The Webcomic Overlook #218: Aeria
“Aeria” is pretty unfortunate name for a fantasy realm. I doesn’t sound too bad at first. It’s got the “aerie” in the name, which is the nest of a hawk, eagle, falcon or other bird of prey. There’s an implication of loftiness and grim (some would say hawkish) determination. Since the world of Aeria is a bunch of islands defying laws of nature and physics by floating in the empty confines of space while somehow retaining an atmosphere, then it’s sort of appropriate, right?
It also sounds like “aria”, the musical composition made popular by Puccini, Mozart, and Bizet. It puts you in the mood for some classical music, an appropriate accompaniment when you’re traipsing around a fantasy world with a team consisting of a mage, a paladin, a thief, and a ranger.
And yet … it feels a tad unimaginative. I’m going to blame it on the fact that “Aeria” also sounds exactly like “area.” “Well, we’re going to start off in north area and journey down to middle area. We’re then going to go to west area so we can catch a ship heading over the sea of area until we reach generic brand islands.”
It’s middle of the read, which incidentally is also how I feel about this comic. Aeria is the title of the land and the name of the manga-style comic written by Fabian Rastorfer, illustrated by Songwut Ouppakarndee, and assisted by Kridsana Rattananen and Tim Harding. The comic is something of an international production. Mr. Rastorfer is from Switzerland (though studying in New York), and Mssrs. Ouppakarndee and Rattananen are from Bangkok, Thailand.
(It’s also alternately known as The Tale of Aeria in the browser header, but since the banner truncates it to the single word title, I’m just gonna go with that.)
I discovered the comic while I was doing my app reviews. Now that I’m more familiar with the comic, it turns out that the app is horribly broken. The comic, it turns out, is on Chapter 6. The app only has links for the first three. So if you downloaded the app due to my review, I suggest you delete it henceforth to make room for, I don’t know, whatever Zynga’s ripping off these days.
Aeria is arranged in a traditional manga-style format, which means that it’s meant to be read right to left. While a nice tribute to the style, it’s a little annoying since the only available version of it, from as far as I can tell, is in English, which is meant to be read left to right. The nationality of the art team can’t be excused, either: the Thai alphabet is also meant to be read left to right. Which means that the only reason Aeria is formatted to resemble a badly translated manga at the cost of, you know, readability.
(It does make me wonder, though: when Japanese fans of American comics make their own “tribute” pieces — and I assume these exist, given how the international box office is being dominated by American superheroes these days — do they force their readers to read left to right? Because that’s how it’s done in the original works? This is a sincere question and not meant to be a put down.)
Aeria is populated by a bunch of animal-headed furry aliens named amarogs. The comic is still a little vague on the … um … merger between man and beast came about: I imagine there were copious amounts of hard liquor and Barry Manilow involved. But the result is that amarogs have hardwired genetics that let them cast shamanistic spells, i.e. magic that requires no technology to cast.
However, the amarogs one day come face to face with the greatest predator of all: man. (Boooo!) So a bunch of spaceships land in Aeria with a bunch of human refugees. They’ve been traveling space without a home like they’re Battlestar Galactica because their species was responsible for the destruction of their home planet. (Boooooo! We loved Earth! It’s where my stuff is!)
So, since the amarogs have never listened to Siouxsie and The Banshees, they naively let the humans land on their planet. (Or floating subcontinents.) Since the races cannot obviously cohabitate, things naturally go sour after a few years and the amarogs get their butts handed to them in a frontier war. “It’s unknown how many have died on that day, as most corpses were burnt to ashes,” says a wise amarog elder about the huge battle, “but it’s rumored to be up to eighty percent of the entire amarogian population. The humans won … Aeria.”
Eighty percent? In one battle? Shoot, if I were the general in charge, I probably would’ve surrendered at 25%. What was the general thinking? “Oh man. Things are looking bad. We’re definitely getting wiped out. But … I have no idea what to do next. Keep sending them in to get killed? I guess?” By the way, this was eighty percent of the entire population. (Fun fact! The Soviet Union, which had the highest casualties in World War II, lost 14% of the entire population.) So did no one stay behind to tend to the fields or look after the children? Because I’m pretty sure that’s how populations conduct themselves in actual wars. I know this is supposed to make me sympathize with the amarogians, but all I getting out of this is that they’re not particularly bright.
Aeria is probably drawing from Native American history here. However, it kind of falls apart. While it’s true that an estimated 95% of the Native American population being was out, most were the result of disease, exacerbated by the generally poor hygienic practices of Western Europeans and a potential genetic disposition among Native Americans to succumb to the same sicknesses. (Not to mention that it took centuries.) It wasn’t necessarily superior armaments. Charles Mann, writer of 1491, figures that Native American weapons at the time were actually superior, since the muskets if the day were slow to use and highly unreliable.
Enter Fabraz, our hero. Credit to Team Aeria here: he’s a pretty intriguing protagonist. While I think the backstory of Aeria is a little haphazard, it’s easy to ignore because while Fabraz is a little shallow personality-wise, his heroe’s journey arc moves along at a nice clip. He’s a naive guy who doesn’t know much about the world, and through him we learn what we can of the underlying mysteries and societal structures of Aeria.
While he’s got gray hair and a pointy goatee, Fabraz is actually a young man in his early 20’s. He’s also a bit of an anime horndog, chasing after attractive young women (except, of course, for the shy, demure girl who really wants to be with him). He is also fiercely loyal, and highly emotional.
As we open the story, Fabraz is a pirate. The captain, a cyborg mountain lion man, adopted him, raising him from childhood and training him in the shamanistic arts. This is a big deal, because while humans can cast magic, it’s of the arcane kind (the tech-augmented version). Later, this causes a lot of worry from some of the side characters. Some speculate that he’s — *gasp* — actually been injecting himself with amarog blood. Others think that he may be the offspring of a human/amarog union.
My money is that the guy is at least half goat.
The pirate ship gets attacked by some human wizards who seem to be on a quest to purge the world of human shamans. Fabraz loses and eye, and he’s left for dead. Or rather, he’s sent down a huge tunnel to heaven knows where. When he wakes up, he finds himself at a remote farmhouse in the care of an elderly couple. With his pirate life behind him, Fabraz settles down into the life of a farmer.
He befriends a girl named Tavia who is half-cow. Wait. We learn later that amarogs take on the powers of their animal counterparts (tongue-twistingly refered to as a “Farloctar“). So, if Tavia if half-cow, and she’s hanging around the farm, does that mean that the milk comes from….? I mean, what other powers would a cow have except…?
OK, let’s stop this train of thought. NOW. (Crap. This is what I get for reading Las Lindas.) Anyway, Tavia is a nice girl, even if she’s that blushing, demure anime female lead who always seems like she’s just a few words away from squealing, “B-b-but… Fabraz-sempai!!!!”
Anyway, one thing leads to another. Fabraz becomes the only human member in an underground society of furries. This turns out to be a little challenging, because several members of this group hate Fabraz for being a human. There’s good reason, too; amarogs have been disappearing from all over the city for some sinister purpose. Fabraz, though, being the only human shaman in existence, may possess the key to bring harmony to the human and amarog sides once and for all.
I was tempted to award this an extra star just because I think Team Aeria does a fantastic job of establishing the pacing. There have already been some action moments like the pirate ship attack. There have also been nice slow moments to let the reader catch their breath. Ultimately, there aren’t many pages devoted to when Fabraz is working on the farm, but you get the sense he was there just enough to establish his footing and to think about his life a little. Thus, his change from being a swashbuckling pirate to being a big-brother figure to Tavia is actually a little believable.
What made me ultimately dock that star, though, are the whiplashing tone shifts. Later in the comic, Fabraz is beset by White Man’s Guilt as one of his allies — a lion man — points out the visible atrocities done to the amarogs. They’re surveying a jumble of body parts of a mass grave. The third party member — a deer man — chastises the lion man, for there are clearly human body parts in the same grave. Everyone is beset with guilt and shame.
And then, a few pages later, Fabraz and the lion man bicker like they’re schoolboys arguing whether Batman or Spider-Man is the greatest. Meanwhile, the deer man is standing off to the side with the equivalent of a big ol’ anime sweat drop on his head. It’s clearly meant to be a comedy moment. And I’m like, “You just looked at a mass grave?!! What the hell?!?!?” I know it’s supposed to evoke the wild tonal changes of anime, but c’mon. I don’t think it happens that much there either. I don’t think Kaneda does a comedic pratfall after Akira squishes his girlfriend. Shoot, I think even Evangelion shelved a lot of the Pen-Pen stuff after crap really started to hit the fan.
It’s a comic that’s trying to wring your hearts over the evils of racism while trying to be goofy and silly at the same time. (Tagline: “A story of epic proportions and a few too many laughs.”) Not that its observations over race are all that trenchant to begin with. It’s of the shallow “a world that hates us and fears us” variety, where the bad guys are mustache twirling villains and the good guys are sorta doormats. It is also the sort of comic where one of the amarogs actually says, “I dun’ do nuthin’ masta’!!!”
But, like I said, it does move along at a nice clip, and it does deliver on the “epic proportions” part of the tagline. Fabraz is a pretty likable guy, and one of the better “Chosen One” type characters in webcomics. Aeria isn’t a bad webcomic to pick up if you’re in the mood for an unchallenging fantasy story with some decent manga-influenced artwork and some OK looking furries.
Incidentally, the background image, one of the wallpapers, and the app all feature a redhead in a bikini top and hot pants. Though the comic is six chapters long, this character has not made an appearance. I’m kinda suspicious that this character doesn’t actually exist. Shoot… wouldn’t be the first time I got snookered by the promise of a hot redhead.
Rating: 3 stars (out of 5)
Posted on December 20, 2012, in 3 Stars, action webcomic, adventure webcomic, fantasy webcomic, furry webcomic, manga style webcomic, sci-fi webcomic, steampunk webcomic, The Webcomic Overlook, WCO Big Review, webcomics. Bookmark the permalink. 10 Comments.