First of all, I recently did another podcast with the guys (well, one of the guys) of the Five Point Podcast, talking about a recent favorite of mine: Kill La Kill.
Five Point Podcast Episode 57: Kill La Kill... by fivepointpodcast
On a more topical note, not all the otaku manga are just about consuming otaku media. Sometimes it's about otaku creating that media, a subject that should be near and dear to any mangaka's heart. So why does this one feel just as soulless as most of those about consumption?
COMIC PARTY (Kommiku Pati), by Sekihiro Inui. First published in 2001, and first published in 2004.
Kazuki Sendoh is a kid with a talent for art. It's this same talent that draws the bizarre yet gregarious otaku Taishi to him, so that Taishi can shanghai him into drawing dounjinshi for Comike...er...Comic Party! Even as Kazuki's childhood friend Mizuki haunts his every step, scolding him for getting involved with a bunch of weirdos, Kazuki learns that he enjoys the process of creating doujin. As he falls deeper and deeper into the culture of Comic Party, he meets all sort of new friends whose own works and work ethic only serve to inspire Kazuki even more.
I was initially very confused by this manga. Oh, I wasn't confused by the plot or anything like that. I was just confused as to how a story about artistic passion could be so stilted and dull. Then I learned that this series was based on a ero-ge, and then everything started to make sense.
As befitting the lead of a dating sim, Kazuki is hopelessly bland. Weirdly enough, though, he seems to have no interest in the numerous girls that surround him. Each of them is a paper-thin stereotype only strong enough to support one or two otaku-pleasing quirks, sure, but for all their dubious charms Kazuki remains as chaste as a priest. The only passion he indulges is for creating doujin, and even he exhibits all the excitement one would have for folding the laundry. Maybe that statement is unfair to Kazuki, because he's surrounded by people whose enthusiasm for doujin is so strong as to be comical. The most obvious example of that is Taishi, whose enthusiasm for the subject verges upon the theatrical. Still, he is the one who drags Kazuki into the plot, and it is his over-the-top monologues that keep Kazuki going, because this kid doesn't even have the force of personality to pursue his own modest success. That to me is the most damning thing about Kazuki, that he requires others to keep him in the plot.
Taishi's opposite is Mizuki, and she's the closest thing to an antagonist this story has. Like every other woman in this story, she's a walking stereotype, this time of the tsundere childhood friend. She regards all things otaku-related as bizarre and perverted. While this is not a completely unfair accusation, she takes things a bit too far. It's to the point that she has a running gag where any non-Kazuki otaku that approaches her gets hit with a giant, nail-studded, bloody bat. I suspect they were going to slapstick humor here, which would be appropriate for an over-the-top series like this. It's just that when the end result is seeing an otaku in a bloody heap, the comedy element is lost, and it becomes shockingly cruel.
The biggest problem with this series - bigger than the milquetoast lead, or the otaku checklist girls, or the inappropriate humor - is that the series as a whole feels disjointed. The humor never quite clicks with the harem elements, and there are a lot of visual gags that I suspect are pop-cultural references that are never given any sort of context. Worse still, the translation takes it upon itself to insert "topical" jokes of its own. Thus, we have characters talking about things like how something "reminds me of the Slipknot concert back in Japan." That line in particular make things REALLY confusing, because it implies that this story ISN'T taking place in Japan. Are they supposed to be in America then? Is this just bad translation? I DON'T KNOW. Ok, it probably is just a bad insert joke as part of a greater problem with a bad translation. Nonetheless, it's symptomatic of Comic Party's larger issues. This series is confusing, half-hearted, painfully funny, and completely devoid of the passion for manga that it's supposed to espouse.
I guess it goes to figure that a half-hearted story like this one should have equally half-hearted artwork. The character designs are pointy, flat, and hopelessly generic. I swear the only thing that distinguishes half of these girls are their different hair styles. The only character design that comes closest to eye-catching is Taishi, and I suspect most of that is because he seems to be borrowing Vash the Stampede's spiffy looking sunglasses. Otherwise, everything on the page is notable only in how unremarkable the art is. It's ironic that a series that's meant to be about how making manga is hard work and driven by passion, because there is no effort or passion to be found in this art.
I just do not get this series. It's boring, confusing, and a giant visual mess. This isn't a Comic Party - this is a Comic Disaster.
This series was published by Tokyopop. The series is complete in 5 volumes. All 5 volumes were released, and all are currently out of print.
You can purchase this volume and many more like it through RightStuf.com!