|Original review author:||Richard Pilbeam|
|Webcomic name:||The Wotch|
|Author:||Anne Onymous & Robin Ericson|
|Start Date:||November 2002|
|End Date:||There hasn't been a non-filler update since 13th December 2009. Naturally, people are still donating.|
|Genre:||Friendly, fun comic suitable for everybody. (Fetish)|
|Defining Flaw:||Handles gender transformation in a way that's objectionable to just about anyone, regardless of gender or sexuality.|
So, let's say that you innocently stumble upon The Wotch one day, perhaps through one of those Top Base Ten Integer Webcomics sites or the "List of self-sufficient webcomics" Wikipedia page. Curious as to what something called The Wotch is actually about, you check out the comic's FAQ:
Not the most original premise of all time, but what the Hell, you may as well give it a look. Because it's a fantasy comic with a relatively complex mythos and a large cast of characters, you decide that your only hope of understanding the thing is to read all the archived strips in order, starting at page one. This will prove to be a catastrophic mistake.
Huh. OK, the art is awful, but this is the first page and you don't want to get too judgmental this early. It has, after all, been running for seven years and accumulated a massive fan base along the way, so it logically must become competent at some point. The story's about two high school guys called Robin and Jason who are checking out the new girl at school, Anne, when they discover that she has magic powers. It hasn't escaped your notice that the comic's writer/artist is called Anne and the colourist is called Robin, so the whole thing already reeks of a self-insert fantasy. You've seen it all before, but hey, it's free, so you keep reading. Then it turns out that Anne's younger sister and older brother are the same person with he/she changing from one body to the other. Well, that's, uh, interesting. Then Jason also turns into a girl. Then Anne turns into a catgirl. Then they all turn into furries. Twice.
Somewhat puzzled as to what kind of comic this actually is, you return to the FAQ:
Then, just as you're prepared to give it the benefit of the doubt, a middle-aged white male teacher turns into a teenage Japanese schoolgirl in a sailor fuku who speaks broken English and has a Chinese name.
Welcome to The Wotch.
Story and Plot
Fifteen year old Anne Onymous finds an enchanted flute which grants her the power of The Wotch, making her both the strongest magic user on Earth and the Chosen One, but emphatically not a Mary-Sue because mfmffmfmmmffmmfmm so there. She befriends two guys at her high school, Robin and Jason, and much wackiness ensues due to Anne's magic either intentionally transforming people into women, furries, mannequins and articles of clothing, or going wrong and unintentionally transforming people into women, furries, mannequins and articles of clothing. Occasionally, it cuts from Anne's fun and interesting adventures to a parallel story set in another dimension where a group of fantasy cliches are fighting the evil overlord Xaos. Xaos somehow knows about Anne and makes cryptic threats. Then he makes some more cryptic threats. Sometimes he appears in a a cryptic flashback which implies threat. Wait, wait, there's a portal between dimensions opening! Oh man, Xaos is finally gonna go to Earth and tear some shit up and... No, wait, he's just beating up a catgirl we don't care about. Meanwhile, on Earth, Robin and Jason are hanging out at the mall!
What plot there is has, in short, stagnated to the point where pretty soon it'll stop merely slowing down and actually go into reverse. Anne is given unlimited magical power and then told to... I dunno, just sit on it for a while and try not to end the world if possible. To reiterate: she's just given the ability to alter the fundamental nature of reality, so she's already stupidly powerful from day fucking one and has nowhere left to go. Any crisis she comes into contact with can be solved with virtually no effort on her part, unintentional mannequin transformations notwithstanding. She has nothing to push against, because Earth isn't actually under threat from anything, no matter how hard the comic tries to convince us otherwise. We're coming on seven years of Xaos showing up at the end of every story arc with tedious predictability and bellowing "MWA HA HA SOON I SHALL RULE EACH AND EVERY DIMENSION!", but he's yet to do anything to Earth except in the most vague, ineffective ways imaginable. Oh no, everyone in town has turned into mythical creatures because Xaos' lackey gave Robin a cursed potion! How will they deal with this? Oh, wait, it turns out that there's an antidote available in a store in the exact same town, and Anne's able to cure everyone instantly. Crisis over, have some filler art of the cast turning into cow women with udders and breasts - you've earned it!
The above two paragraphs, of course, assume you actually give a crap about the story as a story, rather than as a staggeringly flimsy pretext for as many transformation fetishes as possible. The comic really isn't aimed at you. While the first year or so of strips makes some concession to having an overall arc of sorts, it's not long before the creators give up and resign themselves to forever churning out transformation fanservice without any sense of direction or purpose. Robin and Jason turn into girls, the characters visit some other dimensions but don't actually do anything, Robin and Jason turn into girls, Anne gets a mentor in the form of the previous Wotch, Robin and Jason turn into girls, Robin has a crush on Anne but won't act on it, Robin and Jason turn into girls, Anne's rival also gets magic powers, Robin and Jason turn into girls, it turns out Xaos knew the first ever Wotch, Robin and Jason turn into girls, and the supporting cast gradually start being transformed permanently rather than temporarily. This took, lest we forget, seven years to unfold. Since The Wotch is pitched to us as a hybrid of Sabrina the Teenage Witch and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, including breaking up the archives into "Seasons", it's worth pointing out that both those shows ran for seven years in their entirety, whereas after seven years of The Wotch, the hero and villain have yet to actually meet each other. But hey, why bring the story within spitting distance of a dramatic climax when you can keep the cash cow going perpetually?
Now, if The Wotch had simply been an incompetently-drawn masturbatory aide determined to burrow into your PayPal account like a man who's been transformed into an anthropomorphic female tick FOR FUN, it would be merely very, very bad. The way it handles the effects of gender transformation on the cast, however, is what pushes the whole disastrous mess over the edge and makes it genuinely appalling in a way that even the prettiest art couldn't make up for. So, while it's true to say that The Wotch was a piece of shit from day one, there does come a point where it sinks even further.
While early strips favor turning the characters into furries, gender transformation soon overtakes this by some considerable margin. Also, rather than simply showing up as random fanservice, the gender transformations actually become part of the... I can't bring myself to call it a "story" as such. The bits in between the fanservice. Those bits. With the talking and the walking and visiting the mall and stuff. Meaning that we actually get to see the characters live out their lives while the opposite gender, sometimes for bits of an arc, sometimes for an entire arc, and sometimes for the rest of their lives. And when I say "the opposite gender", I mean "female", because beyond one body-swapped girl there are no lasting female-to-male transformations, and almost no random, fanservicey ones at all (I've read the entire sodding archive and counted three, possibly less).
Yet this doesn't really concern the victims, oh no, because in the world of The Wotch, being a girl is just one big giggletastic slumber party. I mean, check out the three panels above if you don't believe me. He - whoops, I mean "she" ^_^ - used to be one of those big meany sports jocks (Boo! Hiss!) who felt pressured to act in a certain way rather than be himself. He was even too embarrassed to play Dungeons & Dragons! But now that he's a girl - and a cheerleader (tee hee!) - these problems have just up and vanished into the dainty, pink ether. And not just for this lucky lady, oh no, because it's also the origin of the entire fucking school cheer squad. Y'see, back when they were all SPORTS JOCKS (Grr!) they picked on a girl who joined the wrestling team, so Anne thought she'd teach them a lesson about gender equality by turning them into girls. Because they're all much happier this way, and everyone else is also happier with them this way, the spell's never been reversed.
Yes, the new gals are, and I quote, "nice and honest and caring", unlike the SPORTS JOCKS (They're be-hind you!) they were previously. Anne (the author, not the character) hand-waves this by saying that the new personalities are part of the spell, and the story isn't the same old crap about the differing ingredients of little girls and little boys, but let's take a closer look: If you're going to teach a bunch of misogynist bullies a lesson by turning them into girls, why also give them a memory and personality reformat so they don't remember who they were to start with? If these are new personalities, then why does one of our heroines feel the need to express herself in things she couldn't do when she was a boy? Alternatively, if screwing with their minds to make them nicer is the order of the day, why not make them nice boys? Here's a clue for the last one: Imagine the boys from the above image doing the same poses as the girls. Looks a bit gay, doesn't it?
And that's where the whole thing goes to shit. As far as The Wotch is concerned, it's not permissible for boys to act like girls. No hugging, no complementing each other's outfits, no declarations of platonic love and certainly no slumber parties. So far, this is in keeping with society in general, so it's not really worth mentioning on its own even if it is objectionable. Ah, but... there are also no barriers whatsoever facing girls in The Wotch; they're simply boys but better, so forcing sex changes on any men the characters come across should be considered a goddamn humanitarian gesture. This is a world where, apparently, misogyny simply doesn't exist; the SPORTS JOCKS (Aim for the eyes!) are the only people who suggest women aren't incredible, perfect creatures, and look what happened to them. Only... this isn't in keeping with society, because misogyny is both real and more prevalent than we like to admit. This is, in short, a comic where we're supposed to take it as read that society oppresses men but not women. Teenage boys feel pressured to act a certain way, but teenage girls don't and are free to do as they please...? What in the name of Emmeline Pankhurst are you on...?
The cheer squad are only one example of this shit, by the way, which happens over and over again. Author-Anne continues to defend this is something that "just happened that way", ignoring the fairly obvious fact that THIS COMIC IS NOT A FUCKING DOCUMENTARY and what "just happens" in it is the sole responsibility of the person writing it, especially when it "just happens" every five fucking seconds. It dehumanizes men by portraying them as immature schlubs whose biology renders them incapable of any form of emotional connection. It dehumanizes women by putting them on a pedestal, holding them to impossible standards and then accusing them of having special advantages that they actually don't. It trivializes male-to-female transsexualism by turning it into escapism for men who want to have pillow fights, and erases female-to-male transsexualism because it's not fun. Most ironically, by adhering so rigidly to sexist stereotypes, it just perpetuates the same men-who-like-knitting-are-pathetic-fags attitude that inspired the whole thing to begin with. Just to rub it in, it later turns out that feminists are evil.
Basically, no matter what your gender or your sexuality, this comic treats you like shit.
If you've gotten this far into the review, then I assume you've seen the art and no further explanation is required. The art doesn't look bad because of specific details like perspective, proportion, composition or line of action; it looks bad because it's completely incompetent. To say that someone with absolutely no prior artistic experience could sit down and draw something of comparable quality if not better on their first attempt is in no way an exaggeration. You have seen it, yes?
It's technically incorrect to say that the art doesn't ever improve, because over the years the lines get slightly cleaner and the facial features slightly more proportional. The key words, however, are "years" and "slightly"; art which starts off as badly as The Wotch's has an infinite capacity for improvement, and that the artwork circa 2009 is simply a more polished version of the artwork circa 2002 speaks volumes about the overall level of effort on display. Buckley's art stagnates because he pieces it together from prefab elements, sprite comics stagnate because they're reliant on other people's prefab elements, but each page of The Wotch is drawn individually and stagnates through sheer artistic apathy. The best point of comparison is with Dominic Deegan, which also hasn't noticeably improved artistically in seven years, but Deegan's art is, at least, serviceable animu that might impress uncritical teenagers; The Wotch isn't even on that level. Ironically, giving up on drawing it by hand and just assembling the comics electronically might actually work better, because they briefly ran a vector graphic-based filler comic which managed to replicate the same overall look, only far, far less ugly. Also, actual straight lines!
As if the whole thing wasn't already a huge slap in the face of anyone who's ever looked at their work and thought "No, this isn't good enough, I need to try harder", the art requires two people to create; Anne to write and draw it, and Robin to colorist and letter. Let's just dwell on that for a minute. This comic apparently needs a separate colorist. So much so that when Robin's otherwise occupied, Anne is forced to publish the comic in black and white. At the risk of repeating myself... have you seen the coloring? Each area is simply filled with one flat color, maybe some shadows, backgrounds are either gradients or nabbed from Google Image Search, and if you're lucky there'll be some rudimentary blurring or transparency effects. If you saw an artist doing coloring of this quality on their own, you'd tactfully suggest it wasn't very well done and that maybe they should think about finding somebody else to do it for them, only the coloring in The Wotch actually is done by somebody else. If you're interested in the finer details of Robin's "work", they're right here in this rich vein of schadenfreude. Oh no, coloring in foreground objects might take extra time because he has to decide what color they'll be! Sometimes the background needs to be colored in! He's smart enough to keep the colors on a palette! The man's knighthood is long overdue.
The final nail in the coffin of the straw that added insult to the injury on the camel's back is that the art's "style" is totally wrong for where the thing-that-passes-for-a-story is going. As the fun and interesting and not remotely fetishistic adventures of some high school kids, the cartoony, simplistic style would be just about adequate if it were done competently. But with the introduction of Xaos and the cross-dimensional war, the comic became darker and more action-oriented, something the art style simply wasn't capable of making work. Anne seems to have realized this, and responded not by coming up with a style that fits, but by... stretching the characters vertically a bit. This sends them right into the uncanny valley; they've got sort-of-human proportions, but their faces, the amount of detail and their overall construction has remained the same as when they were blobby, vaguely chibi things. It's like they turned into mannequins made of rubber... Not that I'm complaining ^_~
The absolute worst thing, though? While the comic may technically be free to read, Anne and Robin certainly aren't shy about asking for your money ad nauseum, and at one point were raking in over $2000 a month in donations, not counting ad revenue and merchandise sales. That's over $2000 a month more than most good artists with actual principles, ambition and respect for their audience ever see from their work. The temptations of Christ have nothing on this, which goes some way to explaining why magical gender transformation is now the go-to genre for cynical, lazy, donation-hungry wastes of biomass like Drowemos and Rayne.
The I-can't-believe-it's-not-a-functional-narrative's major faults have been covered in detail already, so let's look at the - hah - "characters". Anne is, lessee, the most powerful character in the fucking world and the chosen one and uses the same name as the author and is drawn the same way and entire stories hinge on other characters being jealous of her power and the only opponent capable of bringing her anywhere near defeat was her clone. Author-Anne, however, maintains that Character-Anne is totes not a Mary-Sue, because there's a whole gosh-dern arc about how her actions have consequences.
Aside from the fact that Author-Anne also maintains that the comic isn't a transparent excuse for some hardcore fapping, and therefore cannot be trusted on anything, ever, anybody masochistic enough to read the "Consequences" arc in its entirety (I had to review it; you have no such excuse) will notice that none of the consequences are actually bad. The cheer squad are stuck as girls, but they're better off that way. Professor Sorgaz is stuck as a creepy Asiaphile wet dream, but that's OK because he had nothing to live for and welcomes the opportunity to start over. James and Irene had their minds switched, but Anne just has to waggle her fingers and it's solved. Allison is stuck as a centaur and loses her boyfriend, which seems like a bad thing... until she decides she likes being a centaur anyway.
The thing is, Anne might actually work as a character in another context. A teenager with unlimited powers that - being a teenager - they use to re-write reality in accordance with their sexual fantasies would make a half-decent villain in another, better story; I'm thinking a more hormonal version of Rosine from Berserk. The rest of the cast, though, don't work as characters in any context. The main characters each have one personality trait and one other character that they have a crush on, while the supporting cast don't even get that level of development. The only way in which the cast are distinguished from each other is that each one has a specific "alternate" form that they tend toward being transformed into. Jason turns into a redhead with big tits, Katie turns into a cat girl with bigger tits, Robin turns into a brunette with even bigger tits, Professor Madison turns into a blonde with huge tits, Wolfie turns into a werewolf with fuzzy tits, Scott turns into a mannequin with plastic tits...
...because all the characters are stand-ins for various transformation fetishist role players, each of whom has a certain thing that gets them off, all involving tits, strangely. That's it. That's their sole purpose for existing. Remove Anne from the story and they'd have nothing to do but stare at walls.
It's not very good, basically.
Author-Anne is... Superficially tolerable, I suppose. Quite polite, no drama that I'm aware of, although the constant "This is just supposed to be fun and interesting" refrain is transparently obvious bullshit that isn't fooling anyone, and the same goes for "Oh, but things just happened to go that way". So we're basically dealing with someone who won't admit they write and draw a wank comic, won't take responsibility for what happens in said wank comic, and yet maintains a huge fan base of people who are turned on by those very things. I haven't ever met Anne, I know, but any artwork, narratives especially, can't help but reflect the values and worldview of their creator, and on that front The Wotch is anathema to basic human dignity. Coupled with the endless donation requests and the abject laziness of the artwork, there's no reason to even feel sorry for... her?
...Yeah. It's hard to credit a woman, birth or transsexual, with having written The Wotch, because its take on the experiences of women and transsexuals is so horribly, pathetically shallow and misinformed. Author-Anne only ever communicates through text, even during podcast appearances, which pretty much confirms it. The issue here isn't "the author is using a pseudonym", it's that if you're writing about the experiences of men, women and transgender people, then your own gender really, really needs to be made clear, because it affects the validity of what you're saying. Role-playing as a woman online is one thing, but explicitly presenting yourself as one while you write a shitty misogynistic comic is really, really dishonest.
I may have subtly hinted that this isn't as good as Gunnerkrigg Court.
What else is there to say, really? None of this train wreck is salvageable, although it at least wouldn't be actively offensive if they just stopped at "Wow, I have boobs now, that's hot" rather than continuing through to "NOW I'M A BEAUTIFUL, EPHEMERAL MOON-GODDESS WHO NEVER EXPERIENCES PREJUDICE OR HAS TO TAKE A DUMP".
Look, if you want a wacky fantasy story with some gender-change elements, read Ranma 1/2. If you want fan service of a guy who gets magically transformed into an improbably-proportioned woman, read Sparkling Generation Valkyrie Yuuki. If you want basically the same material, only without the hideous sexism and hypocrisy, read El Goonish Shive. If you want something that treats transgender seriously, read Venus Envy or Khaos Komix. For all your other transformation wank needs, there's DeviantArt. THERE IS NO EXCUSE TO EVER READ THE WOTCH OR GIVE THE CREATORS A CENT OF YOUR MONEY, NOT EVER, EVER, EVER CHRIST BUGGER SHIT FUCK I'M REALLY ANGRY NOW.
- The Wotch. Be it on your own head.
- Anne Onymous interview at Me, You and Mary-Sue.
- The Wotch Gameboy Advance game footage. Yes, they really are trying to get this made.
A male-to-female transsexual's opinion (comment 26)(linked content is no longer visible). "The point is to be able to go to the fucking grocery store and have people see me AS I SEE MYSELF, not using my boobs to cut in line. If I did have a friend who could magically change my body to fit with my gender, it wouldn't involve a major personality shift; I’d probably just update my facebook and then go back to playing Gears of War."
- Anne isn't a Mary-Sue according to this essay by... Oh, it's by Tangents. Never mind.
- 910 CMX Comics, featuring 26 comics and one premise.
- Fans respond. Take a shot every time they address any of the actual criticisms here (rather than HE MUST HATE TG COMICS, even though the review ends with a recommended reading list) and you should be smashed some time around the heat death of the universe.
- Article about the creator on Encyclopedia Dramatica.
- Mentioned in TV Tropes article about webcomic artists who had a massive meltdown.
- The Solomon review.