The Webcomic Overlook #53: Powerpuff Girls Doujinshi
One of the questions I get asked often is: “El Santo, how come you never cover webcomic fanfiction?”
OK, I so I never actually get asked the question. Ever. Heck, you’re probably kicking yourself because now you know that webcomic fanfiction exists, and you can do nothing to scrub that terrible thought from your brain. “Out, damn spot!” as the Lady MacBeth would say.
As a side note, video game comments are almost alway except from such discussions. Kate Tiedrich of Awkward Zombie writes stories using Super Smash Brothers as a background. And just recently I did a review of Scott Kurtz and his comic about the World of Warcraft. The practice is so prevalent in videogame webcomics that fanfiction never crosses the minds of most readers.
I’m talking about the hard stuff. Such as a dramatic (and surprisingly well drawn) Chip & Dale Rescue Rangers fanfiction. Once upon a time, I had considered reviewing this fine work (which, if I can be serious for a moment here, actually does contain some decent art), but I ran into a major stumbling block. Mainly, that I would actually have to sit down and read a Chip & Dale Rescue Rangers fanfiction. And you know how most of those go, right? Hint: most writers have an unhealthy obsession with Gadget. And then there’s Stink Child Comics. Its premise? The author’s self-insert is hopelessly in love with Kim Possible. Yeah, at this point there’s nothing the comic can do to earn more than one star. To go any further would be awfully mean spirited.
So instead I focus my energies on a comic that has been on hiatus since 2006, but which I have good reason to believe may, at any point, be suddenly resurrected to once again prey on our unguarded minds. It’s a comic that, in 2007, was one of the most searched topics on Comixpedia. And, somehow, this comic has won two Web Cartoonists Choice Awards. And not for some totally mde-up category like Best Fanfiction Comic or Doujinshi Superstar something. No, it won for legitimate-sounding awards like “Oustanding Superhero Comic” and “Outstanding Character.” Ah, yes, this is why the WCCA’s get so much respect among the media and webcomic professionals.
Today, The Webcomic Overlook reviews a little something called Powerpuff Girls Doujinshi.
Before we properly start, I should say a word or two about doujinshi. In Japan, “Doujinshi,” which is in essence manga fanfiction, is a fairly semi-respectable practice. Several top manga artists — including Ken Akamatsu (Love Hina), Rikdo Koshi (Excel Saga), and Rumiko Takahashi (Ranma 1/2) — either got their start doing doujinshi or still practice making fan-works to this day. However, in the Western World where copyright is king, the practice is mostly frowned upon. I’ll let Wikipedia explain:
In Western cultures, dōjinshi is often perceived to be derivative of existing work, analogous to fan fiction and almost completely pornographic. This is partly true: dōjinshi are often, though not always, parodies or alternative storylines involving the worlds of popular manga or anime series, and many of them feature overtly sexual material.
The artist of Powerpuff Girls Doujinshi is a guy who calls himself “Bleedman” … who is apparently some guy in the Philippines really named Vinson Ngo. I bring up his nationality, by the way, as a sort of concession that as an Asian there’s a chance that doujinshi is similarly not taboo over there. Bleedman was also responsible for other doujinshi works such as Grim Tales From Down Below (a take on The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy) and The King of Fighters 2001 Doujinshi. His current work is Sugar Bits, which I assume contains original characters.
Powerpuff Girls Doujinshi answers the question: “What if Powerpuff Girls were rendered in detailed manga and were embroiled in serious, epic plot developments?” This question, clearly has laid heavily on every Powerpuff Girl fan ever since we found out that Bubbles could take her power level to 11. Craig McCracken, you gave the world a wonderful gift and all, but when did you ever explore the complex emotional state of Blossom’s heart or the true source of Buttercup’s angst? Fans deserve to have a far more mature take of your characters!
If you think I’m being completely facetious, I should note that Cartoon Network did, in fact, produce an anime with this exact same premise. Witness Demashita! Powerpuff Girls Z, a toon that has been aired everywhere in the world except the USA. To Bleedman’s credit, he came up with the idea first. Incidentally, Demashita! Powerpuff Girls Z debuted the same year Powerpuff Girls Doujinshi went on hiatus. I’m not ruling out some sort of legal injunction here. (Let’s label this Theory #1.)
What separates Doujinshi from it’s animated ilk, by the way, is that it doesn’t restrict itself to the Powerpuff Girl mythos alone. This gym instructor, for example. His name is Jack, and he’s secretly a samurai. Hmmmm…. And then there’s a familiar looking robot with a car for a head piloted by a goateed fat guy. Yet Cartoon Network original creations are not the only characters subjected to Bleedman’s pen. Nickelodeon characters get the treatment as well. And to be completely honest with you, this is the most fun part of Powerpuff Girls Doujinshi. What characters will Bleedman take on next, and how is he going to shoe-horn them into his universe? I was actually a little disappointed that the comic ended in 2006 before Bleedman got a chance to take on Foster’s Home For Imaginary Friends or Ben 10. Oh well, at least we got two whole pages of Atomic Betty.
Out of these, however, Dexter from Dexter’s Lab gets thrust into the role of main character. He’s so prominent, in fact, that the strip could be renamed Dexter’s Lab Doujinshi and no one would complain. He serves first as the antagonist, then as a romantic interest, and then the series’ main character. And at that point, the comic goes totally batsh** insane. But let’s not go there just yet.
One of the largest criticisms of manga-style webcomics is that they’re simply mimicking a trend that wasn’t created here. Like I’ve said of Eisu Mokhtar (Marry Me, No Pink Ponies), does that criticism apply if the artist actually is from Asia? I mean, you’ve gotta consider it as a continuation of a cultural heritage, right? Besides, manga or not, Bleedman’s art is very attractive. It’s clean, it’s colorful, and it’s action packed when it needs to be. His characters seem to be natural evolution of the original cartoons: Bleedman’s Powerpuff Girls, for example, resemble the source material far closer than the official anime designs. What bugs me are the dearth of facial expressions. The stock three emotions are conveniently encapsulated in this single page: a cute, innocent anime smile; exaggerated blushing (where the nose disappears somehow); and a blank, zombie-like stare. I gave the Applegeeks guys hell over it, and I’m not letting Bleedman off the hook either.
Then you have the generic-looking villains and robot power armors straight out of Evangelion central casting. And there’s Bleedman’s unfortunate tendency to draw upskirts of underage girls, which he does quite often. I chalked that up, though, to the pitfalls that come with trying to force anime aesthetics on Western properties. Though, I suppose, you could’ve easily conveyed the “Powerpuff Girls done anime” mission statement without flipping up the skirts of it’s title characters. Um… moving right along….
Powerpuff Girls Doujinshi starts off with a fairly commonplace scenario. The three Powerpuff girls enroll at the local elementary school, and for some reason, they can’t fit in. Lord knows why not: Dexter and friggin’ Billy & Mandy go to the same school. Surely, three superpowered girls aren’t so bizarre. Anyway, they get into their first scrape when Dexter dons a powersuit and battles them for playground dominance! And then … and then we start to enter the Fanfiction Zone. You know, that special place where you’re absolutely embarrassed to be reading this tripe and yet you are powerless to stop.
We get our first sign with the uncomfortable pairing of Buttercup with Dexter. (Fanfiction writers like to call this “shipping.” Don’t ask me how I know.) Romance is portrayed in a way that only meticulous, repeat viewings of harem anime could produce: the serious romantic relationship show the guy acting totally distaff while a girl sits nearby, smiles, and more or less throws herself at him. If we haven’t yet hammered home that the romance is handled on a strictly prepubescent level. There’s the schoolyard taunting of the immature “You’ve got a girlfriend! You’ve got a girlfriend!” variety. Let me just say that it’s a little creepy when the person doing the taunting is Coop Cooplowski, I guy I figured to be in his late 20′s. Cripes, everything about this reeks of being written by a 12-year-old.
Ah, but wait until we get to the pièce de résistance. I should warn you, there are spoilers ahead … not that it isn’t completely telegraphed, as long as you know you standard fanfiction tropes, anyway. It begins when Blossom discovers that Dexter is building an android in the form of his dead sister, Dee Dee. Look for answers, Blossom seeks out Otto (from Time Squad). Blossom and Otto travel back in time, back to Dexter’s ridiculously happy childhood. Then we see it all come crashing down as Dee Dee dies trying to save him. The angst is ratcheted to a hundred.
This would be really dramatic if it wasn’t so, you know, laughable.
The comic is so unrepentantly emo that Gerard Way would think that they were taking it way too far. It’s a full time pity party. Dexter blames himself. Mandark blames himself. Blossom pours out her heart in sympathy. And, wouldn’t you know it, there’s a scene where Mandark pushes Dexter to the edge, and he snaps back, “Why can’t you just … Shuddup!” Say what you want about Bleedman, he doesn’t skimp on the angst!
And then there’s the subplot where Mandark turns out to be a frustrated transsexual. Seriously. I don’t know what bothers me more: the idea that Bleedman decided to go there, or the fact that I know he ripped the idea straight out of The Vision of Escaflowne anime. (EDIT: Christopher from the comments informs me that this is, in fact, canon. That’s what I get for not watching enough Dexter’s Lab.)
The story got so bad and nausea-inducing that I toyed briefly with the idea that perhaps Bleedman was writing a parody a bad fanfiction. Maybe, just maybe this is some elaborate form of meta-commentary. Is Bleedman making fun of how writers oftentimes resort to unrelentingly grim and overdramatic stories? Like that one Ranma 1/2 fanfiction where Akane spend the entire story moping about how she accidentally killed Ranma with a hammer? (You know the one.) But then I see a page with reams of text explaining a a futilely elaborate story, and I wonder to myself, “Would anyone really write out reams of this garbage and spend buttloads of time on the drawings just to play a joke?”
Powerpuff Girl Doujinshi reeks of adolescence. When I was younger and my storytelling abilities were driven by my hormones and my insecurities, I wrote that way, too. Fortunately, I had the luxury of burning each and every single one of the stories I created during that time, thus securing the spotlessness of my legacy forever. Theory #2 of why Powerpuff Girls Doujinshi went on hiatus: Bleedman finally grew up, read the crap he wrote in his earlier days, and nearly tore his hair out.
Good doujinshi can be written. Heck, I’m man enough to admit that I’ve read some in my time. With Powerpuff Girl Doujinshi, Bleedman partly succeeds: his art looks great, and he does have a decent sense of character design (though I don’t think he should’ve won an award for it). However, he screws up in two important areas. First, while I give him points for effort, his attempts to develop characters are absolutely ludicrous. Second, despite injecting the comic with a healthy dose of angst, the story is one thick slice of ham.
If you want to see the Powerpuff Girls rendered in glorious anime style, look up Bleedman’s DeviantArt account. No need to risk stabbing your eyes out by reading the story. It’s just like reading a fanfiction: at first you’re amused by the novel interpretations of the characters, but by the end, you’re feeling really, really dirty.
Rating: 2 Stars (out of 5)
(NOTE: In the original version of this review, I had Blossom and Buttercup’s name mixed up. That’s the sort of mistake that’s totally inexcusable. I have since edited that error. Many thanks to Sly Eagle, who receives the El Santo Award for Good Stewardship.)
Posted on August 28, 2008, in 2 Stars, action webcomic, anime, dramatic webcomic, manga style webcomic, pop culture caricatures, sci-fi webcomic, superheroes, The Webcomic Overlook, Uncategorized, WCO Big Review, webcomics and tagged doujinshi, fanfiction, Powerpuff Girls, Powerpuff Girls Doujinshi. Bookmark the permalink. 52 Comments.