As more and more dating sims and visual novels have gotten adapted into anime, the question of what makes a good adaptation frequently comes up. When I’m asked this, the title I most often mention is Comic Party.
I’m going to get into specific story details to express the strengths of Comic Party, so I’m going to be spoiling a good deal. Also, I have never played the original game, so while I am aware that a number of differences between the source and the adaptation exist, I do not know to what extent, aside from the very fact that the main characters seem to have been de-aged from college to high school.
Based on the dating sim by To Heart creators Leaf/Aqua Plus, the first Comic Party anime is not that different from a number of similar titles. A single guy finds himself surrounded by a variety of girls, including one childhood friend, one bespectacled jokester, one quiet girl, and so on, only this time the guy is a fledgling doujin creator and the girls are fellow doujin artists, cosplayers, and otaku. But what sets apart Comic Party from other dating sim adaptations is its approach to that single guy, that protagonist around whom the story revolves.
Kazuki, amateur artist, is introduced to the world of doujinshi by his enthusiastic otaku friend, Taichi. Although a rocky start, Kazuki ends up being inspired by a number of other doujin artists and eventually creates his very first doujinshi. A square-jawed violent tale of gangs and guns called “Not Hundred,” Kazuki’s isn’t exactly a crowd pleaser, but still manages to sell a few.
The joy of having his own artistic work purchased and read by others gives Kazuki a new determination. For his second attempt, he would do some serious research, learning what people wanted in doujinshi and how he could best incorporate all of it into a single work. Full color, twice the size (and price) of his first doujinshi, and featuring a big-breasted giant robot pilot as its main character, Kazuki was confident that his follow-up would be a smash hit, but failed to realize that in his attempt to make a big seller, his work lost its soul in a way that was recognizable to anyone who picked it up.
Feeling dejected, Kazuki abandons the world of doujinshi. However, with the help of the friends he made along the way, Kazuki is able to regain inspiration and draw again. Though his third work is rougher than the last two, even being made by xeroxing copies at the local convenience store, it is clear that his enthusiasm and spirit are stronger than ever. Kazuki learns what it means to be an artist of doujinshi.
Kazuki’s character is remarkable, particularly when you compare him to other dating sim heroes, where most protagonists of these adaptations are primarily viewer surrogates who act as guardian angels of sorts to help solve the problems of the girls around them. While this exists to some extent in Kazuki, what’s more important is that Kazuki has a significant character arc. He finds a goal, grows, falters, and recovers, and comes out of it a better person. I know that dating sim anime are not exactly where people look for anything more than wish fulfillment, but I was glad to have gotten an actual story and a much more active main character. This is also exactly the reason why I dislike Comic Party Revolution, as the anime went from being a tale of artists to just a nudge and a wink to the existing fans and an excuse to see all of the characters together.
Comic Party was also the first anime which introduced me to the concept of doujinshi (incidentally, also the concept of moe). It told me that doujinshi were comics created by fans for fans to celebrate the joy and love that comes with being a creator who sees himself not above his readers but as a peer. It wasn’t about money, it was about loving anime. And while I know that there are many doujin artists out there who do manage to work for profit, that doesn’t tarnish the ideal Comic Party presents.