Not a Villain

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Original review author: Izzus
Webcomic name: Not a Villain
Author: Aneeka Richins
Start Date: October 10, 2010
End Date: Ongoing.
Genre: Post-Apocalyptic, Sci-Fi
Defining Flaw: The main premise.

Rating Summary
Art: Variation.gif

I give this a fluctuating score because the art quality fluctuates between competent, shit, and ultra shit.

Storyline: Wiki.pngWiki.png

The saving grace for that two out of five is that the underlying story is more interesting than the main one.

Characters: Wiki.pngWiki.png

Mopey hackers, not-so-mopey hackers, insidious corporations, and tragic victims everywhere. At least they're tolerable, and it's not impossible to relate to one or more of them if you're willing to suspend your disbelief high enough to rival the Petronas Towers.

Miscellaneous Details: Wiki.png

SECOND LIFE DOES NOT MAKE A FUCKING GOOD SETTING FOR A STORY.

Overall: Wiki.pngWiki.png

The focus and premise of this story are entirely in the wrong place.



Background

It was on the to-do list. To be honest, it's probably not as bad as they thought, but that's like saying breaking an arm wasn't as painful as you thought it'd be.


Downfall

This one is a bit peculiar for Not a Villain. See, the downfall occurred before the comic even began, when the author decided that she should focus mainly on her Second Life clone rather than the more interesting aspects of the world she created. It also means that we're forced to slog though miles of horrible anime art rather than the competent stuff, which only appears every few dozen pages or so, and only for brief instances.

Story and Plot

At a QA meeting in Aneeka's brain:
"In the grim darkness of the future, there is only a pay-to-win MMORPG.
Wait, that's seriously what we're going with? Fuck this, I quit."
-Logic

Okay, take the technical aspect of Ghost in the Shell, mix it with the setting of .hack//Sign, then add a dash of Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within for the world. That's this comic in a nutshell. In less concise terms, the world ends because some hacker decided, for motives which have yet to be explained, that she would destroy the world by turning its robots on the humans. Or perhaps it was to rule the world? It's never made clear which one it was, since both are stated as her goal. This also somehow involved supervolcanoes, and resulted in every single hacker in the world being vilified (to the point where people actually want to kill them) despite the fact that ethical hacking exists to oppose malicious hacking. How she did this is by taking out the... Army? But not the rest of the military. You know, because the Army is the one with all the technical know-how and they're prepared for a full scale cyber attack, not the Air Force or the Navy or the Coast Guard. And apparently there's only one Army in the entire world.

Now she wants to make amends, not by using her vast computer knowledge (apparently there are enough working computers in the post-apocalypse for there to be a MMO game) to rebuild what she destroyed, or taking out the corporations which are obviously totalitarian in their rule, but by playing the author's version of Second Life and risking getting caught. Or, at least, Second Life with Oculus Rift support.

Yeah, so the majority of the comic takes place inside of this game. We hardly ever get to see the world outside of it, where all the interesting things happen. Most of what this comic details are the alternate, virtual lives of a few dozen of the game's inhabitants, all of whom seem to be doing more interesting shit in the destroyed wasteland of their world. This premise somehow survived all "what," "why," and "how" functions of the author's brain, thus seeding a forest of questions. And you know what? If the author fucking focused on the world outside of the game she'd have probably answered all of them by now. If you so choose to enter the eye of the hurricane, I suggest you brace for impact.


  • Where are the servers?
  • How do they power the servers and computers? Can't that energy be better utilized for more constructive purposes?
  • Why does everyone want to play this game instead of rebuild society?
  • How do they transmit power to people's homes, or maintain a solid network connection if there's a bunch of forbidden zones?
  • If there are forbidden zones, someone must have made them so. Who did it? The government? Tyrannical wasteland overlords?
  • How do isolated people know where the forbidden zones are?
  • Why do they value a MMORPG more than books, chess, conversation, card games, art, and so on? Are these things somehow more valuable in their virtual form?
  • How are outsiders able to live if they can't scavenge outside without choking, or getting burns and cancer?
  • In fact, this raises all sorts of other questions, like how can their equipment survive the solar winds?
  • If people can survive in those conditions, and if they do use the game for books, chess, conversation, card games, art, and so on because those things don't exist inside the safe zones, couldn't they scavenge for the real life equivalents?
  • If they can't survive in those conditions, what's to stop people from creating new ones in real life?
  • If people just use the game for human interaction, what happened to VOIP, SMTP, videotelephony, and other communications protocols as dictated by the IEEE 802.1 standards?

Now stretch out, take five. There's even more to come.
Ready? Good.

  • Did I forget to mention that their entire economy is based on this game?
  • Who the fuck decided that it was a good idea to place the entire stability of your market off of a service which could crash at any minute? (Reminds me of something else that's hilariously broken.)
  • Why do they have the resources to keep the servers running, but not the resources to build more Oculus Rifts? What happens when they all break, does the economy implode?
  • If the economy is based off of this MMO, how do the people who run this game make a living?
  • The people in the cities are the only ones forced to pay a subscription to play, and they all pay for things like food and medicine with the game's currency, so do the people who run it have to play the game too?
  • If the game costs money for citizens, why not charge for outsiders so that the economy can thrive? Why not put them to work?
  • If the economy isn't based off of the game, why can people use its credits to buy shit?
  • Since their currency is digital in nature, what's preventing people from fabricating new credits outside of the game and then laundering them by creating a dummy account?

It's stated that people can be forced into financial destitution if they don't make enough money to play. Not only that, but it's also stated that the kids are the ones who make money while the parents work on the farms, and the corporations only let the kids play if they keep making that money. In fact, the only featured people who are older than thirty, so far, is some old dude and his wife. And so:

  • Are the kids the only ones who make money in the game?
  • Why can't adults make money off the game too?
  • If people make money off of the game then they're allowed to keep playing the game, so why don't people just release some success guides in order to saturate the game with successful players? Wouldn't that show the corporations that their system is flawed?
This avalanche of questions just won't stop flooding my aching brain...



While reading this comic, it did nothing but bring up questions in demand of an explanation to the faulty premise. The idea of people using a game as a method of escapism in their post-apocalyptic world is interesting. The idea of focusing the comic on that game is not, but I get it. The author wanted to allude to the world outside of the game. That still doesn't explain why there are segments which take place outside of it. In fact, those segments are the sole reason for any discerning individual to read this comic, because they're far more interesting and answer more questions than any segment which takes place inside the game. This is because of all the information proposed to the readers inside of the game so far has been mostly about the game, not the very interesting post-apocalyptic world we hardly ever get to see. The author clearly focused on the wrong aspect of her story. Even a 50/50 split between the real world and the game would have worked, but no, it's more like 95% game and 5% real world. And since her version of Second Life is never going to be as interesting or informative as the setting needs it to be, it's likely that most readers will be bored or confused 95% of the time when they actually bother to think about what they're reading. When doing world building, what do you think a reader would prefer:
People doing nothing but talking about the world you so desperately want to see?
Or-
People living in the world you so desperately want to see?

Art review

2-078.png

Shit, look at that! What the hell is wrong with the author? Why is she not capable of drawing with that level of competence all the time? Granted, it's still not on the level of a professional, but seriously? Whenever the comic takes place outside of the game, the art actually doesn't have a physically painful effect when you look at it. The author offers a reason for this, though:

There are three settings. Each has its own art style to differentiate themselves (style noted in the parentheses).



  • L.i.F.e- (simple with minimal shading)

The virtual reality everyone relies on to interact with others. It’s been up about 2 years before the story starts. Art Style: Rather plain and simple.

  • The Game- (detailed with cel-shading)

A mmorpg (massively multi-player online role playing game) that has become the main entertainment for everyone. You either play or watch it. Watchers subscribe to watch their favorite players and players try to do whatever they can in order to get viewers. If you don’t get a certain amount, you’re kicked out.

  • Reality- (complex with realistic shading)
Normal real life, or as normal as it can get after the world ends and you can’t go outside and must stay inside protected areas.

Hrm, see, there's a problem with that. Something really teensy tiny and not really all that important, but:
Just because the detail is minimal doesn't mean you have to make it look like you ralphed all over your tablet.

That's not even how cel shading fucking looks. Compare:

K7navcomparison.jpg

Did the author even bother to practice drawing cel shaded things? Note how in the Killer 7 picture the lines are organic, they're emboldened in some places and thinner in others. The shading is composed of one, maybe two colors at the most. In Not a Villain, there are only simple outlines and the shading is sometimes nonexistent all together. This catastrophically atrocious pseudo-anime style is the very reason the comic's art is absolutely shit. Does the author sketch the damn thing in the least? The faces are almost always lopsided, and most of the time, the eye gestures don't make sense. Sometimes the eyes are open, sometimes they're closed, and the author seemingly does this at random, giving no context for why the eyes look the way they do. If the author just bothered to stand back and take a look at her art, she'd see that the anatomy is the equivalent of a cheese grater for your eyes.

God damn dots.

She wants to make it look like a cel shaded video game, so maybe she should practice drawing cel shaded video games instead of a manga influenced style. I mean, look at the image to the right. In that overhead profile shot the people are dots. Motherfucking dots. And what's worse is that she's actually acknowledged that this is bad in the mouse-over text for one of her recent strips. So rather than taking a break and saying "Hey guys, I need some time off so that I can make my art not suck." she's keeping to her schedule and just expecting it to be okay. Here's a hint: it's not. If you value pleasing your fans more than the quality of your comic, it usually tends to get you into a heaping pile of shit. Like this comic.

While the paneling flows well, a lot of the exposition takes up so much page space that you can barely see the people who are speaking. The author doesn't like to show, so she tells. And tells. And tells. And tells. It actually makes sense, because when she shows, the characters are stiff like a cardboard cutout. No, wait. That's too forgiving. Cardboard cutouts have more life to them than the movements of these characters. The movements of these characters are like argon: Inert. Flavorless. Can not support life.

But let's not forget about her version of what code looks like, yellow scribbles! Yup. To hackers, code always looks like yellow scribbles, not lines upon lines of clauses, functions, and numbers. This isn't minimal detail, it's minimal effort. The only excuse I could find for the art is that the comic takes place in a video game, so it makes sense for why everyone has sameface.

Nothackinghacking.jpg

Writing review

The author's ignorance of computer and network technologies, combined with the fact that the comic is focused on a thing which uses these technologies, creates an environment full of holes. For instance, this page describes how different camera angles take up different amounts of bandwidth, and setting it so that people can only use one will reduce strain on the bandwidth. The thing is, the strain of bandwidth results from how much data is being transmitted by the server to the "client", which is the computer receiving that transmission. In any game that communicates with a server, bandwidth cost is impacted by how much of the visual can be created with resources on the client side and how much information must be transmitted for the client to update the visual.

If the game's setup requires someone download your avatar and any of the game's assets they don't already have, the visual is entirely generated on the client side after a one-time download cost. This means the strain of displaying camera angles would also happen entirely on the client side. On the other hand, if the server generates all visuals on the fly and then streams them (for some insane, unfathomable reason), the bandwidth cost is still the same for everyone looking at it. In graphic programming, "camera angle" only refers to the position a visual is rendered from. It does not include the resolution, palate size, or encoding, all of which actually impact the total amount of data that will have to be transmitted (bandwidth and throughput) in order for to someone to stream it.

In either scenario, the amount of bandwidth resources spent are the same regardless of popularity of the person being watched. Since all of the people potentially watching you are already using the same server bandwidth to see anything at all, it's irrelevant how many of them choose to keep seeing you. The only time your bandwidth would matter for other people to see you is if the game was using a peer-to-peer system, but this comic clearly stated many times that the game runs on servers.

Compare with this page, which says that color is expensive to include. This page would have been a better place to say that it takes up (minimal) bandwidth, but instead, the author implied that color is more expensive to code than wire frames, models, textures, and general game mechanics, indicating that MS Paint was more expensive to create than the video game MadWorld (again, a cel shaded game which the author could use for reference). So in this world, color is more of an expense to code than camera angles, and constraining your camera angles takes less bandwidth than color.

I can actually give the author some credit for being able to write dialogue which isn't cringy. The problem, though, is that she makes everyone mopey all the time. It gets annoying very quickly, and while the main character has shown some development toward resolving this, it just keeps popping up and makes the development come full circle. I'll admit, after the apocalypse, it probably wouldn't be the happiest of times, but as pointed out before, nobody's looking toward the future or trying to rebuild. They're all focused on playing some shitty game. The way the author could improve upon this slow development is with a life changing event, or perhaps an epiphany of sorts. It doesn't even have to be the main character, any sort of major character development would help to dredge this story up from the well of artless progression.

A good example of how this kind of development was done well was in the comic book The Walking Dead, with the character Hershel. (Spoilers ahead for those of you who are new to the comic, skip to next paragraph for the next point) Being a devout man, he believed that the zombies were only sick people, and kept them in his barn. When confronted by the escaped barn zombies, he is dramatically shown that they are not people anymore. Once hospitable, he is quickly turned hostile toward his guests due to having had to kill his children, who were zombified. His emotional stability declines so rapidly that, in the end, he literally begs for death. This kind of character development could really perk up the story quite a bit, but since it takes place inside of a MMO game, it would only come off as silly because it's just a fucking video game. Really, any kind of drastic character development would, because when you take a video game seriously, it can ruin friendships and make you into an easily angered fool. Consider it a reason why the author made a poor choice in setting.

She could also try to include someone who's actually trying to fix their world and keep their head up, maybe by making the forbidden zones habitable. Or, perhaps, we could get a view of independent communities of people who don't feel the need to play the game, and take a look at their views on both it and the corporations. Maybe even someone who's actually fighting the corporations, or someone in the corporations who is trying to improve them. Better yet, there could be a surviving corporation who just denies the game all together, and has established a city with a barter system or something. But all this would involve focusing on the world outside of the game. And lord knows, we can't have that. It would answer too many questions and build the world more efficiently than our isolated window from inside the game. There is no world building to be had there. Do we even get so much as a little segment where the main character stops for a second, logs out of the game, looks at the state of the world, and in a rush of anxiety goes "My God, what have I done?" People could have drug addictions. There could be terrorists who want to destroy whatever technology is left. But, no. The world isn't being explored, just the MMO game. The author created a great world setting, but failed to flesh it out.

Some kind of focus on character motivation would also be nice. All we have for the main character is redemption, but her motivation for causing the apocalypse, and even the details of the apocalypse are not elaborated upon. Her motivation for redemption is pretty much because she killed her ma. The details of this are not elaborated upon. Her friend's motivation is getting money so that they don't unplug her life support. Her condition is not elaborated upon. There's a blonde haired guy who works for a corporation. Apparently he's looking for the main character, but his relation to the corporation is not elaborated upon. He also has a buddy we see regularly through the comic. His buddy's motivation is not elaborated upon. There's some dude who goes by Sasuke, and he's supposedly a main character, but he only appears in the comic once and you can count the amount of times he's mentioned on one hand. His motivation is not elaborated upon. The corporations, from what I can tell, only care about money instead of pushing forward. Their motivation for this is not elaborated upon. There is an artificial intelligence called D, and it works for the main character. Its motivation for this is not elaborated upon, nor is the prospect of whether or not it's sentient, which is a missed opportunity for a very interesting plot point. Every single background character has no more personality than a straw man, choosing conformity over thought, because apparently everyone who isn't a main character is only there to make you side with the main characters. Their motivation for this is not elaborated upon. Do you see a pattern here? The motivation of every entity in this comic is incomplete, yet at the same time simple to decipher. How the author did this I do not know.

Honestly, I don't hate the author when it comes to dialogue (except in the case of a character called Bloody Mary, who is supposed to be insane, but actually just seems to have nothing more than anger issues, the source of which are not elaborated upon). What she needs to work on is world building, having the story make sense, guaranteeing answers to questions a reader may have, and she needs to educate herself at least a little on the topics she tries to write about. This means moving away from the shōnen angle with the game and focusing more on the world. When I read a post-apocalypse story, I want a post-apocalypse story. Not a damn manga story about a MMO game. Do you hear me Aneeka? Move away from the shōnen angle with the game and focus more on the world. The world you built is the interesting part of your fucking comic, not the stupid fucking MMO game. You aren't writing for .hack, you're making yourself out to be a hack.

Author biography

Aneeka is addicted to storytelling and can't wait to share them with the world. So says her one-sentence biography, anyways. Makes me wonder why she's restricted her comic to the boring part of the story, but I digress.

She has written a book called The Wanted Child, which is about some chick who becomes a demon warrior thing so that she can save her parents. Then she has to train a dude to kill her. The blurb raises more questions than the plot of this comic, but I'll have to live with it because this comic really made me disinterested in Aneeka's works. Interestingly enough, it seems as though the main character for this book is very similar to the main character for this comic. Raises the question of whether or not Aneeka writes these stories as self-insert wish fulfillment. She seems to have made her internet footprint small enough to keep the question in the air, so at least she's intelligent in that regard.

You can view her writing process here.

Conclusion

When you have nothing but questions, it's only okay so long as you hint toward the idea that there will be some sort of answer. While reading Transmetropolitan, you get the idea that every question will be answered. While reading Irredeemable, you get the idea that every question will be answered. While reading FreakAngels (a much better post-apocalypse webcomic, go read it now), you get the idea that every question will be answered. All three of these comics give you hints, making you ask questions like "who was that?" and "what's this event that people keep talking about?", and they build the world in a very entertaining and engaging way which keeps you wanting more. Not a Villain does the opposite. It isn't to say that this comic doesn't give you hints, but it usually just leaves you hanging and frustrated, where you ask questions based on something you're aware of rather than something the comic is aware of, and it's difficult to care about what's happening because there's no engagement to be had.

The comic is only worth reading for the few parts which take place in the actual post-apocalyptic world. The game, rather than being an offshoot of the comic, takes up the majority of it. The people in Not a Villain's world absolutely adore this game. Computers survived, so there must be other video games to choose from, but apparently this one is the one which everyone chooses to play, so much so that the entire economy couldn't survive without it. Seriously. Come the fuck on. What rational individual would take a video game that earnestly? People make fun of those who do for a reason, you know. But, suddenly, we're supposed to expect the entire world to fall head over heels for this thing as though it were the last source of clean water on Earth? I can't imagine, in this post-apocalyptic world, that nobody is trying to rebuild. Maybe they are? Bah, who knows. I doubt the author even knows. We're never going to get enough of a glimpse outside of the game to find out.

Aneeka is really really fucking misguided when it comes to writing post-apocalyptic stories. This comic does not have undeveloped plot points, it has a hurricane of plot holes, and the entire premise is bullshit. Who the fuck ever wanted to read a post-apocalypse story that isn't about the post-apocalypse, anyways?

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