its second vignette played itself. Mizuki knows she has no romantic chance with Subaru but still gets upset about his departure anyway, and that's not in the slightest played for a joke. Subaru, to his credit, realizes that she's upset about it (even if she doesn't voice it), although there's some implication that seeing her crying inspired him to a different artistic goal. Whether that's the actual reason he's staying or whether he's merely using it as a cover for staying for other reasons remains to be seen, but there might actually be a sincere story here, too.
Anyways, the fourth member of the club shown in the opener and closer, the blond-haired Colette, has yet to appear by the end of the episode – or has she? If you look very closely at the locker around 7:40 in the episode, you can see for a second or two that someone is peeking out of the locker near Mizuki, and it kinda looks like blond hair, too. Exactly why she might be in the locker at that time is not even hinted at here, and that sighting is not brought up again in the episode, but I'm curious to see what the explanation is for that. The artistry certainly isn't a problem, with studio feel. turning in in a quality effort on character design, general artistic, and animation fronts; Subaru's pictures are especially sharp. It does have some touches of fan service, but only very mild ones.
So is this going to be mostly a comedy or continue to mix in some serious content? That remains to be seen. Either way, it's off to a decent, mildly entertaining start.
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