By Satoko Kiyuduki. Released in Japan by Houbunsha, serialization ongoing in the magazine Manga Time Kirara Carat. Released in North America by Yen Press.
I can't imagine how fierce the competition must be at Houbunsha to find the next new 4-koma hit... given that most 4-koma have to all obey certain rules, at least the ones I've seen. "This group of girls are music students!" "This group of girls are teachers!" "This group of girls are sparkly vampires!" All of which are different, but share a similar mindspace: are they teenage girls? Are they cute? Are they funny? If so, they can be Ninja Pirate Zombie Robots for all we care.
The girls we see in GA happen to be art students at a school devoted to the Arts in general. They're in the Art section, which is division A (B being music, though sadly it does not contain the girls from K-On!). They are a band of five; our naive and clumsy yet sweet heroine; the 'big sister' tsukkomi girl; the hot-head who speaks and acts without thinking; the eccentric weirdo; and the emotionless deadpan genius. This being Manga Time Kirara rather than Asuka, together they do *not* fight crime. Instead, they go about the daily life of art school, learning about layout, lettering, textiles, illustrations for advertisements and the like, and so forth. There's far more color pages in here than in most manga; of necessity, as so much of the talk relies on the colors we can see.
There's a lot of fun humor here, which is what you want in a title like this. Nothing laugh out loud hilarious, but several moments that make you smile. I liked the spontaneous organization of a haunted house in the class, and found it refreshing that it didn't stem out of a culture festival like all other manga. It's also good to see the topic of art is a constant focus; there is the occasional mundane chatter about favorite types of cake, or girls being sick, but mostly it's about their art, and the jokes come out of that, be it trying to please an unpleasable teacher with fashion designs, or visiting a museum to try to 'get' modern art. Even the non-art strips are a bit different than most high school 4-komas; the girls are learning etiquette by getting tea ceremony training (our heroine is the best at it, but also the most clumsy.)
I also appreciated the fact that we see other students being just as strange as our heroes. Frequently in series with eccentric girls at school as the leads, we find the other students around them being depressingly normal and boring, sometimes staring in disbelief at the antics of the wacky group. Here in GA, the 1st years may be our focus, but frequent attention is paid to the third year girls, who have a different group dynamic but can be just as bizarre; in fact, the president of the Fine Arts Club, Awara, may be crazier even than the crazy girls in first year! (I loved when Noda, the flakey one in first-year, is walking around with a bunch of boxes on her head with faces drawn on them. As she staggers blindly through the halls, everyone thinks she's Awara.)
There is not particularly any character development here - the most we get is in the final chapter, when Kisaragi (our sweet heroine) goes to see Professor (the stoic one) to drop off a sketchbook, and Professor reveals she's already engaged to be married to a guy she's never met... and that she's feeling very ambivalent about the whole thing. Not only does the old Japanese tradition of arranged marriage feel out of place in a series about goofy art students (and deliberately so), but Professor is the one girl who's always calm and emotionless amongst the chaos. Seeing her depressed is very odd (Professor even notes that it's not like her), and I wonder if the arranged marriage plot will go anywhere in future installments.
We have now 'caught up' with Japan in this series, as Volume 4 is not out there yet. The series is still running in its magazine, but as with most 4-koma series, it takes a while for new volumes, as the chapters aren't as long as your average manga series. Still I'll wait for the next one, as it's fun spending time with these weird yet fun-loving art students.