Any seasoned anime fan has watched their fair share of middle school and high school romcoms. It’s a staple of the medium to the point where it’s evolved into a lame joke among anime fans: “And OF COURSE they are in high school because ‘anime’…” is a tired phrase about a tired topic and maybe that’s why I found myself using “This Art Club Has A Problem” A.K.A. “Konobi” as my go-to fall-asleep show the past couple of weeks.
But that’s unusual for me, as I typically find shows that revolve around a do-nothing school club to be somewhat irritating. The fact that they have a cast of standardized characters with an over-reliance on one-note personalities and ridiculous misunderstandings between those characters for comic fodder can be infuriating…and all of that is present here. So why didn’t I hate it? Why did I put on a perfectly predictable episode to fall asleep to?
Well, from the moment I started watching my expectations were tempered. The first episode is not narratively impressive. The episode’s introductory three minutes set the bar for the rest of the show.
Light piano music plays us in as slow panning shots establish the setting and time, a middle school art club room late in the afternoon. The flitting light beams of the sun and illuminated dust particles drifting in the hallways already set a calm, grounded tone. Then a young girl named Misaki begins a monologue describing herself and her friend Subaru. At 49 seconds in she trails off and the first comedic juxtaposition of the series occurs. We see that Subaru is drawing an anime girl which we can tell by her cat ears and huge moe-styled eyes, an art style in direct conflict with the more realistically rendered fruit drawing of our our straightforward female protagonist. It’s slightly unexpected and strange, which makes it mildly funny if you can buy into the idea that the show’s anime-styled characters and the in-universe artwork of Subaru are different, despite their obvious similarities. Then we transition to the opening, which shows off the main cast of characters with childlike imagery – twinkling stars and characters smiling as they running across the screen. There are also some otaku pandering shots thrown in, and it’s all backed by energetic poprock. If all this bare bones analysis feels patronizing then stay with me, I’m going somewhere with all this. At two minutes and 26 seconds we are back to the show, now with the most cut-and-paste goofy flute and xylophone BGM to reinforce that this is a school life comedy. Subaru questions why Misaki is mad at him for drawing nothing but cute fantasy girls and she blushes. Ah yes, the first misunderstanding! Misaki thinks Subaru may be catching on to her romantic feelings for him. But that isn’t the case. It’s funny because she protests fervently and that’s cute and he’s clueless and that’s also cute! In addition she destroys his painting and that that adds lighthearted shock humor! Unless you’ve seen a hundred iterations of these jokes already. We are now just over three minutes into episode one, including the opening. And we can now move on with our lives and forget this show entirely, because nothing has been particularly special about these first few minutes, and nothing will be for the rest of this entire anime. The characters have been on model with a fairly generic anime aesthetic to them, the jokes have been boiled down to their most commonly practiced iterations, every facet from camera perspective to sound direction has has been perfectly middling.
In the first episode, the main cast is established. The protagonist is an incredibly average middle school girl named Usami, who has very little interest in anything extra ordinary. There is an upperclassman who likes to sleep his days away on a couch in the Art Club room – nothing deep there, his name isn’t even important. And of course we have an otaku artist who is completely self-absorbed in drawing his fantasy waifus, and cares about nothing else. It’s all exceeding overused, yet somehow feels peaceful.
The main setting is also established: a Middle School Art Club room. Boring and peaceful.
And we already talked about how the main conflict is established: Usami is in love with her otaku friend Uchimaki, but he doesn’t realize this as he is absorbed in a single-minded quest to draw the perfect 2D waifu. I call this the main conflict and not the plot, because this is not a plot. This show doesn’t really have a concrete plot, I mean, each episode has it’s own episodic plot. But the whole story is just meandering through school life in a boring but peaceful manner as school and outside life events happen to the characters. And I think to some extent that is what life feels like when you are as young as these characters are – it’s as though things just happen to you instead of you making things happen.
Middle school is like autopilot compared to adult life. You just don’t have the same concerns. Impressing your crush and hanging out with your friends seem like the most important things in the world. You aren’t worried about how you are going to get a job, pay your rent, accomplish tangable life goals, or even shop for groceries. And I think this drives much of the slice-of-life school genre in anime. It’s about capturing the illusive feelings of youthful detachment from the constant worry that comes with adulthood. An ephemeral state of being that comes with having the set constants that living at home with your parents and attending school provide.
And to do a story about this stage of life in film, certain tropes and story beats are often utilized. Many of these typical slice-of-life school club genre trappings are present in Konobi: romantic misunderstandings, heavily quirk-reliant character writing, token senpais and kohais, an indulgence in blissful youth, occasional school events to create the illusion of forward momentum in the storyline – if you’ve seen more than 3 of this type of show then you get the idea.
And if you can buy into a teenage mindset then you can enjoy these shows. When you are relaxing and winding down to sleep like I was when I watched Konobi, it’s easier to accept the childish worries of 13 year olds as endearing if not all that legitimate.
But none of that is interesting in the context of a story with no plot. What I’m getting down to is that there’s no real reason to watch Konobi. Art is all about communicating a message. Exploring ideas and feelings. The reason we enjoy art is because we can connect with it. The way this show dances around issues and avoids any big ideas by being vague and generic is only useful to let me wind down so I can sleep. So I can avoid mental stimulation and recharge my brain for more important cognitive functions tomorrow. This is “turn your brain off” material at its finest. And that’s not a compliment. A better title for Konobi would have been “This Adolescent Art Club Has An Insignificant Problem That Will Never Be Addressed In The Anime, All While Avoiding Anything Else Thought-Provoking In The Slightest. What could be more affirming as to why these characters and the way they are presented is embarrassingly tired and stale than me literally falling asleep while watching? If I want an interesting show set in school that simultaneously celebrates and lampoons its setting I can just watch Kill la Kill. If I want a show set in school with more believable romantic misunderstandings and better hyjinx comedy I could put on an episode of Monthly Girls Nozaki-kun. There are countless other examples as well. Konobi has no merits I can’t find done better elsewhere in anime. This art club is not interesting. It’s embarrassingly bland. And you don’t need watch it.
VasA’s Twelve Days of Anime, Day One: I have a problem with This Art Club Has A Problem!
This post is part of the The Twelve Days Of Anime
, which is an event where over the 12 days leading to Christmas (the 14th to 25th of December), Bloggers and YouTubers share 12 impactful moments they had relating to anime during the year.