Thursday, August 6, 2015

Webcomic Review: Kiwi Blitz

Sorry for the delay guys, ended up having a much more full work day than I expected yesterday and wanted to make sure this review was actually coherent before I posted (which I'm sure everyone will grudgingly admit they prefer)

While I don't regret trying to review a webcomic every month, since I'm not worried about running out of comics to talk about anytime soon, I am starting to realize just how delayed all of my regular comic reviews are becoming now. Partially since I alternate them with movies/tv shows every week anyway, since I usually don't consume enough of either of those to have a full review each week, I'm really wondering if I should come up with a new plan so I can talk about even more, wonderful comics here....


  Kiwi Blitz by Mary Cagel

I come across a lot of webcomics online that have clear anime/manga influences and usually the more obvious the influence is (in either the plot or the art), the more unsure the comic seems to be. Those comics feel like they're having a hard time not simply aping other stories which is not a problem Kiwi Blitz has at all, despite being one of the few webcomics I've ever come across that you could maybe put in the mecha category which is Very Anime. Main character Steffi plays in real world fighting matches with these animal-shaped mechs and she's gotten a bit bored, lucky for her her father has modified her favorite bot into something a little tougher and now she's going to use it to fight crime! Her father and her friend Ben aren't sure what she expected but getting caught up with thieves, cyborg bank robbers, and a group that's half a club for people with animal modifications and half crime syndicate (who are also furries, it's actually not a front!) has certainly made all of their lives more thrilling! If that sounds like a lot then yes, it is, but the comic balances it all rather well. It's a story that reads a bit better if you read it in large chunks (if only because of the large cast size) but the story is marching along at a good pace, it's all tied together tonally, and not every group of adversaries is in play at once; Cagel switches them in and out which also makes them feel truly unpredictable with how suddenly someone from five chapters earlier can reappear and wreck havoc. 

As the story goes on it I noticed that the tone doesn't shift so much as Cagel seemed to be growing as a writer and was able to differentiate things a little more subtly. It's clear from the start that humor and snark are a big part of the comic but as time goes on, Stef's somewhat air-headedness, unintentional comedy feels a lot different from the snark coming from Ben or the often mean-spirited jabs that the adults toss around, it's another thing you notice more clearly if you read in chunks. Looking back, the writing in the first couple of chapters was a bit rough but the energy from the characters, and the story's willingness to embrace all kinds of weird setting details, helps propel it forward and makes it a fun read from the start. One reason it never feels like "this was clearly influenced by anime!" comic to me is this humor, it neither takes itself super seriously nor does it make jokes like "boy isn't our situation whacky!" all the time which are two approaches I see fairly regularly in these comics. The snark feels slightly more realistic in a way, Stef and Ben know exactly what world they live in ("we have super-villains but no superheroes") so they'll joke about how it's weird that they keep running into people with these weird animal motifs but it's trying to make the readers laugh with them at their situation, not laugh at them and this seemingly random thing they said for the unseen audience. 

To quickly touch on the art, I'm trying to get better about crediting everyone who's worked on a series but I'm stumped on what to do here. Grace Liu did the pencils for tracks 17 and 18, but not the subsequent ones because of work, so I'm not exactly sure how to credit her but I will say that I really loved what she did. I was unsure of her art style at first but it grew on me after just a few pages since she draws everything so dynamically so it looks like every character is constantly moving, either in a fight scene or just fidgeting with small body language. I have to admit it was a little weird at first also because, as a reader, I tend to think of the initial drawings as the "real" art of a comic, even if Cagel was still inking, coloring/shading, and providing both the script and rough thumbnails for each page. Part of this is because I read mostly webcomics, where a single artist covering every role is very common, and manga where the artists will have assistants but they're never credited on the title or copyright pages. And having Liu draw these two chapters really made me think about how I viewed all of this which was a nice side effect, I really do wish she had the time to continue working on the comic because her fun style complimented the rest of the humor wonderfully. Not that Cagel's own style isn't fun, the rounded edges of her designs somehow make the mundane and the silly mix together very well and her color holds everything together fantastically. In a way the comic feels more like what I would see out of an indie game than a comic with how the bright colors give it a kid-friendly feeling but it's an all-ages story instead. 


And if you're already familiar with Kiwi Blitz, Cagle has another comic called Let's Speak English! about her life in Japan and the kids she teaches (which is less "Japan is weird!" and more "my personal life is odd/the kids I teach are the greatest") and she does the colors for Clique Refresh which is one part real-life, young-20s drama and one part online gaming fun (it's not quiiiite working for me right now since it just doesn't update frequently enough for a dual storyline, get it up to three times a week and then it might feel more connected and coherent). Currently you can't buy copies of the book since Cagel is in Japan but she has mentioned that she plans to make collected editions, larger than the previous ones, at some point in the future and I'm going to pick up a copy for myself for sure!

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