West Tree Academy of Heroes
|Original review author:||Ibuki|
|Webcomic name:||West Tree Academy of Heroes|
|Author:||Zachary “Dewd” Vanzile|
|Start Date:||August 14th 2013|
|Defining Flaw:||A total lack of thought and effort in both art and writing, not to mention plagiarism up the wazoo.|
West Tree Academy of Heroes is one of the bad webcomic underdogs. It’s not as memetically bad as Anonymous Asexual, nor does it have any real fanbase like other cartoon-inspired webcomics such as Zoophobia, West Tree is a passion project, through and through. With only a minor reputation on the 4chan due to the creator’s endless self-promotion (a la The Continentals) on the comics and cartoons forum, it was there that West Tree was discovered. It’s a full color webcomic that updates 5 days a week and has been running for years, sounds like the creator must put a lot of love, effort, and care into this project!
West Tree was never good. In fact, it has gotten a lot better from its earliest pages. This is not saying much.
Story and Plot
The story follows the protagonist Jack/Zach, who begins attending a school called "West Tree Academy of Heroes", along with his brother SD. There they get into wacky hijinks and meet a wide cast of quirky characters, and they form a team with Sarah the half-wine elf, half succubus, and Annabeth.
The art is bad. There’s no way around it. Anatomy is nonexistent, lettering is distracting, backgrounds range from nonsensical to completely absent, it's all bad.
It would be disingenuous to say the art has had no improvement, because Dewd, the author, made significant improvements in the first year of the webcomic. However, there's been little improvement over the next several years of the webcomic's run up to the present. The sole positive element of the artwork is that the author frequently experiments, but unfortunately none of these experiments look appealing, solve the core issues of the art, or are even sustained for more than a couple pages.
For the first few chapters, the art is so bad it’s nigh unreadable. After a few months the style and quality begins to slightly improve, but the pages are still littered with poorly drawn figures, ugly colors, and boring paneling. West Tree uses a cartoon style, and while many anatomy mistakes and exaggerations can look appealing in these sorts of styles, the ones used in this webcomic merely look ugly. For example, the webcomic frequently sexualizes many of its characters. I have nothing wrong with a little tasteful fanservice (even though the fanservice in West Tree is far from tasteful), erotic art can be fun and add an additional layer of interest to a comic. Unfortunately, the fanservice in West Tree is anything but sexy. The poor anatomy and ugly style hamper and sort of appeal that could be derived from these images.
Possibly one of the worst elements of West Tree's art is the constant plagiarism. Two characters have designs ripped pretty closely from McCree and Mercy from Overwatch. As elaborated in the "Characters" section, Pony and Sora have designs pretty clearly inspired by other popular characters. While there is nothing wrong with an artist being inspired or influenced by another, there is no justification for ripping off another work's designs. Cases like this only further highlight the author's lack of talent and creativity.
Everything about West Tree's writing screams "no planning." From the very beginning of the story it’s unclear why the cast is at an “Academy of Heroes,” when none of them appear to have any heroic qualities, besides the odd few possessing superpowers. There’s a small bit of expository worldbuilding dumped, but none of it seems to have any relevance to the story itself. It’s exceedingly clear the creator had no idea in which direction to take the story, as the first several chapters are full of aimless adventures, pointless conflicts, and unfunny comedy that turns them into an overall slog to read.
It’s difficult to summarize the plot because there is simply no coherent story line for so much of the story. Additionally, when the story does transition into longer arcs with set beginnings, middles, and ends, they’re monotonous and boring. Comedic beats fall flat because the webcomic is simply unfunny, while dramatic beats fall flat because everything about the webcomic is so ridiculous it’s impossible to ever take it seriously. One more interesting point is that characters from other bad webcomics make appearances, like Persistent Pam from So... You're a Cartoonist?, and Walky from Dumbing of Age. There's something incredibly amusing about the author thinking his own work is in any place to be making fun of these bad webcomics.
Zach/Jack: The protagonist of the story, and a seeming author self-insert. Zach/Jack is your standard everyman, your quintessential nice guy. He’s boring and bland compared to the rest of the cast, a plain white dude with no design or personality quirks among a cast of robots and animal-people. The only thing that really gives him any flavor is the fact he lost his memory, somehow. At the start of the story he’s named “Zach,” which just so happens to also be the name of the author. However, it seems the author realized how hacky this looked and changed the name to “Jack,” justifying it as Jack previously having used a fake name, for some reason.
Jack is essentially a harem protagonist in practice. He’s bland but surrounded by thirsty young women, all embodying various archetypes and fetishes. Just about every single female in the story wants to hop on his dick, because Jack/Zach is just so nice of a guy! This even extends to his underage half-sister! At this point, I feel it’s worth mentioning the author was underage when he started his webcomic, and there’s a completely unnecessary scene of Jack, a teenager, having sex with school faculty in class. I feel it’s not a jump to say West Tree is a horny teenager’s cartoon fantasy life at this point, but we still have so much to delve into!
SD: SD is easily the most boring character, he lacks the eccentricities that other characters have that cause him to not stand out at all. He seems to be fit the archetype of the cool stoic friend of the hotheaded main character, but lacks an interesting dynamic with any of the other characters. In the earlier chapters there’s a plot about him having sex with a cow and getting cow STDs, that ultimately doesn’t affect the story in any meaningful way.
Annabeth Saint: A mysterious girl/boy with a tail, who knew Jack in the past, despite him no longer having any recollection of them. Like every other girl in the webcomic, they're in love with the protagonist. Annabeth originally seemed to be an extreme case of tsundere. Occasionally their eyes would roll over in their head, switching from red to blue and they would shift from being a raging psychopath to a cute dainty little girl, called Annabelle, as they have Multiple personality disorder. The author seems to want the audience to feel sympathy in this moment, but there's absolutely nothing to feel sympathetic about because everything about the character has been ridiculous so far in the story. Even if the author wanted this revelation to be funny, none of the jokes land.
Despite being well established as a girl for the first several chapters, in chapter 6 Annabeth is suddenly said to be male. Their true gender and sex are left unclear and these facts are teased for the rest of the webcomic. There’s nothing wrong with exploring gender in a story or even having transgender characters in a webcomic, but in Annabeth’s case it appears to have been done of the sole purpose of making jokes in the vein of “traps aren’t gay.” If a character's entire comedic potential is based around a meme, you usually have a bad character.
Sarah Smitt: A self loathing succubus/wine elf, who is hated by everyone and only desires to be loved. Like every other girl in the cast, she has the hots for Jack. She's probably the closest thing West Tree has to a likable character. Despite her often acting like an asshole she has occasional moments of clarity and human decency. She additionally has some ship-teasing with Angel, and in all honesty these interactions aren't unbearable so... congratulations on writing a relationship that isn't completely forced and annoying?
Angel Ponotalamanny: The most notable fact about Pony is that her entire personality and design were lifted straight from Fluttershy, a character from My Little Pony. Homage characters are not an inherently bad thing, but the issue is that Pony is not a one-off joke character, she’s a core cast member. This is about as shameless as a creator can get, blatantly copying a character from another work. Drawing attention to that fact by naming the character "pony" doesn't make it funny, it just makes the theft even more obnoxious. Over time Pony’s design is changed to become less similar to Fluttershy’s, presumably because the author realized having such a blatant rip-off of another character was in poor taste. This would be all fine and dandy if the design changes weren’t in the direction of freakishly disgusting. Not to mention, she was apparently raped by her father, and this fact is often brought up for comedic purposes.
Sora Mann Jack’s inexplicable little sister from another mother, who is part frog and has a head parasite. She appears to have taken a lot of inspiration from the character of Tsuyu from Boku no Hero Academia, sharing many mannerisms and expressions with her. It's worth noting that in her original appearance she was a human girl. She's probably the least offensive character, being quiet and stoic. There's so much yelling in this webcomic, have a character who speaks at normal volume is a treat.
Zachary “Dewd” Vanzile is a prolific animator outside of his webcomic work. Unfortunately, not much can be said in regards to his animations other than that. They’re as exactly as sloppily made and ugly as his comics. He’s produced several animations for the Youtube Channel Smashbits Animations, a channel which produces animated parodies of various video games. Dewd’s are noticably much less polished than the rest of the animations there, unfortunately.
In addition to West Tree, Dewd has produced 3 other webcomics, Incognia, 4koma Sisters, and College University USA. Incognia began in August of 2018 and displays slightly more interesting paneling than West Tree, but is still dull and completely unnoteworthy. 4Koma Sisters is a 4-panel comedy strip about 4 sisters, as the name implies, which began in May 2018. It’s unfunny but inoffensive. Lastly is College University USA, a college AU of West Tree which has been running since May 2015, and is just a parody of Dumbing of Age. It is of similar quality to West Tree, which is to say, worse than Dumbing of Age.
Dewd has attracted a considerable amount of criticism in the past, for his inability to take criticism, which can be observed in BWW’s very own forum! Additionally, he has been caught tracing and ripping off characters multiple times in the past.
Dewd is a passionate person. That is the most honest and accurate compliment that can be offered to him. It's no small feat pumping out 30 chapters of webcomics, as of the time of this review. But you know what else is no small feat? Having your head shoved so far up your own ass you don't realize what you're making is utter shite. Dewd is a man who attracts all sorts of criticism, constructive and destructive alike, and he rejects all of it because he doesn't want to accept the possibility his work might not be as good as he thinks it is. And this mentality is the reason West Tree is as bad as it is now, it's the result of over four years of fervent creation without any forethought, without any consideration on how to make a good work.
West Tree is a cautionary tale on why you should slow down and earnestly consider what readers and other artists say about your work. It may be painful to hear, and you might not always agree with it, but the sooner you learn what you're doing wrong, the sooner you can start doing better. People tried to teach Dewd what he was doing wrong, and he ignored them. This is why West Tree is the beast it is today, a culmination of years of effort and one man's love for his own story that is completely and utterly unreadable.