Video Link: youtu.be/Vm3j6kdhrkY
That's right, I decided to make video versions of the reviews. (Well, the term video might be a little lose considering there is little to no motion, but there is audio at least.) So you can check out that version, or the text version below! Both are more or less the same. (Other than a few places where I messed up while recording but meh.) This is a bit of a learning process but hopefully future videos will be much easier to put together! But yeah, check out the review in whatever format you'd prefer.
--------Review of Char-Cole
Pages as of Review:
This review does not reflect the opinions of the whole of the DPCA or its founders and contributors. This was written by Vye-Brante and displays her opinion only.
So I don’t get this comic. We’ve got this kid that turns into a Charmander, but like 300 pages in, he still hasn’t started his rescue team.
. . .
Wait, this isn’t a Mystery Dungeon comic?!
Here we are with my very first comic review. This is kind of a tough one to review, if I’m honest. There are so many things to really like about this, but at the same time, it falls short a lot. Hopefully I’ll be able to explain why without sounding too nitpicky.
So our story begins with Cole who awakens in the body of a Charmander, and is soon captured by trainer Brian Wheaton. Brian is only just starting out his journey and still has a lot to learn. Cole, who is named Charlie by the unwitting Brian, is taken along for the ride and gets to experience what the world is like for a Pokemon on a trainer’s team. We get battles, new characters that have to learn to get along, a new world to explore, characters having break downs, a villain that likes to just be the villain, all sorts of things!
As I view myself as more of a story teller, most of my review will be focused on the story of Char-Cole, but I will touch on other topics as well. So how does the story fair? Well . . . over all, pretty good.
I’ll come right out and say I have very conflicting feelings about this comic. What I like most is that it takes storylines we’ve all seen before and puts a twist on them. There were many points in the story where I thought I had a grasp on what it was doing and was making predictions. Most of my predictions turned out to be wrong. A story that will keep me guessing throughout has a lot of good things going for it. It’s treading ground we’ve all seen and read before, but still giving it its own flavor. It can tell the same stories but still feel unique while doing so.
My main problem with the story though is that it doesn’t quite do enough for the reader to help the reader along. Let me explain. Bear with me. In the very beginning of the comic, Cole awakens as the Charmander and then is immediately captured. That’s our intro into the comic. We don’t know who Cole is, we don’t know who Brian is. We don’t know where we are, we don’t know when, we’re just thrown into the story. As readers, you just kind of have to piece things together as you go.
While this cold opening might work in a Mystery Dungeon comic, it only does so because for the most part, the character doesn’t remember anything before that moment either. The reader isn’t supposed to know, and so the character doesn’t know. If Cole’s backstory didn’t play that much into his character arc in the story, this would be fine too. But a lot of what he deals with in the comic is addressing issues he had with his regular human life. Since we never get to actually see it, we kind of have to just take Cole’s word for it how all his angst is justified.
This problem is compounded with the main character conflict Cole starts to go through. He begins questioning who he is and whether life would just be better if he stayed a Charmander. While reading this, I was rather confused at where this came from as to me it came right out of left field. I was only just barely getting a grasp of his character and he starts questioning if that actually was his character.
In order to follow along with a character and their development, you need a starting point to see what they are like before the conflict starts. This way you can gauge how they’ve grown and improved, or even maybe how the story is negatively effecting them. Because we have no starting point with Cole, it’s hard to say if he’s changed, how he’s changed, or even if he should change.
Other aspects of the story that didn’t quite agree with me might be hard to talk about without going into spoilers or without me just really tearing everything apart. I will say that at some points there seemed like logical gaps that could have used better explaining. Cole starts to have episodes where he gives in to the Charmander’s instincts, and each time it’s supposed to be traumatic and dangerous. But after each occurrence, I had to scratch my head at what the problem was. At worst he started a few trees on fire. He never seriously injures anyone, friend or foe. He still is able to speak as he normally would so it’s not like he just completely disappears. He just kicks butt in a fight for a bit and then turns back to normal. Since no impact of this is shown, it’s hard to take the plot point seriously. This may just be a problem with the technical side of the comic, which we will touch on later.
I do not want to come off all negative. Like I said, this comic has a lot of great things going for it. Apart from the unique feel, this comic comes off to me as a bit smarter than most. It really delves into the psychological effects each character is going through, whether it be from something in the current story line or before we are introduced to them. They have in depth conversations with each other about how they feel and why they feel that way.
I also really like the detail they put into making Pokemon different from humans. Most of the focus is on Cole and the other team members while the humans in the story usually take a back seat to what’s going on. The comic makes it very clear that Pokemon minds do not work like human minds. There are a few scenes where they come out and say it, but there are also more subtle things. For instance, most of the Pokemon when learning about Cole being a human think the idea is crazy, but more or less give off the impression that it doesn’t matter either way. This contrasts well with the few instances of a human learning about Cole. They either right out don’t believe it, or need extensive proof as back up. A lot of my enjoyment in the comic came from the different ways the story showed how the Pokemon characters reacted to their situation and how those cases probably would not work so well if the character was human.
So all in all, the story has a lot of great things going for it. There are some things here and there that make the reader either have to just go along with it or make leaps of logic. But when it properly explains everything and gets a moment right, boy does it get it right!
Here’s where I might seem like I am really, really nitpicky so I apologize in advance. Char-Cole takes place in the made up region of Lassoh. Making up a whole new region is quite an endeavor to take on, so props to Kyrio. There is a map and everything on the comic’s site that shows the character’s progress. There are towns and forests, each with their own characters we run into. It has its own league and gym leaders.
But . . . I fail to see why it needed to be its own region.
First off, the Pokemon we encounter for the most part are all from Generation 1 meaning this could just have easily all happened in Kanto. Secondly, I have yet to see anything that really sets Lassoh apart. In canon regions, you can pretty much name landmarks or other important places. Kanto has Silph Co., the Pokemon Tower, Cycling Road, and more. Hoenn has the Devon Corporation, a volcano, cities on the water and in the trees. If you think about each region, it isn’t hard to see what separates it from the others. As of where we are in the comic right now, the only thing Lassoh has really shown us as far as a land mark is a lake near a forest. Not saying that the artwork for it was bad, but it was just nothing that set it apart. The only thing that sorta sets Lassoh apart is that the gyms seems to focus on two types instead of one but even that hasn’t really been showcased or fully developed on yet. But still, that’s just something with the league and not the region itself.
Lassoh is just simply underdeveloped. The only time I remembered they were somewhere else was when they’d mention a town name now and again. It needs some history or something that makes it stand out from other regions so we can care about it.
This does not mean the setting of the story is necessarily bad. It just needs more work so the reader can care about it and so that all that effort in making a new region isn’t wasted.
I don’t consider myself an artist as much, so take this as you will.
The art in the beginning was a sketchy style. The line art gets gradually smoother and smoother as it goes. After we get into the 300’s, the comic also introduces color which was needed on many levels that I’ll explain more in a minute. A lot of my issues that I had as far as the presentation seem to have been corrected as time went on.
The first 100 or 200 pages were more like strips. This may just be a personal thing, but I don’t usually care for story centered comics to be told in the comic strip format. It leaves scenes feeling disjointed and if you don’t end on a punch line, it feels like something was missing. After a while it did go into full page formatting. At first it had serious trouble with making page layouts that made sense and could be easily read in the right order. It didn’t help that there usually weren’t word bubbles. This made it difficult to tell who was talking and on many pages there were multiple conversations going on so things were usually lost. But again, these issues have been largely addressed and we have more cohesive layouts and word bubbles.
As for the art itself, it’s very good. It has its highs and lows and you can definitely see the improvement as the story goes on. If I had any problems with the art itself it was in the humans. I fall into this trap myself, but the humans more or less all looked the same but with different hair. This was so much the case that when it introduced a very different looking human in Pr. Cedar, he seemed rather alien. But as the humans don’t play as much into the story, this isn’t a big mark against it. In fact, when it introduces Pokemon of the same species, those ones are easy to tell apart, so I found that interesting.
I’m not sure where else to talk about this, so this is probably the best place. Text size. The text is usually WAY too small. It is slightly better in newer pages, but I still had to be zoomed in to 150% to read everything comfortably. Maybe it’s just my browser or the site layout, but if the image and text size could be increased, that would probably be a good thing.
Last thing that I don’t know where to put really. The comic had a slight issue with keeping its audience rating in mind. At first, there was no swearing. Then swearing was used but it was all censored. Now swearing is used in its fullest form. It’s not that swearing turns me away, but keeping something like this consistent throughout is important.
Again, this is a problem that has been addressed in the latest pages, but the majority of the comic had the problem of usually being zoomed in on the characters’ faces while they were talking. You can only look at the same ¾ angle of the characters’ faces for so long before everything tends to blend together. Add in that that shading, color, or grayscale was usually not utilized, pages more often than not looked the same. Backgrounds were basically nonexistent. This made keeping track of where they were, even in relation to each other, very difficult. Many pages consisted of just the face and text making it a lot of just white space. So when shading started being used and then eventually color, it was very, very refreshing. It was a lot easier to tell what was what and keeping the characters grounded in their location.
We have yet to see one of Cole’s episodes properly in this newer format, so this might help clear up any confusion I had with it. When the consequence of his attacks seem to just be a little puff of smoke, it is hard to take it all seriously. Hopefully now that we have color, use of backgrounds, and zooming out from their faces, the impact of Cole’s actions might become clearer.
But what did the comic get right? The action. Oh the action!
As said, most pages consisted of the characters’ faces and text. So when there was a fight, we actually got to see full body shots. Maybe this made the action scenes stand out that much more from the normal pages, but boy did I love the action scenes. Cole trained in martial arts and uses those skills while fighting as a Charmander. That made even simple poses and blocks look visually interesting. The fighting scenes were usually short, and sometimes the lack of backgrounds made it a little hard to follow, but these factors were not distracting. The later action scenes manage to blend the drama in with the fighting quite seamlessly which make them quite impressive to watch. I hope to see the fight scenes continue to develop and become even more entertaining than they already are.
One of the most important aspects of a story to me. Do I like the characters or do I care about their journey?
Like the overall story, this is a bit hit and miss. The main issue is with Cole himself since he is taking up most of the screen time. One of my pet peeves with characters and character development is when a character has to have their issue and their solution to that issue explained to them instead of learning and growing from it themselves. I know that is something that can just apply to me, however. Cole is having a lot of self-doubt but the way this self-doubt is introduced is by having another character explain that’s what he’s having. Granted, this is a representation of himself that he talks to, but since this is being presented as a separate entity, I’m going to treat it as such. Every time Cole has a problem, a character tells him he has that problem and usually how he should go about fixing it.
There are several instances were Cole contemplates returning home or leaving Brian. What makes him stay? Another character asks him to stay. He doesn’t seem to have any kind of bond with Brian from what I can tell and never decides this on his own. He just is asked and so he stays.
This is probably frustrating to me because when Cole isn’t fussing over his problems, I actually find him to be a pretty interesting character. He seems to win me over but then have another break down and loses me again. So it’s not that I dislike Cole. I just have a hard time connecting with how he faces conflict.
With other characters, it’s hard to have complaints about them. They are unique and interesting in their own little ways. If I did have any negatives with the other characters, it’s that as of now they don’t seem to be showing any progression. They are for the most part the same as they were when they were introduced. Maybe it’s just too soon to tell though. But this is only a problem with most of the cast. The trainer Brian does seem to be growing as a character and becoming stronger and more competent. This strikes me as odd though as he actually gets the least amount of page time compared to his team. There are a couple of cases where he has short lessons with Cole, but for the most part he seems to be growing and developing off screen.
It’s hard to say how much longer the story of Char-Cole will be seeing as Brian still hasn’t officially earned a gym badge. So it’s possible this will be addressed as we go.
Still though, it’s really the characters that kept me going through the reading since Cole’s drama never clicked with me. Just seeing them interacting and finding new messes to get into is entertaining enough.
Of course, we do have a stand out character. Maoh, the villain of the story. He’s a Mew that’s basically bored and so he messes with our cast. He was far and above the most interesting character to me. It’s a shame he hasn’t gotten much screen time. It’s kind of an odd position he is currently in. I appreciate that he is not the center of every conflict the cast has encountered, but at the same time I just wanted him around more. It’s a hard balance to find when trying to determine how much to use a character like that. Less can be more and all that. So for what we get of him, he’s great. It’s like I want more of him . . . but not TOO much more.
Sum It All Up:
So Char-Cole. It’s a comic that when it gets something right, it usually hits it out of the park. It’s still clearly developing and a lot of problems I currently have with it seem to be working themselves out. It still has room to grow and improve, but was in no way a waste of time. I think the things that are so good in it are what make the problems I have seem so much worse than they actually are, so I hope I did not come across too negative. If you’re looking for a comic with a brain and some good action, this comic is definitely one to check out.
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