The Wotch: CHEER
|Original review author:||BTIsaac|
|Webcomic name:||The Wotch: Cheer|
|Author:||Tseselbar. There are a few people who help him, but he's the main culprit.|
|Start Date:||August 9, 2005|
|End Date:||Regular updates stopped after the end of 2009. The comic is still updating, though very sporadically and mostly with fanart fillers.|
|Genre:||Misguided attempt to make something good out of The Wotch isn't a genere per-se, but that's my impression of it.|
|Defining Flaw:||It's a spin-off of a worse comic. That, combined with the premise gives a bad impression to any potential readers outside the main comics's fanbase.|
Sigh. Okay, let's get this out of the way. I mentioned this before, but I used to like The Wotch. It was on my list of top ten favorites back in the day when I was only reading ten webcomics. I don't hate it now. I simply stopped caring. Is it bad? Yes. Does it deserve all the hate it's getting? Probably. The only reason I'm bringing it up is because one detail I liked about it is crucial to this review: the supporting cast. I can't be the only one who thought they deserve a better fate than become the unfortunate victims of all the magical shenanigans. Okay, so I AM the only one, but hey. Fictional people deserve fair treatment too, and they are not going to get it in this comic. So enter, the spin-off.
I'm not particularly fond of spin-off comics. We get a bad webcomic with a cult following, then this no talent hack with zero creativity, who's smitten with the comic and is either a fan or a close friend of the author, shows up and decides to contribute to this already cringe worthy monstrosity with their own installments. And since they all see the author as some sort of deity with superhuman talent, it's not hard to guess what their worth is, and what kind of festering load of shit they will churn out as a result. Just Google "Night of the Void". You'll see what I mean. Just give my message to the bastard who cooked it up and tell him I said he sucks.~
With that said, let's take a look at Cheer. For ironic purposes, I'm going to pretend that 1) this is the first time I'm reading it and 2) I always hated The Wotch. So what's our first impression of this comic? Well first, it's a spin-off comic (1), of The Wotch (2), starring the four cheerleaders (3) who were formerly boys (4) and it's done in animu-like fashion (5 strikes). Yeeeeah… I have a feeling this is gonna be a very long review.
The moment Tseselbar decided to write a spin-off comic instead of a 100% original work. Specifically a spin-off of one of the worst fucking webcomics online.
First, a little backstory
So there was this utterly repulsive chapter in The Wotch where the heroine's latest screw-ups leaves four "evil" football jocks turned into four cheerleaders and brainwashed into becoming completely different people. And nobody mentions it again for the next ten chapters, when they do, everybody who's in on the secret (including the girls' parents) agree that they are all better this way. Anyone see a problem with this? They didn't like somebody so they took it upon themselves to just change them into someone else and then delete their memory so they can't protest. And no one, not even their family, cares. Why? Well, their big, stinky boys! And they play 'sports to boot! Surly no one, not even their parents, could ever love the kind of person that probably beat up whoever makes The Wotch in high school, right? It's much better to just remove their free will and force them into the author's (not so secret) gender switching fetish, right? I mean, them and everyone else will be happier once they're girls, and since they are no longer stupid boys their personality will magically improve as well! This is… To get some input from someone who is forced to put up with the trouble of regularly turning into a girl against his will, I asked Elliot from El Goonish Shive (why don't we have a review for this yet?), for his opinion.
BTIsaac: Hey Elliot.
BTIsaac: So what do you think of the scenario I just described?
Elliot: Uh… Dude. I know the guys are jerks, but turning them into girls isn't right. You'd be totally messing around with their entire lives.
BTIsaac: I thought so. Thanks for your input Elliot, see you later.
See? Even the main character of THE gender bender webcomic thinks it's wrong. And now we get an entire webcomic about these girls. We all know how cheerleaders are usually depicted in fiction. Put them in the center of attention, mix in the TG shenanigans from The Wotch and take away all potential drama that might come from the girls formerly being boys, and this is most likely what you will get.
Or is it?
Thankfully, no. It seems even the obsessed fanboy who drew this comic for years instead of making something (equally bad) of his own could see what a fucked up and creepy plotline this was and all of The Wotch: Cheer seems to be (to some degree) as subversion of it. AT the very least it acknowledges that not everyone (admittedly only one character of four) could have their entire body, identity and life forcefully changed with magic against their will without suffering to serious emotional trauma.
Story and Plot
As much as you would expect it, this comic is mostly devoid of the trivialized lighthearted transformation shenanigans... At least compared to other TG webcomics in general and The Wotch in particular. In terms of the central plot, is pretty close to real life. In fact, if not for the characters and the location, you wouldn't even guess this has anything to do with The Wotch at all. The plot focuses on the four aforementioned jocks-turned-cheerleaders from that plotline of The Wotch, and specifically on the head Cheerleader Alexandra King, and her attempts to raise the school spirit even if she has to assume direct control. SHUT UP HARBINGER!!! Anyway, King's is constantly foiled by her self declared arch enemies, and her much more level headed teammates, and will almost always clash with the overarching plot running in the background, leading to absurd and even surreal outcomes.
The main plot of The Wotch is completely absent. Instead, the role of the unknown force working in the background is assumed by the Council, a shadowy organization observing the school grounds, battling invaders from another dimension with their own military unit and super powered agents, and maintaining secrecy through morally questionable means.
This is all pretty stupid. The conspiracy/fantasy plot doesn't mix well with the high-school setting, but Cheer is trying to stay true to the source material so it's understandable. In the end, you really can't polish a turd or put lipstick on a pig or make anything of value out of an unpolished pig-turd (AKA: The Wotch).
The art isn't really bad. Or at least it's a lot better than the art it's bastardizing. Although the credit I can give it for that is limited since most catatonics could make art better than that of The Wotch. It has traces of animu, but you can tell the author is (sort of) trying. As the comic progressed, it did show small signs of improvement. The last pages are a little sketchy, but it doesn't detract much from the experience. Tsesselbar shows attention to detail at times, especially visible in the backgrounds of recent comics. Some of the characters have distinguishing surface traits that makes telling them apart easier. A lot character designs are fairly unique, and have some sort of quirk that makes them more easy to spot in a crowd. Unfortunately almost every female falls into the old trap of not being distinguishable from her peers in anything but the style of her hair and the size of her tits. They all have the same exact, minimal-effort anime face. Their height isn't the same, but who cares? One of them has a darker skin-tone, but the comic is mostly in black & while. And, since the four leads always wear the same outfit as one another, you can mostly only recognize them by the inexplicable differences in it's type of cleavage. Or they could all just go and join the girls from the Bible Black visual novel… did I say that out loud? … uh… Can we pretend you didn't hear that? no?… uh… I WAS FROZEN TODAY!!!
Anyway, enough of the pointless non-sequitur. We're talking about the art here. Like I said, it's nothing special, but the author made some slight effort to improve. to illustrate this, let's take a look at one of the first pages. Not horrible, but I wouldn't call it good, unless I hit myself in the face 144 times with a hammer first. The anatomy is flawed, the posing is awkward and the backgrounds is non-existent. As the comic goes on, the author puts progressively more effort into each page. The backgrounds become more detailed, the format becomes more relaxed and the designs of the characters become more solid. More recent strips like this one show visible improvement in style and quality. HOWEVER, and this is an important distinction, the art only really improves once it started being drawn by hand, which is cheating.
Overall, the current art is mostly okay. Let's look at it this way- Compared to the art in The Wotch, it is far superior.
So the art isn't terrible. Not spectacular, not professional, just plain passable. But we all know good art can not save a comic. And come on, it's a frickin' spin-off of The Wotch. Take into account what Wotch fans are into (I should know), and the fact that the comic is about a group of cheerleaders, I'd be surprised if this isn't a fanservice laden fetish fest with sexist over and undertones. The prologue is in for a good start, with the leading ladies, Alex King - the iron lady, Lita Harper - the busty slut, Sam Smith - the cute moe girl (God I hate Moe) and Jo Star - the ditz, discussing their new uniforms, custom made to accentuate each girl's best physical features, and debating what those physical features are. Not sexist at all.~ I mean look at that thing. I've seen bigger napkins than that. So with such a straightforward kick-start, let's dive in to this, and see what we will find. Oh dear. What ever are we going to find?!
Nothing of the like as it turns out. Well, mostly. There are a few fanservice pin-ups in the comic, the girls sometimes make suggestive poses and one of the main bad guys is a busty woman who always walks around with her shirt unbuttoned and her tits inches from falling out. But, even when it looks like the comic gives us a painfully obvious setup for some sort of sexist subplot, the whole thing turns around and subverts our expectations. Case in point: the date raffle. Alex sets it up to raise funds. The boys at school can buy raffle tickets, and compete over winning a date with a member of the cheer squad. Jo goes on a date with Max, the short silent guy from The Wotch, with his friend Xander tagging alone Cyrano style. while discussing sports, Jo remembers her past life as one of the guys, revealing the characters hidden depths. Alex ends up having an awkward dinner with Lita for some reason, but they have an argument after getting a call from Jo. Alex goes back to school, where she meets up with her friend, and they get caught up in a battle between an army of goblins and a scantly clad ninja lady who claims to be the school principle. Sam's date goes normally but gets skimmed over. It serves mainly as a plot device to introduce her father, show us how he's coping with his only child's rare condition, and provide some more insight into the girls' family lives. What was set up as a sexist wish fulfillment fic, turned out to be a framing device for character and plot development.
Cheer provides an interesting mix of genre. One plot thread follows the school life of the protagonists. This one stays close to real life, while at the same time, pushes reality to it's natural limits without crossing the line too often. The other thread follows the mysterious element, nominally, the exploits of the newly appointed principal, her interaction with her superiors in the council, and with her colleagues, as well as the phantom war between the Council's agents and otherworldly invaders. The two plots, while kept separate, inevitably intervene, as not only are the Council's decisions and the agents' actions a defining factor in the school's everyday life, but the actions of the Cheer squad itself have come to influence these decisions/actions on multiple occasions.
So, like every section of this review, all I can say about this is: At least it's clearly better than The Wotch.
The comic has an extensive cast. Some familiar from The Wotch, the others are original to this comic. Also, there are many cast members who originated here, and would later appear in the former. But let's start with the protagonists: Four living props from that other comic, who became real people through the spinoff's divine intervention. "The Cheer Squad" is most noteworthy for avoiding the Libby and blonde airhead cheerleader stereotypes prevalent in mainstream media. Each girl has a personality and despite their attire, the author does his best to treat them as human beings rather than living sex objects.
Alex is the leader of the group, an army nerd with the personality of a dictator, a love for long inspiring speeches, and a bad case of ADD. Everything she involves herself in is serious business to her. Rare one-shot panels will occasionally drop random bits of trivia regarding her character traits, revealing her love for music, competence on the field of mathematics, and even hinting at her patrician background, neglectful parents, and the possible self loathing, which is manifested by her dislike of the resident rich girl Lindsay Verte. It's all a bit over the top, but at least it's trying. Lita is the first of the cast to exhibit stereotypical cheerleader traits and is clearly designed with appeal first, personality later. She flirts with every boy in school, including the nerds. Not only does she flirt with the nerds, but is a nerd herself, using D&D terminology in everyday life, role playing with the other nerds in the school basement, and even playing MMORPGs. She most notably avoids jumping the annoying trend of making fun of chain mail bikinis. Lita instead, not only provides a justification for the trope's existence, she avoids the blatantly preposterous and illogical excuses some people come up with for the existence of such revealing attire. Sam is, like I mentioned earlier, the shy moe girl. A wise man once said, moe is the cancer that is killing anime, and by God was he right. The prevalence of the shy, subservient young girls with zero self esteem, and their immense appeal to the younger demographics, is far worse than blatant objectification. Luckily, Sam's manages to narrowly avoid falling into this trap. While she still remains the one who fulfills the traditional feminine roles in the group, like sewing and cooking, she treats these activities with tact and professionalism, and clearly enjoys them. Characters like her are usually avoided like the plague in the world of action girls and strong female character archetypes so I found it refreshing to see a girl who just happens to specialize in girly activities, without trying to make a point. Her shyness and subservient nature got downplayed in later installments, and she has clearly shown on more occasions that she can, and is willing to take initiative sometimes. Jo is the one girl who stands out a little. In a cast of high school girls and cheerleaders, she is the only girl who lives up to the mainstream cheerleader characters' stereotypes. She is cheerful, ditsy, a major fan of magical girl anime, and is sometimes completely detached from reality. Which is eventually revealed to be an act. Jo is the only girl who has memories of her past life. In fact, she was traumatized by her girly transformation, and misses her old life as a football jock, but chooses to keep it a secret from everyone else, because she's convinced life is better this way. Now if this wasn't a humongous middle finger towards the comic's roots, I'd be very surprised.
One of the more significant supporting characters is Lindsay Verte, the daughter of a ranking Council member. Lindsay is your typical rebellious princess who can't stand the fact that people treat her based on who her father is. She can't stand her old man spoiling her, but on the other hand, has trouble fitting in with the other students. Her ambition is to join the Cheer squad, but Alex will have none of it, even if her refusal could be detrimental for the Cheer Squad. While they are rather popular within the school, there are several antagonists that aren't fond of the girls. One of them being Tamara, who's primary motivation is jealousy. She wants to sabotage the Cheer Squad, and accidentally ends up helping the council in the process. After the incident, she is pretty much retooled from obsessed jealous stalker, to paranoid conspiracy theorist, and her object of obsession becomes the Council. Perhaps for the better - her original concept pushed the girls dangerously close to Mary Sue territory. The role of Alex's nemesis was taken by Sharon, a morbidly obese bully who likes to push everyone around. Alex stands up to her, and she immediately declares war on the Cheer Squad, claiming they made fun of her stature. It should be noted that nobody ever brings up her physique, besides Sharon herself, whenever she feels the need to explain why nobody likes her. She takes it after her mother, a veteran moral guardian who takes the bullying to administrative levels. Both these girls had their own clique. Tamara being followed around by Sarah and Karen, two girls who eventually ditch her, and a boyfriend who's current whereabouts I'd rather not think of.
So I have to say that I like the characters in this comics. But most of all I like the fact the the four main girls are used to take a more serious looks at the amazingly offensive plotline they were based on, creating something genuinely insightful... If that was indeed the author's intent.
The main artist of this comic is "Tseselbar", a moderator on the The Wotch forums who is 35 (seriously?), lives in Canada and... That's about it. I couldn't find anything interesting about him right off the bat so I decided not to dig any deeper. There are a few more people that help make the comic but I figured I wouldn't even bother with them.
All I know is that he's just another genderbending fetishist from 910cmx (one of the characters in the comic is him after changing genders) but other than that he wasn't part of any drama. The worst I can say about him is that he's some pervert who made a long-running fancomic out of one of the most offensive plots of one of the worst webcomics online. So all there really is to says about him is that he has really bad taste.
There is little substance connecting the original The Wotch with The Wotch: Cheer. It seems the person who made it was inspired by The Wotch, but was so much better as an artists ("not awful" is heaps better than "total shit") that he couldn't make a fan-comic without gutting the original comic and leaving nothing but an empty husk for him to fill with his own content until it bares no more resemblance to the original than a dead eye'd clone of a person from "Invasion of the Body Snatchers". I have seen this kind of stuff happen in the past, and not wanting to go on a long-winded tangent about it in this review, i'll just say that he would have been better off just making his own comic instead of sticking his proverbial dick up the ass of The Wotch and then trying to work it like a sock-puppet.
Ultimately, Cheer is not really a bad comic, just a mediocre/sort of crappy one. The main reason there is a review about it here is to remind everyone how bad The Wotch is, both on it's own and in comparison to fan-comics made by it's own fans that easily surpasses it. And, since the last time Cheer updated was over a year ago to post a filler comic by someone else after it itself has been on a two year hiatus, let's talk about The Wotch instead (I'm happy to use this as an opportunity to get a few more jabs in).
Here's a little update on The Wotch: After years of being shit it suddenly stopped updating for two whole years between August 2009 and August 2011. When it came back it had a considerably better level of art and went right ahead on fixing most of the things people, and especially our own review, have been criticizing about it for years (shitty art, stupid plot where nothing happens, a main villain that never does anything and isn't even in the same dimension as the rest of the cast), although forgetting its main fault- that it's still a creepy fetish comic. Sadly for the people making it, there was no longer any point. The Wotch gained minor internet "fame" for how bad it was and then faded into obscurity so that now people hardly remember it and those that do only know it as the festering turd it once was and not as the slightly less festering turd it now is because no one has bothered to look at that website since everyone was done laughing about it back in 2008.
So good work on trying to do better, but it was too little too late.
As for Cheer, maybe it will go the same route and come back to life after years of no updates and transform from a "not completely awful" comic to a "meh, it's sort of okay" comic long after people have stopped giving a fuck.
- The comic - The site is abandoned and mostly broken.
- The creator's DA
- His profile on the 910CMX forum
- TV Tropes article
- Project2nd - What happens when a true psycho fan sets out to make an already terrible webcomic even worse.