Webcomics — Megatokyo

Like everyone with a favorite comic, I’ve often wondered what it would be like if it were turned into an animé. I long ago decided that Sluggy Freelance would be like Inuyasha: 180+ episodes of a great idea going nowhere. But the one that would be made of win and awesome (do I overuse that phrase or what?), were it ever animated, would be MegaTokyo.

While he started slowly, Fred actually has a long-term story arc, and some amazing secondary characters that could be main characters in their own strip. Fans debate endlessly over Miho: good, evil, or just misunderstood? A recent fan fave is the plucky jr. high girl, Yuki, about whom questions started to be raised some time back. Now she’s found out only in the last day that she’s a bona-fide magical girl… and so was her mother. Then there’s the heated discussions over whether Piro, the uncertain, shy otaku, is doing the right thing or the wrong thing in trying to protect his new girlfriend, Kimiko, a debuting seiyuu in a game-to-animé adaptation.

Fred is having a ball using or subverting all the anime tropes: harems, SEP fields, android girls (built by Sony), meido, online gaming, government conspiracies (that aren’t so secret), giant monsters (who get drunk before rampaging), magical girls (who retire and have kids)…about the only animé trope not to show up so far is combat mechs.

Oops, I take that back.

There appear to be at least four overlapping realities and one alternate dimension at work, and not everyone can “see” all of them. A powerful SEP (Somebody Else’s Problem) field protects those not able to handle the weirdness–even if someone not of that reality notices something odd, they quickly forget it or explain it away. For instance, Ping, an android girl, is a prototype PS2 “Emotional Doll System” accessory. Even though such a realistic android girl is utterly science-fictional, everyone accepts her as a robotic game accessory — if they’re told that’s what she is. Otherwise they think she’s a normal girl, prone to padding her bra, wearing weird earrings, and dying her hair pink.

Note that I call these “realities” for lack of a better term. I’m a believer in the “one world” theory; different people can see only certain parts of it, because that’s all that they can handle. If they meet incontrovertible evidence of a reality they can’t handle, they forget about it, as Kimiko has forgotten about Miho moving her out of the cafe riot with a super-leap.

Specific reality views I have identified:

Normal: Almost everyone functions in this reality. Somehow, they completely fail to notice zombie invasions, giant rampaging monsters, magical girls, and so on. They’ll climb right over wrecked tanks without noticing. People think Ping is a normal girl. Otaku watch animé, organize obsessive fan groups online, and, in general, think it’s all fiction.

Magical/Animé: Animé characters like magical girls really exist. Giant monsters really exist. Android girls really exist. Aliens and zombies really exist, and invade from other dimensions/outer space. However, not all of the things above exist for all people able to perceive this world. There appear to be up to three separate levels. In the lowest, the police have neat mechs and Ping is a highly advanced PS2 game accessory. In the second, zombies, vampires, giant turtles, ninja organizations, magical girls and other monsters exist. Piro can see only the first; Largo can see both. Kimiko and Erika can see the first. Miho, Meimi, and Yuki are all in the second. There is no evidence thus far that any layer can see the Moral worlds. (Update 2010: Erika can see and converse with Boo, the hamster conscience. They even trade career notes.) People in the lowest layer appear to also see the Illuminatus world, and any distinction between the two may be an artifact of my classification system.

Moral: Right and wrong exist, and physical consciences, protected by the SEP, appear to advise people. “Evil” consciences urge them to follow base desires or give in to anger and temptation. Good consciences try to steer people clear of trouble. Both answer to some sort of bureaucracy (although Evil’s is less in evidence and Good’s is in a budget crunch); each also uses intelligent animals as temps and assistants. Interestingly, the embodiments are free agents, can switch sides, and even appear to have their own families. Consciences’ perceptions are limited to those of their “host,” thus Boo is able to see all sorts of things that Seraphim cannot. Of course, he can’t communicate it very effectively.

Illumanatus: This is the layer of the government and its minions. They control the media, including popular entertainment icons, due to the damage that such can do if they run amuck. They even have a program similar to the Witness Protection Program for retired ex-idols. The police operates a special unit (Tokyo Police Cataclysm Division) that schedules and watches over large-scale events, such as monster rampages, alien invasions, and fanboy riots, etc. They have construction groups that can replace entire buildings within minutes. Basically, their goal is the orderly supervision of a chaotic world. Large corporations, such as Sony and Sega, hire violent agents to “acquire” or “neutralize” certain properties for them, such as renegade PS2 accessories and popular seiyuu.

The story has been building towards a climax for sometime now, as the “Dinner of Doom” and Zombie Invasion happen just as Kimiko’s fledgling career reaches a crossroads, and the minions of Sony and Sega battle for advantage in the middle of an incipient fanboy riot. Meanwhile, one obsessed gaijin is leading a horde of confused fanboys (who see him as their game avatar) to help his girlfriend (their idol), while his lunatic friend and a magical girl steal a ‘Rent-a-zilla’ and head for the invasion.. Every time I think the artist, Fred Gallagher, has come up with the ultimate “Yuki’s kawaiiiiii!”, “Miho’s kowaii and kawaiii!”, or “Largo’s crazy!” strip, he out-does himself.

There are a couple of minor, well, criticisms. Sometimes, the omake’s Fred throws in to try a new technique or (because he’s gotten blocked on the main story) are annoying, because they delay the main strip. Fortunately, if you’re reading the archives, it’s a minimal disruption, and they’re always good reads in and of themselves. There was also a period in the middle (around chapter 4) where he gets sidetracked onto a story involving the consciences. And Fred’s incessant whining about how bad his art is, and constant promises (and failures) to keep to a 3-per-week schedule do get tiresome. (2010 Update: he’s fallen as far as once per month, however it’s because his wife has been increasingly ill, and has been diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.) Still, MT long ago took over as my favorite webcomic… and whenever I get tired of Fred’s humor, I can just dive into the forums and read the hundreds of “rescripts” where fans take the artwork, and run with hilarious new dialog. Baka_Bomb and Zahooie are the two masters of that genre; if you see their names beside a post, be sure not to have any drink in your mouth. I will not be responsible for any new monitors or keyboards, and neither will they.

So, if you like webcomics, give this one a spin. It starts out slow, taking well over 100 strips to set up the initial situation and introduce characters, but it’s worth the wait. I’m not sure how much of Tokyo will be left when Fred’s done, but it’s one terrific ride, so far!

Update 11/7/07: As of today, “what will be left” does not include City Hall. I want to know who do those johnny-come-lately Zombies think they are? Ten-year waiting permit my ass, I’ve been waiting eighteen, and we don’t even HAVE a permit process!

Update 10/11/10: Three years later I wondered why the TVTropes was one of my top referrers, and so I find that someone linked to this article. I’ve gone back and fixed up a few typos (every time I update the WP install, it changes how the é displays). Since I first wrote this article, a lot of things have changed — the hilarious Dinner of Doom was superseded by the wild Club of Catastrophe — and now we’re mired in a soap opera (not in a bad way), as Piro and Miho confront their past — and Miho confronts her present. On the forums, Baka-Bomb and Zahooie have moved on from making side-splitting rescripts.

And here, I’m still waiting for permission to demolish City Hall.

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9 Responses to Webcomics — Megatokyo

  1. AvatarADV says:

    I enjoyed it back in the day – ran across it right after it started, actually almost got Fred sued once (“who’s that using Ruri without a license?” “It’s not Ruri, honest!”) My MT t-shirts wore out long ago. It’s kind of the same way with my appreciation for the work… it’s also somewhat threadbare these days.

    It’s not that I don’t like the story, but the pace! I know he wanted to get away from the web-comic format and into the manga format, but he’s just not capable of producing the number of pages to keep things interested. Twelve pages a month when he’s on the ball… it’s just not enough to maintain my interest in it. Too slow-paced, too many plot threads that he started two years ago and that still haven’t done anything more than hint at unfolding.

    It’s good work, though, definitely worth seeing if you never have. Always nice to see someone make a run at their hobby as a career and win out – and Fred’s definitely done as well at marketing as he has at writing and art. If anything, though, I’d suggest reading it a great deal at a time, rather than day by day.

  2. Ubu Roi says:

    Actually, I was thinking about this a bit.. Fred’s got a problem now that he’s actually making a living at this (and has a new child!): how can he end his livelihood? He’s not the first artist to be trapped by that conundrum. As he previously stated, he does have a plan, an end for this series. But if he gets there too quick, he’s then going to have to invent a new webcomic and hope that it captures an equally large audience.

    Pete Abrams of Sluggy Freelance has the same problem, and that’s why, after ten years, there is still no resolution to the fundamental problems of the Torg/Zoë/Oasis and Riff/Gwynn/Sasha triangles (although they’re quite different dynamics). Essentially, resolving the first would logically end he series, and the second would remove/change a major dynamic. So Sasha had to go, to keep the Riff-Gwynn tension possible, while Oasis must remain unresolved because she’s the barrier to Zoë. I firmly believe that Zoë is the “endgame” of the story; moreso that Riff and his travails. And please, Fred may throw off subplots, but Pete is the uncrowned king of YADP (Yet Another Dangling Plotline). I can’t count how many are out there….DOP, Oasis herself, Sam and the vampires, the Holiday wars, the entire Timeless Space Saga, Hereti-corp, Sasha’s whereabouts, Riff’s dad, the Book of E-Ville, the Kittens, Bun-Bun’s mother… you get the picture.

  3. I read it for quite a while, and then stopped. I agree with Avatar: the biggest problem is just that it develops too damned slowly.

    But I also got to the point where I couldn’t stand Largo. He’s just too damned crazy and stupid.

  4. Ubu Roi says:

    I’d say the payoff really begins around chapter 6. One thing that it’s very hard to remember is that after the extremely long prologue lasting months, the rest of the story has happened in about one week (a chapter per day).

    As for Largo, he only seems crazy-stupid. As the story develops, it becomes increasingly obvious that the problem is he’s one of the few people who can see all the layers of reality, and he never learned not to talk (enthusiastically) about it. That, and he’s an extrovert with an extremely low thought-to-action inhibition factor. Still, he starts growing up — for Erika, as unlikely a pair as they seem.

    Or as Inspector Sonada of the TPCD despairingly says, “Erika… my budget!”

    Edit: One of the oddities of this series is that it isn’t anything like it looks at first. Between the first few strips and the, “Relax, we understand joo!” I thought I was getting a topical and satirical look at the electronics and gaming industries.

    In fact, it turns out to be anything but that. There’s a lot of anime tropes subverted here, and it ends up turning into a character drama masquerading as action-adventure.

    Fred was learning his art (in all senses) as he went along, so the early story does wander badly. But aside from the aforementioned detour with the consciences (FYI, Seraphim is based on his wife), it picks up steam as it goes along. I think starting with chapter 6 misses a major milestone in the Erika-Largo and Kimko-Piro dynamics though. Starting with chapter 8, the character dynamics (and growth) really start setting in, and 9 is bringing it all to a head.

    If it’s not to your taste, it’s not to your taste, but I do believe this is a series that got much better as it went along.

  5. I gave up after Largo had an IM talk with Piro within the same room just after he had sexual problems with Erika. Just too soap operatic for me. That was a few months ago, and the story had been advancing at a snail’s pace for more than a year. I bet 15 minutes of game time have elapsed since then, 20 minutes at the outside.

  6. AvatarADV says:

    If you’ve met Largo, the character makes more sense. ;p

    The problem with Largo-the-character is that he’s NOT fundamentally crazy or stupid. He is, quite literally, not inhabiting consensus reality. Neither is Piro, strictly speaking, but his reality can be mistaken for normality, whereas Largo is in the world of cardboard robots, Rent-a-zilla, and zombie hordes. Neither one’s any less kooky than the other one, it’s just that Piro can pass for normal while Largo… can’t.

    (Can’t actually go any deeper than that; not my secrets to give away, heh. ‘course, I haven’t talked with Fred in a long time, so he may have gone somewhere completely different in his head since then.)

  7. Ubu Roi says:

    That goes to show one of our differences…. to me it was one of the funniest scenes…It was so Largo!
    Although the timing was awful given that it came right after an omake and other delays.

    (edit for clarity)

  8. If he trashed Tokyo City Hall, then he also has to trash the Tokyo Tower. It’s in the rules.

  9. Pingback: MT Bad News, Good News, sorta…and a Gift from Mahou Meido Meganekko! | Mahou Meido Meganekko

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