The Webcomic Overlook #183: Turbo Defiant Kimecan
It’s been almost a decade since I’ve last watched anime. At some point, I think, I just got too old. I began prioritizing artistic and storytelling cues that anime was just not delivering. The characters were just too … young now. The complexions were too smooth and attractive. Nowadays I enjoy visual imperfections that give some character. And, for the most part, the hallmarks of youth — the uncertainty for the future, the need to define one’s destiny, the feeling of invincibility one gets when at one’s peak physique — are now concerns that I haven’t though about for years. Anime and adolescence are intricately tied.
More than anything, though, I think you get to be a certain age where staring at pictures of teenage girls in short skirts gets to be a little creepy. You think “Read Comics In Public Day” is some sort of brave stand against societal norms? Wait until I establish “Grown-Ass Men Read Shoujo Manga Day.”
Westernized manga, though, tends to solve a lot of my most pertinent issues. They retain the art style, the trappings, and the story beats from their Japanese originators. At the same time, they are more likely to mirror attitudes and mores less embarrassing for Western audiences. Take, for example, Ferran Daniel’s Turbo Defiant Kimecan, a manga-style webcomic that hails from Mexico. (For you readers from a primarily Spanish-speaking country, you may be happy to hear that there is a Spanish version of the comic.)
The title is clearly meant to recall adjective-heavy monnikers of animes past: Magic Knight Rayearth, Idol Defense Force Hummingbird, and — my personal favorite — All Purpose Cultural Cat Girl Nuku Nuku. They’re very visually descriptive, aren’t they? Like, with Turbo Defiant Kimecan, you at least expect something fast, perhaps the chance of seeing something death-defying, and … I don’t know, a little can-can, perhaps? One can dare to dream.
Kimecan is an urban fantasy. Our hero, Lucas, is prone to having strange dreams about being half-furry. Specifically, he turns into an anthropomorphic black-and-white talking cat. He’s also whisked to another world that’s filled with lumpy slime monsters and other assorted creatures. He repeatedly encounters a raven-haired girl in a Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts band outfit. Then Lucas wakes up, does the whole “That sure was a crazy dream!” routine, then goes about his boring, routine life.
Lucas is also mopey and somewhat downbeat. By his own admission, is nobody. Eeeeeemmmooooo. In fact, his mopiness is almost cliche. How cliche, you ask? There’s actually a scene where he’s standing over his mother’s grave. Will that very same scene also include a shot of his father, who’s standing by the car some distance away? Yes. Will this scene also have a dramatic revelation where our hero blames his mother’s death on himself and estranging him from his father? Yes. Will there be a scene where Lucas creepily asks if he can visit the next day, revealing his morbid fascination with death? No, you’re thinking Cop Dog.
But it would not be out of place!
Lucas dismisses the other world as dream until he meets an eccentrically dressed girl on the subway. Wait… is this … Kimecan? Wait, the character guide says her name is Gala. (And also that no one is actually named “Kimecan.”) For some reason, I don’t ever remember her name being called out in the story at all. Let’s be honest here, though: her name is really Haruko from FLCL. It’s not just because of the pink hair and the form-fitting tights. Everything about her screams “Haruko.” She’s in love with a giant mech. She’s recless and loud. There’s even a scene where she does a barrel roll with a van. All she needs is a Vespa and a boss Rickenbacker bass guitar model 4001 and you wouldn’t be able to tell the difference. But at least he’s not lifting characters wholeheartedly from Cowboy Bebop or anyth-… oh wait.
Haruk- … uh, Gala is a multi-level threat, and everything that Lucas is not. She’s playful. She’s boisterous. She’s sex appeal. She’s athletic, which makes her an expert monster slayer. And she’s part of a team, which includes an old man who can transform into a giant rabbit and a big dude in a hat. They seem to be tasked with protecting Lucas from a bunch of otherworldly demons, who, in the real world, take the forms of some swank-looking clowns.
Why is everyone after Lucas? While it’s not been explained in detail yet, it probably has to do something about Lucas’s otherworldly transformation. Not the cat… but rather a giant robot. And not to harp too much on Daniel’s anime homages, but add a Pillows soundtrack and it’s Giant Robots coming out of Naota’s head all over again.
While the imagery — which resembles anime screenshots — is undoubtedly pretty, the flow from panel to panel isn’t the easiest to follow. Daniel doesn’t take advantage of the visual language of comics to tell his story, and the information tends to come out as a jumble. To be fair, Daniel tries a different, rather novel approach to storytelling by controlling the presentation of the pictures and word balloons through semi-animated sequences where one panel is presented per click through.
“Wait,” you’re saying. “Did you say … semi-animated? Is Turbo Defiant Kimecan done … in Flash?!?!?!?”
No! I mean, yes. I mean, technically it’s HTML5 … but most of you are going to call it Flash. (Ed. Note: No wait! It WAS Flash. I blame my poor reading comprehension skills.) It was, in fact, Scott McCloud specifically called it out as one of the “new webcomics using navigation techniques that neatly sum up this interesting technological moment we’re in.” Fortunately for the Flash averse, Kimecan is also available in standard HTML.
Guess what, though? In an unexpected twist, I actually liked the Flash verison better. Kimecan is basically a shonen manga, and those are all about action. That’s why there are so many speed lines, reaction shots, kick-ass action sequences, etc. Adding sequences that resemble a limited form of animation feels like a natural fit for this genre.
The HTML-version only, on the other hand, feels sluggish by comparison. I had tasted the sweet adrenaline thrill of the Flash interface. I can’t live the button-down life like you. I want it all: the terrifying lows, the dizzying highs, the creamy middles. Sure, I might offend a few of the bluenoses with my cocky stride and musky odors — oh, I’ll never be the darling of the so-called “City Fathers” who cluck their tongues, stroke their beards, and talk about “What’s to be done with this ….”
Oops. Sorry. Got on a bit of a Simpsons quote kick there.
There are parts of the story that I found somewhat poignant. For example, Lucas is having one of his pity parties. He goes to the circus, and an unexpected prank seems to have changed his mood. He’s cheered up, and he seems like a totally different person. He smiles, he drinks beer, he even comes close to getting to first base with Jessica, the girl who’s obviously had her eyes on him for some time. (Incidentally, this runs up against the relative innocence of shonen manga. Live-action teenagers who get drunk and make out on the couch? Sounds like the latest episode of Pretty Little Liars on ABC Family. Teenagers who get drunk and make out on the couch … in an anime-style comic? Something about it just seems really off. Shouldn’t Lucas be bleeding out of his nose like crazy or something?)
Of course, it turns out he’s some sort of crazy replicant. Here’s where the hero’s journey comes into focus, though: the biggest clue that our monster wasn’t the real Lucas was because misshapen, otherworldly monster doppleganger Lucas was actually likable… which is a sly indictment on the character himself. It reminds me a little of Lev Grossman’s The Magicians. In that novel, our hero discovers that no amount of magic or wonders can ever truly make him happy, because at the core of his character he really is an insufferable bastard and no amount of adventure in the book’s version of Narnia can really fix his emptiness inside. “Stop looking for the next secret door that is going to lead you to your real life,” snaps his girlfriend Alice. “Stop waiting. This is it: there’s nothing else. It’s here, and you’d better decide to enjoy it or you’re going to be miserable wherever you go, for the rest of your life, forever.”
I get the same sense of deep emptiness from Lucas. He’s a guy who’s miserable, but no amount of transforming into a cat or a giant robot or adventuring in magical realms fighting demons is ever going to truly turn his life around. If Lucas is going to change and become a fraction of the winner as the monster masquerading to be him, his attitude’s gotta be the first to go.
At the end, though, there’s little original storytelling with Turbo Defiant Kimecan. If you’ve watched a lot of anime — and chances are if you’re even at all interested in this comic, you have — then the story will come off as a little derivative. Kimecan offers few surprises. The characters are mostly one-dimensional echoes of characters from better comics and anime. The only reasons to read Kimecan is to enjoy Ferran Daniel’s art and his novel implementation of the HTML5 … which, admittedly, is pretty darned nifty. But visual tricks can only carry your comic so far, and Kimecan just isn’t one of those webcomics I feel compelled to read again.
Rating: 3 stars (out of 5)
Posted on September 11, 2011, in 3 Stars, action webcomic, adventure webcomic, fantasy webcomic, manga style webcomic, The Webcomic Overlook, WCO Big Review, webcomics. Bookmark the permalink. 9 Comments.