You remember Toonami? Had all those shows on that I watched in sixth grade? Dragonball Z, Gundam Wing, Ronin Warriors, Tenchi Muyo, Outlaw Star and all that? Blue Sub 6 was interesting but it was only like six episodes long.
Well anyway they say Tenchi Muyo introduced America to “harem anime” which established a bunch of tropes that include the sex-starved adolescent male protagonist with a negative statement from First Self-Esteem Bank complaining about his love life when ALL OF
THE A SUDDEN one or several (usually several for the “harem” part) smokin’ hot babes become permanent additions to his life based solely on a few really ridiculous rolls of the cosmic dice. Maybe she’s a hot robot he finds in the trash or maybe she’s a Norse goddess he accidentally phoned up one day, and if you were a nerd watching these shows you didn’t so much want to be the guy as much as you wanted to kill the guy and take his place because he represented everything you hated about yourself, or because he was so insufferable for being all anxious all the time. Friggin dweeb.
Tune is kind of like that, with the creepy nerd protagonist who faints when he touches girl hair having his life altered by obscene outside forces, only instead of having hot ladies fall from the sky it’s being abducted into an alien version of The Truman Show while his love interest is in class. I like it. It’s published by First Second, whose titles we’ve reviewed before. Derek Kim writes and Les McClaine draws, and they both have a lot of experience in entertainment (Les was nominated for an Eisner and Derek has worked on a bunch of stuff from independent film to comic collaborations), so I think you’re in good hands as far as quality goes.
So we’ve got this kid, name’s Andy Go, nice South Korean chump, slightly creepy but not repulsive. He majored in Illustration but decided to drop out of college because he thought he was too good to have a Bachelor’s degree. Predictably, he finds out a recession is a bad time to drop out of college. It’s actually a webcomic, but it’s also in paperback. Book 1 contains chapters 1-10, while all 17 so far are online. I didn’t know it was a webcomic until after I’d read the PDF so I guess this could be a Webcomic Wednesday? Whatever, I’ll review it as both. Try and stop me.
Andy supposedly has OCD but since he’s a nerd it’s probably a self-diagnosis since it never shows up after the first few pages and is never a major part of the plot. OCD doesn’t necessarily manifest as a need for cleanliness, it could be a desire to rub a pillow exactly 76 times before you can sleep on it but whatever. Okay, I shouldn’t get too hung up on this. Back to reviewing.
The forever-alone-nerd who’s too chicken to ask a girl out is overdone, and his friends are cookie cutter as hell, but I’m okay with that because their dialogue makes them real and relateable. We don’t really see much of his friends anyway. Andy is the star of the show for most of this, and he’s diverse and flawed enough that it’s okay that his friends don’t distinguish themselves too much from what Andy tells us about them. His crush, Yumi, is tomboyish, slightly aggressive and likeable. Kind of hipster too, which the author acknowledges early on, and her history with Andy is a great read.
Those are the more interesting couples, the ones where they’re both well within each other’s leagues instead of that BS nerd fantasy of rocking the hottest chick in school, which always meant weak female leads anyway.
So the characters are good. The plot is too, and I look forward to seeing more of his space prison time since the aliens have a background and culture that is going to make Andy’s interactions with them entertaining to follow. The thing I take issue with is the narration, which is a nice touch by giving it a slower pace and fleshing out the emotions of characters, but sometimes the writing is superfluous and you will see him explain an event right after you watch it happen. In the tug of war between show and tell, they like to show some and tell more. I like it, but I think it could be implemented more selectively.
I think they could also dial back on the number of metaphors and analogies they use. Some felt awkward not so much for being badly designed but because… well, you know that saying “adjectives aren’t sprinkles”? That’s what it feels like sometimes. They don’t over-saturate the narrative but it does feel like they’re spinning their wheels occasionally. The dialogue doesn’t run into the same problems as the internal narrative though (excusing the metaphors part of course). Characters act and react like you’d expect them to most of the time, except of course for the slapstick. Aside from a need to condense their writing I think it’s great, and I like watching Andy try to navigate this horrible disgusting world like a fish out of water. You’ll also get a small dose of Korean humor and culture here and there.
The art is like any type of lighthearted anime you’ve ever seen- a little bit Miyazaki, a little bit Toriyama, with McClaine’s own flavor. Characters have stocky proportions so they’re enjoyable to look at and it lets him play with their appearance when they move and talk. I like how he portrays emotion with good old fashioned exaggeration, like when Andy’s head explodes at one point. After chapter 10 he loses his anime eyes and becomes a little more like a Ryan Armand illustration, with some details simplified. It’s still good regardless of the art style they choose, and honestly I think it looks more flexible. I don’t know, I don’t have anything bad at all to say about it otherwise. Very fun to look at, really expressive.
The panel layout is interesting. It’s basically a grid but it’s laid out in front of a starry sky for a background, like a constant reminder of where this comic is headed which they also use to fool around with panel placement. Foreboding, in a way, but also makes me think of how he makes a huge deal out of problems that end up being impossibly insignificant when you think of the cosmos. “Pale Blue Dot” kind of stuff, you know? Also loneliness. The best thing about it is that you never get confused. The free space lets them stick the panels anywhere they want, and so they descend in a way that your eye can find easy to follow.
So yeah, I like this comic, and I think you will too. Art’s great, writing is good, characters are likeable, the comedy’s decent. Sure, you can read it for free on the web, but why don’t you buy it too? Show these guys you appreciate their effort, know what I mean? Personally I think I’m gonna bookmark this. I want to see where this goes.
Tune is written by Derek Kirk Kim with art by Les McClaine. It is published online, updated M/W/F at tunecomic.com. It is also supported through First Second, which will be publishing a collection titled Tune: Vanishing Point in November of this year. This is the collection read for the purposes of this review.
A review copy of Tune: Vanishing Point was obtained through Netgalley.