The Webcomic Overlook #194: Mystic Revolution
No one really talks about RPG/MMORPG webcomics, even though I’ve encountered, literally, a poo-pile of them. 8-Bit Theater. Darths & Droids. Order of the Stick. Erfworld. The Noob. Ding!
Maybe it’s because the source material is not easily categorized. I mean, there’s debate going on whether MMORPGs (or, as Yahtzee Croshaw calls ’em, “muhmorpergers”) are even games, since they’re really more about tedious grinding and chat room socializing. So it feels really weird to call an MMORPG webcomic a “gaming comic.”
Then there’s the whole dual nature of RPGs where characters often are two characters. There’s the character of the person in the game, which is usually a fantasy race like an elf, a dwarf, an orc, or a bard. And then there’s the flipside… the character in real life. Can the writer reconcile the fictional fantasy life with the real world? It’s not impossible. South Park‘s World of Warcraft episode, I think, did a good job portraying the stakes on both sides.
Many comics choose to ignore the duality. Not Jen Brazas’ Mystic Revolution, where the role-playping aspect is called out continually. Does it work as a webcomic? Let’s find out.
Mystic Revolution is set in an anime-themed MMORPG. (It’s called “Mystic Revolution,” but to avoid any confusion between that and the title of the comic, I’m just going to refer to it as “the MMORPG.”) I assume that it’s a feudal setting, what with the swords and the pagodas, but there’s a really annoying character walking around wearing a sailor scout suit so I don’t know. Maybe that was downloadable content to make your character seem as annoying as possible. (In which case: mission accomplished.)
Our main character is a feisty warrior named Lourdes. Like other stereotypical anime redheads, she is nigh indestructible and short-tempered. She is also one of those characters who acts butch all the time, and when she finds a guy she likes, she acts mean to him because she’s too socially arrested to display her affections in any normal means. She’s so butch that she actually says things like: “See, the problem with girls like that is they believe in this myth that some guy is going to com galloping along his White Horse and they’ll live happily ever after. But the world doesn’t work like a girl has to learn to take care of herself.” Man, that’s totally not wordy and cliche.
She also likes to drink. Wait … is there an in-game algorithm that triggers bar dancing after a character reaches a certain alcohol limit? In that case, can we blame the programmers of this MMORPG for not knowing how a drunk acts, and instead had to crib scenes straight out of Slayers?
So, anyway, the object of her affection is a dude named L33t Ninja, who … ugh … talks in leet-speak. Oh, God. Remember when that was a thing that was kinda cute and not, you know, wretched? He’s also a “ninja jedi.” This basically means he grabbed a light-saber, which was a joke weapon introduced in the game, and managed to wield it so well he turned it into an art. Silly moniker aside, I actually liked this character development.
Lourdes and Ninja are supposed to be this kinda shy couple that are too shy to reveal their true feelings for each other, so a lot of the early goings is some back-and-forth will-they-or-won’t-they stuff… and I. Am. Not. Buying. It. One. Bit.
Look, I get young love, etc. etc. etc. but there is nothing in Mystic Revolution that can convince me that there’s any attraction between Loudres and Ninja. It’s so forced. It doesn’t help that neither character has any personality whatsoever beyond “strong and annoying” and “just plain annoying.” And you can’t use the excuse that this is a light-hearted comic aimed at preteen girls as an excuse. I have read manga and watched anime where the bashful love story has worked well. Ranma and Akane. Keitaro and Naru. Rick Hunter and Lisa Hayes.
With Ranma and Akane, for example, Rumiko Takahashi sets up a sweet progression where Ranma, while acting aloof and all the time, slowly feels more and more responsible for Akane’s happiness. Akane, though aloof herself, does notice and appreciates Ranma’s efforts. So when the first rival — Tatewaki Kuno, I think — arrives on the scene, Ranma’s jealousy is believable, even if Akane never was going to fall for the guy. This is probably unfair — Ms. Takahashi IS a master of melodrama, after all, and the first part of Mystic Revolution seems to have been written when Ms. Brazas was either in her pre-teens or early teens. However, the success of the first half of Mystic Revolution pretty much depends on the reader buying into the two being a couple that was destined for each other. They feel mismatched more than anything. I’m given no reason why a competent warrior like Loudres would respect Ninja, who is at times useful but hardly as skilled as any of the other characters in the game.
I mean… damn, Loudres, I may not like you, but you can do a hell of a lot better than a leet-speaking gamer!
Anyway, they get joined by a bunch of other stock adventure characters. There’s some stoic badass guy who’s kind of a jerk but is the sort of guy every gal falls for in anime. There’s the Puritan, bi-curious elf girl. There’s the tempestuous goth girl, who is also a cat. And then there’s the annoying cat girl, who was created to pretty much piss me off all the time. Seriously, all she has to do is say things like “Kawaii desu” all the time, and … oh. There’s probably a bunch more characters, but so many are brought up at the same time that it’s hard to keep track of them.
There was a pretty recent “Half in the Bag” v-log where Mike and Jay go to something called No Brand Con. It’s a convention that revolves around anime. In a running gag, Mike tries to work up enthusiasm for the event, but within seconds of talking it up, he’s on the floor, passed out. Later, there’s a fantastic montage, set to “(I’ve Had) The Time Of My Life,” where Mike is photographed around the convention, with his face fixed in an emotionless, fifty-yard stare.
What I’m trying to say is that Mike is basically me reading this webcomic. I just wanted to sink down, first to my knees, and then flat with my belly on the floor until I was nothing but a lifeless husk.
Mystic Revolution completely acknowledges that it’s all a game. There’s talk about spawn points and logging off. When player characters die in fights, there’s a little handwringing afterward before rationalizing that the killed character probably respawned somewhere on the map.
And yet, there are flaws to this approach. It’s revealed in one chapter that Lourdes models her character after her appearance in real life. Why? Because her opponent’s attacks are based on crippling her ego by making fun of the size of her chin. That insult wouldn’t work unless the avatar bore some resemblance to the real world appearance. But… why is this even in his arsenal in the first place? Wouldn’t Loudres be the exception to the rule? I mean, who makes an online avatar look like themselves unless you were completely 100% comfortable with his or her own appearance? Don’t most people either construct an online character to be an ideal beauty or intentionally goofy?
Then there’s the relationship drama. Ninja gets all mopey, because, in an unfortunate bit of bad luck, he walks in on Loudres as she’s forcibly kissed by her old ex-boyfriend. OK. I’m not sure that’s possible in an MMORPG. Is there a macro you press to force yourself on someone? Ninja sulks a bit, and can you blame him? To this point, we’ve established that Loudres is a badass, so having her stand limply as she slinkily arches her back on a nearby beam so her ex can get in some hot French action sorta implies that you’re not really resisting. Gothgirl, sensing an opportunity, decides to after the vulnerable young man. One thing leads to another, and, before you know it, they’re in bed together. Ninja feels ashamed, and Loudres, when she finds out, feels betrayed.
OK. Why? I mean, we are dealing with avatars, right, not the real actual people behind them? I understand the concept, but why all these drama over characters who are basically virtual dolls for people back home on their computers? If Ms. Brazas wanted us to get invested in the emotions of her characters, the whole MMORPG aspect probably should’ve been ditched altogether. Otherwise, it seems like every character in Mystic Revolution is mentally diseased … with the exception of Gothgirl, who seems to be reveling in the whole “this is not the real world” aspect of things.
(If I were so pressed, I would admit that, yes, out of all the characters in Mystic Revolution, Gothgirl is probably the best one.)
So, for the majority of the first part of Mystic Revolution (which is Chapters 1-13 and span about two years worth of archives in real time), our characters are, for the most part, just hanging out in this bar and acting like excitable children hopped up on snickerdoodles. Or Pocky, more likely. They flirt, mope, and crack really lame jokes. They also like to out-random each other. Oh look, a penguin in a top hat! Isn’t that cheeky!
Eventually, we’re introduced to our main nemesis: Machiavelli. Like Sherlock Holmes’ villain, Professor Moriarty, she is the one who was responsible for all of Lourdes’ problems to this point. Yes, it was SHE who sent the sexy bishie to seduce Lourdes so she could break up with Ninja! (No, really.)
Lourdes gets recruited by an admin to take Machiavelli down. It turns out that Machiavelli isn’t just ticking Lourdes off… she’s pretty much been ticking off the higher-ups as well. Machiavelli is also an admin, and she’s been abusing her power to the point where the game has been not very fun for a lot of gamers. Lourdes is a former admin herself, and not only that, she’s one of the most accomplished players in the game. If anyone can take down Machiavelli, it’s her.
The next stage of Mystic Revolution kicks off with a tournament. The comic basically morphs into YuYu Hakusho… specifically that rather endless season where everyone was in a stadium doing power-ups and pretending they were in an episode of Dragonball Z or something. I mean, there’s even a version of that show’s anthropomorphic announcer gal. The setting has now shifted primarily to a gladiator stadium, with rabid fans and intrusive video coverage. The works.
Is this how MMORPG’s work, by the way? That thousands of online players willing play the monthly fee to sit their avatar’s butts in an event that they can’t really participate in? Doesn’t that somewhat defeat the purpose of an immersive fantasy world where you can go on adventures beyond your imagination? Is the purpose of an MMORPG to be a couch potato role-playing another couch potato?
This, though, is where Mystic Revolution kinda picks up the pace. There’s still a mess of characters. And most of it does boil down to “this guy” fights “random jobber.” However, the comic does settle down into a more cohesive structure. The fights are imaginative and well paced. The character designs of all the new opponents are generally fun. I, for one, did enjoy the battle between Gothgirl and an angelic archer, which involved a lot of high-flying acrobatics and arrow fusillades. Each fight does hove their moments, and they actually do a better job at character development than all the emo hand-wringing from earlier chapters. However, the endless fighting does tend to drag after a while… like it does in YuYu Hakusho, really.
Ms. Brazas’ artwork improves by leaps and bounds during this arc, which is one of the reasons I think she was brought into Keenspot alongside more polished comics like Skullkickers, Wayward Sons, and Avengylene. The characters get new, more attractive outfits that showcase Ms. Brazas’ new artistic proficiency. I was especially happy that the annoying cat girl is finally out of that stupid Sailor Moon cosplay. And Ms. Brazas shows some great talent in some of her random filler, which uses a design flair that I wish were incorporated into the comic proper.
Recent stuff, though, regrettably seem over-stylized: full body figures don’t seem to be correctly proportioned, and the faces have become over-elongated. I appreciate that Ms. Brazas is trying a style beyond those in a standard anime template. However, I think there’s something a little off with her current style.
Ms. Brazas heroically tries to maintain continuity with a comic and characters that she wrote 8 years ago. A comic that is very, very silly… forgivable if you’re a kid, but increasingly clunky to hold on to as a maturing artist. Here’s the thing, though: at the pace this tournament arc is going, Mystic Revolution won’t wrap up for a very long time. And frankly, I’m more interested to see where Ms. Brazas is going next than folowing the adventures of a cast of rather poorly developed characters.
Rating: 2 Stars (out of 5)
Posted on February 28, 2012, in 2 Stars, action webcomic, adventure webcomic, fantasy webcomic, manga style webcomic, The Webcomic Overlook, WCO Big Review, webcomics. Bookmark the permalink. 17 Comments.