Friday, August 21, 2015

Webcomic Review: Strays

Normally I try to use Webcomic Wednesdays to focus on currently updating series but since this series literally ends in a few weeks and I have such a backlog of comics that I wouldn't be able to talk about it regularly until nearly October, I'm going to be flexible here and explain why I kept up with this series for nearly six out of it's eight years.

Strays by  Samantha Whitten and Stacey Pefferkorn
Considering that this series ran for eight years it might seem strange that my first reaction to the author's notice that it was going to end a few months ago was "huh, already?" but that's what it was. A later author's note did help clear up some of my confusion, apparently when Whitten started the comic 8 years ago they thought it would be cool to have a comic that could end whenever, much to the frustration of their current self so this series has a rather open ending. Plus, the comic only updated once a week so it's under 400 pages so in manga terms that's only three volumes.

Funny enough, when I talked about Kiwi Blitz for last month's Webcomic Wednesday, I talked about how there are are some comics with a lot of anime/manga influences and some that are trying very hard to be anime/manga and I would say this series fits into that second category. The style of the early adventures in the comic, adventure romps with two wildly different characters that really have no bearing on later plot and only a loose connection to character development, feels like a lot of anime from the 90s that I've seen and if this comic was started in 2003 then that timeframe would match up perfectly. It also lacks the careful world-building that you see in American fantasy (and sci-fi) novels but again, having characters move through a setting without truly interacting with it feels a lot like some of the 90s adventure-comedies anime (which they themselves have a very different tone from the majority of the fantasy anime you see produced in the last two or three years). I could be completely wrong about this and it could be that these many tonal similarities are merely coincidences, however this was my first thought and I'm sure a lot of other people have a similar reaction.

I suppose I should give an actual summary of the comic at some point; it's a pretty simple premise where we have the lupian Meela who is orphaned and completely on her own and gloms onto the mute Feral, also a lupian and a bounty hunter who is not happy to be dealing with a kid following him around. It's a rather awkward dynamic and while the two of them do eventually "click" it's only after some other side characters are introduced and change up their group dynamic as they travel around. Sometimes they're traveling for Feral's work and sometimes because this is an adventure comic and people travel in those. The story never settles into a more serious tone but it does eventually cover Feral and Meela's backstory and the story really seems to end at the end of it's first "arc", where the status quo has changed and new developments are now possible. Just about everything else in the story is still rather unknown, we know the general background of some of the side characters like Holland and the names of a few places but that's it, I even had to double check and see if all of the characters were human-animal hybrids or if there were actual humans in the story! The answer is yes and I was left wondering, why? There is some magic in the story which could explain it but again, this is still the beginning of a story (in a long running manga I wouldn't consider three volumes too long for an introductory arc at all) so there was nothing anything you could even consider "world building" and some world building is necessary to every story! 

This is why this story is a bit harder for me to recommend. If you like the art, which is a very appealing, clean and shiny style that's neither too cartoony nor too anime, then reading this wouldn't be a bad way to spend an afternoon but if not I don't feel like the story is a strong enough draw on it's own. If the story ends up continuing then yes, I'll keep reading with it, a single page a week is hardly a huge time commitment, but I don't think this is going to be one of the webcomics I remember years from now and feel like rereading then.

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