The Webcomic Overlook #114: By Moon Alone
Among my fellow Philipinos, it’s hard to find people who aren’t anime fans. Yeah, yeah, I know it’s dangerous to make generalizations about a race or nationality as a whole. However, my family, my wife, my wife’s family, friends and acquaintances, people I know living in the country itself … everyone I know born in the Philippines after 1965 is to some degree an otaku, with some taking their devotion to embarrassing levels. (If you’re reading this site, Jansen… Naruto sucks! Grow up already!) I include myself among the anime-devotees, by the way. Several readers take issue with my 5-star review of MegaTokyo. I, however, flat out stated that it was the kind of story anime fans zestfully eat up like it was baby back pork ribs slathered in honey mustard sauce or something. I shall defend that review to my death. It spoke to me. It SPOKE TO ME!
As the laws of nature go, anime fans breed anime-style comics. The most notorious Philipino webcomic creator is Vinson Ngo, a.k.a. “Bleedman.” I’ve covered extensively on this and other sites. However, it should not be forgotten that there are other webcomic artists hailing from the Philippines. One is Honoel A. Ibardolaza, creator of the webcomic By Moon Alone.
By Moon Alone is a webcomic split into two different storylines. The first is set in a fantasy/sci-fi world that looks like it’s been constructed from hundreds of hours watching anime, namely metaphysical mind-benders like Neon Genesis Evangelion and RahXephon with a big heaping scoop of every Final Fantasy game thrown in. Two pixie-like kids named Sola and Lune wander a desert landscape that may or may not have been designed by Dethklok while wearing sassy, matching duds. Lune, for some reason, is also armed with a Tuning Fork of Doom, which apparently does some pretty epic damage.
On their journey to deliver Korath’s heart (whatever that is) to the temple (wherever that is), the two encounter a strange menagerie of beasties, such as a big monster with a gigantic scimitar, a tall mound of cloth wearing a golden mask, and a pack of spirit wolves. If that sounds exciting to you, I’m sad to say that it’s not. We’re supposed to take everything a something of Great Significance, yet everyone is at the same time needlessly cryptic and very unhelpful. As a result, I was confused more than engrossed.
For example, there’s a scene where the wolves were all pouncing on Lune, growling, “We waited for you Moon Child! … You will not deny us her spirit!” Lune wimps out, the wolves decide he’s not a Moon Child (whatever that is), and then they run off. And then there’s hugging afterwards. So… what just happened here? It was not exactly the most clear or most satisfying denouement in the world. I suppose it will clear itself up in the end, but the comic is on page 98 right now and I still have no idea what that wolf was talking about.
By Moon Alone later shifts focus to a very similar looking pair named Allegra and Ning, who are battling some sort of giant crab creature. These two are less friendly than our original pair, which, again, is something of Great Significance.
Even later we switch to something with giant robot marauders. Our pixie gal Sola is back, but is now wearing a golden mask that makes her look like a serial killer going with a Red Riding Hood theme. All these mysteries build up one after another with no answer given. Part of me is impressed that Ibardolaza is following a time-honored anime tradition: don’t tell anyone anything of what’s going on… at least not at first. Still, when you get zero answers, you start to get impatient. We have no idea why anyone’s motivated to do anything, and we’re not given many other reasons — such as, oh, having a personal vested interest in the character herself — to care.
The second story, paralleling the fantasy epic, takes place in the “real” world. We follow a boy named Daniel and a girl named Melanie. The two are sitting outside in a field when we meet them, and they’re putting together a play. And … what do you know! It’s our fantasy epic from the other half. Daniel is the writer while Melanie acts as his snarky Pauline Kael (i.e., his reviewer). She may also be his muse: despite Melanie looking about two or three years older than Daniel, there’s a hint of puppy love attraction between the two. (Curiously, Daniel also looks a lot like Melanie’s non-identical twin brother, a distinction I didn’t make until I checked the cast page.) Melanie, while generally critical of the overall narrative, congratulates Daniel for his crazy, original ideas.
I was originally going to call shenanigans on Melanie’s assessment. I mean … really? First, having one of your own characters say how crazy good the story is comes off as self-serving. Second, Daniel is clearly just cobbling elements out of every anime ever and isn’t being original at all. But then, I thought about it a little and you know what? It actually rings true. Think back to the stories you created as a kid. Chances are that they were also a pastiche of pop culture references, and most of the times they were things you saw on TV. And back then, you probably thought your stuff was pretty brilliant too. So, in retrospect, I was willing to forgive some of the languorous elements of the fantasy-world story by chalking it up to a kid’s bad taste. After all Ibardolaza seems to be doing this on purpose: Melanie makes the exact same criticisms.
I’m not forgiving all of it, by the way. There’s a duty to make the webcomic compelling for the real readers, too, which By Moon Alone‘s fantasy world still struggles to do.
What Ibardolaza does in the “real world” story, by the way, is far more interesting than has overstuffed anime world. And the fantasy world becomes slightly more interesting with the possibility that Melanie’s interpretation of it is her own Pan’s Labyrinth … a place to where she escapes in order to escape the horrors of real life.
So if you’ll give me a moment to wax theatrically: the real war being waged in By Moon Alone aren’t between pixies in fancy hoodies and giant robots. The real war… is in Melanie’s mind. (Whether or not this is the actual case is unconfirmed. Ibardolaza is pretty cagey about it.)
With each progressing chapter in the real world, Ibardolaza keeps pulling back the curtains until we get a fuller picture. Melanie, for example, starts the story as an insufferable and badly written brat who goes through some violent mood swings. Just like a real critic eh! (Nudge, nudge. Wink, wink) But Ibardolaza keeps our interest by pulling the curtain back a few inches at a time. He fills us in on reason after reason, and the reveals (which I won’t spoil here) are genuinely surprising. Now, to be completely honest with you, at least once the revelation feel kinda hokey, and another one felt like they’re outright cheat. But they’re things that I didn’t see coming from a mile away, and at no point did I think Melanie’s terrible life crossed over to the overly melodramatic. Some of it, in fact, felt like real hurts from personal experience.
Hurting the comic is the very stilted dialogue. Everything sounds like they’re spoken by one person … and that person is a very humorless librarian. Plus, several of the lines sound like they’re the anime approximation of what a real person sounds like. If it’s not his first language, then Ibardolaza’s English is great … but it’s not strong enough to write dialogue that differentiates one character from the other.
The art, on the other hand, is one of the best things about By Moon Alone. It’s full of meticulous and finely drawn detail. I especially love the little sun and moon trinkets hanging off the ends of Lune and Sola’s hoods. The muted, autumnal color palette is also quite nice, which work with the highly panoramic panels. Ibardolaza’s successfully draws several pages that depict characters dwarfed by vast landscapes and objects of incredible scale, imparting By Moon Alone with a highly cinematic feel.
Plus these characters have weight. Sola and Lune seem to glide with each step they take, while the real world kids feel more heavy and earthbound. The character designs, which use a lot of big oval eyes and 80’s-style haircuts, remind me a lot of Leiji Matsumoto’s whimsical work. The creature designs, on the other hand, evoke the unsettling combination of everyday and supernatural features that you’d find in a Hayao Miyazaki film. I don’t know if it was intentional, but it was nice to see similarities to their works when everyone else making manga-influenced comics seem to be imitating the Dragonball Z, Gundam, and CLAMP schools of art.
So while while the dialogue tends to mute any momentum and while the fantasy world is a bit of a drag, I’ve got to hand it to Ibardolaza for his storytelling ambition and his very attractive illustrations. I can’t fully recommend this comic because ultimately By Moon Alone is rather uneven and choppy, but you may get some visceral thrills from the incredibly lush eye candy.
Rating: 3 stars (out of 5)
Posted on March 18, 2010, in 3 Stars, action webcomic, all ages webcomic, anime, fantasy webcomic, manga style webcomic, The Webcomic Overlook, WCO Big Review, webcomics and tagged By Moon Alone. Bookmark the permalink. 12 Comments.