Parasite Galaxy

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MrYuk.gif WARNING: This webcomic will nauseate many readers. This can be for a whole slew of reasons, including graphic depictions of gore, grossly unappealing depictions of sexual behavior, offensive descriptions of sexual abuse, and so on. In any case, this webcomic (and maybe even this review) is not for the weak of stomach. MrYuk.gif
Original review author: SmashLampjaw
Webcomic name: Parasite Galaxy
Creators: "Atsuuikakura" (owner, writer, and colorist) who I will be referring to as "Atsu"
Philip Kuriawan (pencils and inks)
Mojofilter (character designer)
Cluedog (character designer)
Hahli1994 (character designer)
Start Date: May 11, 2013 at 4:29 AM
End Date: On-going
Genre: Science-Fantasy Horror, niche manga
Defining Flaw: INCONSISTENCY



Rating Summary
Art: Wiki.png Wiki.png

The art is loaded with problems, mainly with perspective and spatial consistency. There's a lot of room for improvement in the execution, but the imagery is original (as far as I can tell), varied, and well-suited to the genre.

Storyline: Wiki.png

Interesting concept bogged down by over-complication and storytelling gaps.

Characters: Wiki.png Wiki.png

Flat characters designed to appeal to weeaboos, many of which seem to be warped versions or subversions of manga archetypes. That said, I'm giving Atsu credit for consciously making original characters in spite of this handicap.

Horror Potential: ParasiteGalaxy Bloody Hebiko.png ParasiteGalaxy Bloody Hebiko.png ParasiteGalaxy Bloody Hebiko.png ParasiteGalaxy Bloody Hebiko.png

Atsu gets it. Yes, this comic is a mess. Yes, this review of it is mostly negative. Nonetheless the creator actually understands the imagery you need to hit an audience with and the kinds of confusion you need to inflict to make good existential horror. You can't just tell people how to do that; they have to internalize it themselves, and most people don't. It makes me believe Atsu could produce something great if s/he improves as a writer.

Overall: Wiki.png Wiki.png

This is not a good webcomic. It is plagued with inconsistency at all levels. Yet... I can't shake the intuition that if Atsu discards the bad habits, focuses the comic better, and reboots this thing, it could be something greatly disturbing in a good way.



Background

Does the fact these are robot parts make it less creepy or more?
I was looking for a webcomic to review and spotted an ad for this on Top Web Comics. It was listed as an experimental comic so I kept an open mind, and I have a pretty high threshold for pain in any case. It took a while before I decided the flaws in the comic outweighed the positives enough to call it bad. Even now, I still somewhat enjoy reading it, as it's a science-fantasy horror comic, and so few comics that attempt horror take the existential route. It's current incarnation is definitely not something I'd recommend to a sane person or someone prone to headaches.

Downfall

While my visual artist colleagues here would probably say it always sucked, I'd put the downfall in chapter 4. By that point the already questionably powerful, annoying snake girl began teetering between Mary Sue and God-Mode Sue. The comic also permanently departed from its earlier tone of a bad acid trip mixed with alien reality horror that had worked so well with the art.

Story and Plot

Parasite Galaxy is very complicated with promises of getting exponentially more complicated. To try to keep this intelligible, I will summarize by plot thread and briefly introduce the characters at the same time.

  • Two "magic girls" enter an eldritch horror while it is eating a planet in order to find its weak point (the "Trigger of Oblivion") and kill it. They are Hebiko (a snake/human/??? hybrid who alternates between child-like stupidity, adorable, and inhumanly sociopathic) and Gemini (a human[?] who transforms in a flurry of magma to have butterfly wings who is consistently a bitch).
  • Matt, your average human teen (or is he?!?) encounters Hebiko who declares that, since Matt can see her, he will now be her familiar. The main story follows Matt dealing with the fallout from dragging along a cutesy God-Mode Sue.
  • Heinrich, the head of "The Thirteen Devils of Anonymous" is doing unseen background things for unknown background reasons. The only thing we do know he is doing is helping an imaginary monster (Tempura Panda) enter Matt's world in exchange for that monster helping Heinrich find a dog.
  • Tempura Panda, a girl's imaginary friend from the original Earth who has gone completely insane and turned into a monster in the 900(?) years since its destruction. He is trying to gain a foothold on Matt's Earth as an urban legend. If enough people believe in him, he will be able to move between Earth and the Valley of Novelty freely and murder everyone, instead of just murdering people who have already encountered him.
  • Shuichi Serazawa is being threatened by Tempura Panda into introducing people to him to spread his notoriety as an urban legend. Shuichi appears to be considering steps to enlist Hebiko and Matt's sister (Celes) in destroying Tempura Panda, who Shuichi assumes will kill him once he is no longer needed.
  • Celes is a government agent (of some kind that is never explored) engaged in government work (involving the supernatural or aliens that is never explored) who suffers some kind of hostilities from her coworkers (that is never explored). Most recently she's chased a doll in a dream into the sewer (where she will presumably meet Tempura Panda) and despite it only being a dream appears to have physically left her apartment (in a manner yet to be explained; that was the latest comic at the time of review).


Art review

Exactly how big is my torso at the moment?

You may have noticed I replaced the conventional "Author" section with "Creators" in the introductory details. That's because I want you to know that this comic is the result of five people. Most of the work is done by the first two listed, Atsu and Philip.

The main problem with the art is inconsistent perspective. Things aren't the same size, position, or angle from frame to frame even when they should be. Hebiko's tail (which I refer to the majority of her body that isn't an analog for a torso) shifts in its total length depending on what the artist has decided to draw. There are also times when the angles on parts of images glaringly wrong. The coloring of some characters occasionally varies for no clear reason.

The art is very detailed, and so far I haven't caught the artist copying and pasting. The backgrounds tend to be very full. The horror scenes tend to have good coloring choices to set the tone. The main area where this level of detail is suddenly absent is in the faces. While most characters do look different from each other, the art suffers from lazy manga work with the characterization of emotion. Instead of showing emotion the artist relies on animu emote effects. These tend to be very jarring and ruin the tone of a number of earlier scenes. Seeing people dismembered, decapitated, and melted is not the proper setup for their killer to drop waterfall tears because her feelings get hurt. The "bulging vein" effect not only gets used, but is often put too inappropriate of a place (such as the middle of someone's cheek) for it to be passed off as a physiological expression of anger.

How long is my tail today?

That said, overall most of the coloring choices and ugliness work for setting the mood of an existential horror comic. The glow effects, which sometimes get misused, do sometimes work to make things haunting. Unfortunately the comic's primary tone... well, let's get into the writing.

Writing review

I will touch on two things briefly before breaking the rest of the writing review into two categories. First, the writing has frequent spelling errors in it. Since it's not hand-lettered there is no excuse for this. If you already have to type something else on a computer you may as well drop it into any one of many free pieces of software with a spellcheck. Second, Atsu consciously decided to write all of his characters as potential villains, which I think has served the comic well because it's eliminated a lot of manga protagonist clichés.

Tone

Deadpan scenario #1
Deadpan scenario #2
Deadpan as it originally happened

The writing, like the art, suffers most from inconsistency. In the writing's case the inconsistency is with tone. For those of you unfamiliar with that term, "tone" is how a scene feels. Consistent tone overall and calculated tone shifts are important to get an audience to experience the story fully. If you try to bounce your audience's feelings around too much - or jump from one emotion to some incompatible other extreme - you can break immersion horribly.

The comic starts out fairly well. It beings with sort of an action-horror opening sequence before quickly jumping ahead to an existential horror tone when Matt is introduced. He begins talking about how reality seems to be falling apart and he is terrified someone has dosed him with a hallucinogen called "Bloop". While he's talking about this we're shown some bizarre creature or inhuman monster in the background or just outside Matt's vision, which fits with this tone well. He sees Hebiko (the snake girl) and no one else can, so when he panics it is believable.

Then the comic jumps to cute humor with Hebiko. Then it goes back to Matt in a panic, but all the tension has completely obliterated for the audience, because it's been made clear the thing he's running from is supposed to be adorable. We're bounced between Matt's fear and Hebiko being friendly but stupid and alien. The tones practically have a fistfight until Hebiko goes all manga waterfall tears and sads off. I know that's not an appropriate verb for travel, but it's pretty much the impression the scene made on me because it was so heavy-handed.

Matt feels bad the terrifying alien snake girl was crying, so he decides to find Hebiko. Besides the reasons this already shouldn't make sense, we learn shortly after that this doesn't make sense because:

  1. the government would put him to death for not reporting Hebiko to them
  2. his sister, who he lives with, is the kind of government agent that would be sent after Hebiko, and
  3. if his sister was okay with keeping Hebiko secret, Matt would be getting her executed alongside him if the government found out.

So between a messy tone shift and Matt stupidly deciding to risk having the last living members of his family killed to pursue a monster he's afraid of because he made it cry, the whole scene is pretty jarring for the reader. In trying to find Hebiko, though, the previous tone is re-established. The possibility Matt is just crazy and hallucinating because he's been drugged is still hanging out there which would retroactively make the previous scene sensible. While searching for Hebiko, Matt winds up running into some gangsters who torture him to discern if he's a spy. We're still in safe territory as far as tone is concerned. The paranoia and confusion from the beginning is carried over now. It's even possible at that point for it to have turned out Matt was alone in an abandoned warehouse and hallucinating the whole thing.

Hebiko shows up (and the hallucination possibility goes out the window forever) and a violent action sequence takes place. Matt narrates, "At the time this was happening... I was too busy wetting about myself to really think of what happened, but- It later occurred to me... Hebiko seemed to think differently than humans in some ways. A lion for example would feel no remorse for its prey... nor would a snake devouring a small animal!" At this point everything's good with the tone again; we're fluctuating between similar kinds of horror, the imagery and the words and the tone all fit together nicely. Then Matt is (understandably) frightened by Hebiko when she approaches him to free him, resulting in more waterfall tears and more what-the-fuck-am-I-reading.

The comic then permanently departs into cute monster girl territory, punctuated by weird shit. Because Hebiko has been shown to be basically an invulnerable killing machine, any potential future tension is deflated as soon its possibility is introduced. This "whatever I'm in the mood for today" approach to tone that permeates the rest of the comic has other consequences beyond just divorcing the reader from the scenes. It also makes it impossible to tell what emotion a character is supposed to be speaking in. At times it's impossible to tell if what someone is saying should be read as fearful, serious, or as deadpan comedy. Case-in-point, Shuichi narrates at one point, "But even an unremarkable looking person like myself can have secrets."

Shuichi, who refers to himself as unremarkable looking, wears clothing made of duct tape. He walks around with his chaste sexbot "daughter", Smiles, who is terrifying goth robot with mismatched eyes and a crow attached to her head. Smiles speaks through the crow instead of her mouth. Let that sink in for a moment...

...

No aspect of Shuichi's appearance is unremarkable. The only reason you wouldn't make a remark about him is the well-justified fear of pissing off a crazy person. So what tone is that narrative supposed to be read in? In the original scene where he says it, Shuichi is on an apartment balcony, alone except for Smiles' severed head and crow, and he's covered in duct tape and sewer filth. OH, I GUESS IT'S JUST THURSDAY, BECAUSE THAT'S PRETTY FUCKING UNREMARKABLE.

To the right are three pictures of that line. The first two I created from the comic, and the third is where it originally appeared. Doesn't it seem like an unintentionally deadpan line?

Storytelling

The writing also suffers from communication gaps, inconsistency, or plot holes. It's hard to say which they are because the writing has major problems with the way the audience is given information. Due to the complexity of the plot they are more problematic than they would be in another story. These problems are also exacerbated by the web comic's pace. To Atsu's credit, it is obvious he's actually thought (perhaps even planned) well into the future of his comic prior to creating it, which is why these problems (though severe) are uncommon.

Mistakes (like Hebiko spitting acid once and her victim having two separate holes melted in him) are written off as something that happened off-screen in the comments, even though they happen in consecutive frames. Events depicted conflict with information the reader is told, and the explanation for this conflict happens two or more chapters later, long after the suspension of disbelief is blown. For example, we are told very early that the fact Matt can see Hebiko is important/special. Two scenes later, everyone in a fight can see Hebiko. A couple chapters later, Hebiko mentions most people/robots can only see her if she wants them to, at which point it seems like a retcon.

Then there's the Trigger of Oblivion. It is the "weak spot" in the eldritch horror that will cause a chain reaction and kill it. Of course, we also know that nothing is known about the creation of the eldritch horror, so... how does anyone know such a weak spot exists that would cause such a large, irreversible reaction? It could be that this information is out there, but the readers will be told about it just before the doomsday clock hits midnight, at which point it will seem like another shameless retcon.

There's also a huge problem with Tempura Panda's motivation. He is furious at Shuichi for dying on the original Earth, despite clearly being aware of the frailty of human lives. Since Tempura Panda survived the event (as he is an imaginary creature), why isn't he angry at the monster who killed his creator? The argument about children being upset at their parents for dying doesn't hold up when 1) said parents are murdered and 2) the child lives for about 900 years after that.

The storytelling also fails to recognize that a webcomic is not a manga book. A webcomic is a webcomic, and it has to be paced like a webcomic. There are certain things you as an author must accept you can't do. This is going to take some setting up, so bear with me. In book 1, chapter 4, comic #51, Matt is narrating some things about Hebiko, "One day after the upcoming story arc." (Yes, that is literally the in-comic narration.) In the narrative that starts on this page, written exactly one year ago (October 14th, 2013), Matt begins talking about the past vaguely. He mentions that Hebiko saved his sister's life.

As of October 14, 2014, we are now in book 2, chapter 9, comic #155 and we still haven't finished the story arc this flash-forward references. In fact, Celes (Matt's sister) is just now beginning a trip into the sewer that might lead to the events that Hebiko will save her from. I read through this comic roughly one-and-a-half times to do the review over a couple weeks. Most of Atsu's reader-base will likely not even remember this flash-forward happened because so much other shit has come up.

It's easy to just criticize, so besides not doing a flash-forward, here is how it could have been handled better. Instead of saying, "One day after the upcoming story arc" instead say, "3 Hours After The Showdown". Then, in all of the comics where a new scene has begun, put a narrative prompt in the top left corner (with its own unique styling) that says, "X Days Until The Showdown". That way, not only are your readers continually reminded they're moving towards something, but there's also growing tension as it comes closer to happening and you're shrinking the units of time. They're also less likely to completely forget the flash-forward happened when you introduce an entire second world, begin following three other people, and start multiplying the layers of your previous world building.

All of this comes back to the issue of complexity. This comic has fallen into the same pitfall as a lot of fantasies: constantly introducing new things to make your world seem fuller. If you want your world to feel fuller, it's better to introduce new parts of your world as you're wrapping things up in old parts of your world. It's not a good idea to just keep dropping new things on your readers as they are still digging their way out from under the last eight things. Combined with bad pacing decisions it means your readers will just start tuning things out that might actually be important.

Author biography

There isn't much on Atsuuikakura (or "Atsu"). He or she appears to live in the United States of America and I am guessing is of Danish background and somewhere in his/her early 20's. Atsu originally conceived of some of the story elements 2 years prior to creating Parasite Galaxy and combined them together into what we see here. From what I've seen in the comments section, Atsu handles criticism well and has neither the ego nor the delusions of countless authors who have wound up on this wiki.

Conclusion

This is a bad comic but not a hopeless comic. If Atsu could clean up the major writing issues (pacing, communication, manga humor/cuteness, tone, tone, tone, and inconsistency) and reboot it, Parasite Galaxy could become a great science-fantasy existential horror comic. As it stands now, it is an emotionally confusing, overcomplicated animu mess that might become better but never great.

Links