It looks like yet another warm, relaxing anime about cute girls doing cute things. What's more, it is. It's funny. It's pleasant to watch... until it's not. It's a deceptive show. Mostly it's soothing and happy, but it also has a well-hidden core of failure, depression and self-loathing. The show's no downer, but occasionally an episode can be more challenging than you'd expect.
It's about manga creators. The world thinks they're ordinary schoolgirls, but they're pulling all-nighters, getting storyboards rejected and pleading with editors. This can be a depressingly solitary pursuit, but as it happens they're all going to be living and working together in a girls-only manga creators' dormitory. Need a friend? A shoulder to cry on? Someone who'll help ink your pages at 2am because you've got a deadline tomorrow? Theoretically this is a show of charming schoolgirls and fluffy comedy, but underneath all that is the hard world of manga professionals. Failure is definitely an option. Our heroines love manga, but so did certain older cast members who'd had a manga circle of their own when they were at school. None of those are manga creators now.
It's still a charming, funny show, though. There are four main girls (all colour-coded) and they're hugely supportive of each other, albeit sometimes in weird ways. They all know how tough it is. We have:
1. KAOS (pink, draws four-panel manga shorts) - a human wreck, with no confidence or self-esteem. She's never had friends before. At her worst, you'd think she'd been raised by wolves. That said, though, she's also determined, goofy and easily distracted. She's full of adorable enthusiasm for everyone else's manga. (She's also a not-very-covert lesbian who likes being around pretty housemates.) She's basically a happy, eager, funny person when being bolstered by her friends... but underneath she's worryingly fragile, with issues that will be speaking directly to a fair chunk of the audience.
(She's the audience identification figure for insecure, socially inept male otaku, basically. That's common in modern anime. However she's also an unusually damaged one.)
2. KOYUME (yellow/orange, draws shoujo manga) - often acts like Kaos's partner in cuteness and excitable senpai-worship, but she's far, far healthier. In fact, they're opposites. Koyume is happy-go-lucky and can make friends at the drop of a hat. She's the group's extrovert. (Some of her weaknesses as an artist are based on those of the creator of this series, by the way, since she did shoujo too.)
3. RUKI (purple, draws adults-only Teens Love manga) - the sensible one. Comparatively speaking, sometimes. She wanted to draw children's manga, but unfortunately she's got a mature art style and has ended up in a genre that embarrasses her. Kaos and Koyume will sometimes assume that she's a non-stop fountain of inner filth (which she's absolutely not), but she's also capable of being in denial about herself.
4. TSUBASA (blue, draws hot-blooded shounen adventures) - used to be girly, but you'd never guess from looking at her now. She's turned herself into a boy. She draws boys' manga, she often talks like her macho protagonist and she gets love confessions from girls.
Oh, and I must mention... 5. FUURA (black, draws horror manga) - looks like a J-horror ghost, sneaks up on people and enjoys the sound of screaming. She's a sweetie underneath, but she's got no social skills.
On one level, the show's the usual fanboy-friendly fluff. Men barely exist in this universe and there's lesbian attraction in all directions, despite Ruki having a bit of a complex about not having a boyfriend. We don't even see any male fans of Ruki's manga! (Admittedly she's writing romantic porn with a strong cross-gender appeal, but would they really all be women?)
At the same time, though, it's knowledgeable about its subject matter. I found it interesting to watch and, every so often, it'll have some really good advice. It's full of details and lived-in angles, so for instance Kaos is bad with pen and ink because she draws her art digitally. This makes her the weakest of the four at stand-in art assistance, which of course doesn't help her confidence.
Then, finally, we have the hidden reefs. Kaos's stuff keeps getting rejected. She's growing in confidence, yes, but this is a girl who doesn't think she even has the right to dislike food. The first half of ep.12 was neither fun nor comfortable to watch, in a way I admire.
It's a good show. It might look no different to a hundred other cute, lovable anime, but it's also very good at this apparently simple goal, being both funny and genuinely warm. I think its edge is what makes the gentler material feel stronger. The girls grow, with Kaos and Ruki both making significant progress during these episodes. I'm hoping for a Season 2.