Saturday, July 17, 2010

Megatokyo Volume 6

By Fred Gallagher. Originally released online as a webcomic here. Released in North America by DC Comics.

As always, the Megatokyo reading experience is very much a two-step process. First you read the strips as they're posted online, getting the immediate gratification combined with the slow, frustrating process of waiting days to occasional weeks for the next strip. Then, every blue moon or so, you get a book collection released, and re-read them all in one gulp. There's less impact as you already know what's going to happen (the "Stop teasing me!" scene must be epic for those who hadn't seen it online), but you gain even more, as a lot of the complex plotting and characterization makes much more sense when you're taking it all in at once.

Most webcomic reviews, especially ones as long-running as Megatokyo, note how the art improves with successive volumes, but it really bears mentioning here: Fred's art has *really* improved. The shading brings out a lot in a strip that used to have huge whitespace all around it, and there's plenty of background gags that I didn't get the first time around, rewarding multiple re-reads. (My favorite is taking down Ed in the Cave of Evil: I'd seen Erika's elbow and the Tetris block, but I'd missed Boo's mini-bombs till this collection.) It's a handsome strip now.

It is also, one must say, a bit overly complex. As always with most fan-oriented works, it's a good thing that Fred lacks a brutal editor for these strips, as I suspect at least two of the 80 gazillion subplots seen here would have been cut out. Same with a Japanese serialization. (Fred's strip has been licensed in Japan by Kodansha, apparently, although I'm not certain if it's still coming out there. I suspect were it serialized, Young Magazine or Shonen Sirius would fit it best.) This does, admittedly, reward re-reads, but it also makes them required, which is not necessarily a good thing, especially as the series is now over 1200 webcomics.

Of course, I mostly read Megatokyo now for the characters. Amusingly, my favorite keeps changing as the series goes on. Initially, I was most fond of Miho and her goth loli shenanigans, then Largo and Erika's romance drew me in, now I'm enjoying following the adventures of frustrated normal girl Junko and Magical Thief Saint Yuki. All of these people, needless to say, get some wonderful moments here. (As does seiyuu Kimiko, though she's verging on becoming a Mary Sue at some points. Still, that's after a low ebb in previous books, so maybe she's due.)

Largo in particular has come miles from the start of the series (though there is still debate as to whether his direction is a good thing), and I love his interaction with Erika. Several side glances and stammered remarks show you that this relationship is *not* taking place in Largo's imaginary fantasy band camp, and that he *is* trying to make it work. What's more, Erika gets that. The scene where she uncuffs him after finding the results of his chaos (and checking her voicemails) is beautiful.

Miho's development is a major part of this volume, and I feel bad that the fact that Chapter 9 and 10 being put out together means readers miss the impact of what happens at the end of 9, which was an incredible stunner when it came out. However, that's OK, as we have the even more stunning personality shift at the end of Volume 10. We still don't really have an explanation as to why Miho suddenly seems a lot more blushy and normal, although I do wonder if it has to do with Junko and Ping's putting pictures on the 'Net to alter her image to her fans. Definitely looking forward to this even more in future chapters.

And then there's Piro. Now, I will admit that Piro has come a LONG way since the start of the series. I used to want him to fall in an open sewer and die, and I no longer do. He's still the most frustrating, but that's just because his character development is taking the longest. (And, admittedly, because his character "type" is not one I like in my Japanese manga leads either.) In any case, he does get some nice bits here (his refusal to storm into Kimiko's presser to give her "support" was very well done), and does balance out a lot of his ineffectualness elsewhere. Hopefully this will continue even more.

Lastly, I want to note the bad guys Dom and Ed. In a series that got its start as a series of blatant self-inserts, it's rather stunning to see how incredibly evil these two are. Ed is slightly less effective, mostly as his complete psychosis is more loud and obnoxious than actually evil. (He's very much Largo's dark self, while Dom is Piro's.) But Dom is almost terrifying in his smirking manipulation, and willingness to do anything for Sega, his 'parent company' (who hopefully don't mind Fred portraying their employees as evil). Ed is there to get his ass kicked, but Don's plans are still very much unknown. I look forward to more.

This is manga influenced, and certainly has a ton of shout-outs (Saint Tail only being the most blatant), but I'd still say its sensibilities are definitely Western. It's also, despite what detractors might say, managed to keep its balance between romantic escapades and wacky cartoon action-adventure lunacy without one overtaking the other. This volume is a horrible place to start, of course; you'll want to begin at the beginning. But for those who've been following along, this volume will not disappoint. Plus he actually finished the art.

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