This is the second part of the Footloose Meta-review. It’s run a bit longer than expected, and parts 3 (and maybe 4) will be posted hopefully later this week. I plan on consolidating these in the first section as well in a month or two. Part 1 of the Meta-review can be found at this link.
Character Development: 4 ribbons
Primary cast: 4.5 ribbons
Secondary cast: 3 ribbons
Antagonists: 4 ribbons
Character Chemistry: 4.25 ribbons
While the world of Faerie and its fairly unique treatment of storytelling traditions and rules is a huge draw for Footloose, it is the cast which I ultimately fell in love with. That said, there are some flaws with the cast that keeps me from just blithely awarding the comic a “5″ in character development. While Keti and her immediate friends are well fleshed-out, the background cast sadly was neglected, partly due to the huge number of background characters located at the Dojo where the story takes place. This may change now that the comic has shifted gears and gone from “school adventures” to “epic quest” mode. This has resulted in the secondary cast shrinking from over 20 characters to around five (not including adversaries).
Footloose keeps with the tradition of many stories with a primary protagonist, Keti Jones. As such, the comic focuses either on Keti’s perspective on things or on events directly concerning her. Indeed, Keti is revealed to be suffering from “Primary Protagonist Syndrome” which she inherited from her mother (who in the prequel fanfic InubuYAKasha likewise suffered from this syndrome). It is pretty much mandated that Keti is going to end up in the middle of any story that comes along. Considering the varied convoluted reasons writers have come up with over the centuries to involve protagonists, you have to admire the straightforward nature of the author here: Keti is genetically predisposed to be the protagonist, and she gets admitted to the Dojo so she won’t be completely pathetic as one.
Despite being the center of the comic, Keti’s no heroine. She’s not naturally adept in her Kung Shoe classes (think of it as a combination of kickboxing and using shoes as projectile weapons to incapacitate foes), she has a blindspot when it comes to the rules of generics (a failing shared with Keti’s mother and most humans in the comic for that matter), and a tendency toward ineptitude (though with practice she can overcome that tendency). In fact, Keti is perhaps the least Mary Sue-like protagonist I’ve come across in a while. She isn’t beloved by everyone, she isn’t better than other people with minimal effort, she isn’t an annoying git, and she even shows intelligence and cunning when she has a moment to think (and yet can be a complete idiot in other ways). In short… Keti is balanced, and her growth has been a gradual careful thing.
In an interesting twist, she’s also quietly insane, and is manifesting signs of Multiple Generic-induced Sanity Dysfunction (MGSD), which allows the cartoonists to “switch” personas of established characters, send them on violent rampages, and generally behave in methods that normally would be contrary to the norms of character development. Oddly enough, this works. Initial manifestations had Keti talking to imaginary “shoulder friends” that took the form of her friends Jin and Daniel – this was less “good and evil” like traditional shoulder-angels and -devils and more “ditz and sarcasm” but has since evolved to the above-mentioned “mindscape” comics where her genetic aspects (fae, werewolf, and human) appeared after Keti was smacked upside the head with the “Sword of Slayskull,” a plot device from the comic’s fanfic past. Seeing that Keti’s ultimate nature is one of balance, and that several storylines have focused on some aspect of that balance, it’s likely that in time Keti will manage to balance the various aspects of herself and achieve some form of mental unity.
Keeping with the storytelling traditions of the vast majority of fiction out there, Keti has a small circle of friends (and a love interest, though the Keti/An dynamic is a subversion of this). While Footloose is a mixture of high and contemporary fantasy, the comic settled firmly into the School Story genre until recently (where it shifted into a variation of the monomyth, or hero’s journey). As such, Keti’s friendships are formed freshly at the Dojo itself, sparing readers from the tired old trope of the “lifelong childhood friend.” Jin and Daniel have filled out the roles of the lighthearted ditz and snarky cynic respectively (at least, until they get drunk).
On the surface, it would be easy to mischaracterize Jin as a blonde ditz and comedic relief. While on the surface Jin may fit this mold, it doesn’t take much effort to find Jin is a multi-layered person who is deeper and more serious than she pretends to be. Her good nature and high spirits are deliberate masks that Jin dons. It is evident fairly early on that this is not always easy for her. One of Jin’s early catch-phrases in fact is “raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens,” which her twin brother Daniel uses to try and cheer her up at one point and that she used as a mantra when she found herself getting angry.
Jin’s friendship with Keti is one Jin initiated, partly due to the fact her parents had adventured with Keti’s parents (though the two sets of parents weren’t exactly friends) and also partly due to their shared werewolf heritage. In many ways, Keti, Daniel, and Jin have formed a small pack, with Keti and Daniel squabbling over dominance, while Jin watches over and protects both her best friend and brother. I hesitate in calling Jin the “Alpha” of this pack (especially as Keti has led the way on more than one occasion), but given her protectiveness of Keti and Daniel, and how easily she cows her brother, it’s as apt a description as any.
The second of Keti’s close friends is Daniel, Jin’s twin brother. Much like Jin, Daniel’s a fairly complex character who on the surface appears fairly cynical and sarcastic (a tradition which earns him beat-downs from his sister and from Keti). But while we might not have learned (yet) exactly why Jin plays the part of the scatterbrained optimist, we do learn that Daniel dated Sparkle (top magical girl and antagonist for the first six chapters of the story). Jin’s description of the relationship (in that she doesn’t remember Daniel smiling once in the six months he dated Sparkle) makes me wonder if he’d originally been more cheerful and outgoing until Sparkle got her claws into him.
It’s difficult nailing down exactly what makes Daniel tick. It’s easy to define him, but only in regards to other characters; he’s the straight-man to Jin’s antics (and is naturally protective of his younger twin, even as she’s protective of him). Daniel plays a similar role with Keti at times while also giving Keti someone she can safely snarl at. His competitive nature also led to his conflict with An, partly because An proved better than him in their “Indiscriminate Whacking” classes and partly because whenever Daniel tried to challenge An, events would conspire to incapacitate Daniel so he couldn’t fight An and find out just who was the better fighter. But as to who the real Daniel is… I don’t know if we’ve seen him yet.
The final member of the primary cast is An. I must admit to being conflicted on revealing a key aspect about An that Ally and Em managed to conceal from readers for the first five chapters of the comic: An is a girl who was pretending to be a boy. While part of me hates spoiling the surprise for new readers, this is an important factor as the relationship between An and Keti obviously changes once An is revealed to be a girl. (There’s another secret An was hiding as well, but that one isn’t nearly as vital to the character chemistry between An and Keti as Keti learning her big crush was in fact for another girl.) Looking back, there are clues. There’s nothing sufficient for anyone who’s not Sherlock Holmes to put together, but you can see little hints of An’s secret (well, this one at least) that make sense after the fact.
Much like Daniel, An is difficult to nail down without defining him in regards of other characters. It’s spelled out in no uncertain terms that Keti likes An (to the point that Keti still has conflicted feelings over An even after learning the truth). Daniel saw An as competition and perhaps as a threat of his masculinity (an issue which ironically vanishes once An is outed – he doesn’t have a problem with women being better than him, just other men). Daniel may also be attracted to An on some level. But as for An herself? Recent developments suggest that An may be driven by guilt, guilt over her past and perhaps on the consequences of her actions. And when you consider that An was living a lie for so long… you have to wonder if An might have felt tremendously alone. She couldn’t trust anyone with her secrets… because of the danger to others. Indeed, much of An’s odd relationship with Keti could be viewed as a desperate need to have a friend… and Keti read too much into it.
Existing in a sort of ambiguous area between the primary and secondary cast is Sparkle, the primary antagonist for six of the chapters. As the initial antagonist (until Keti traded up for faerie pirates), Sparkle plays the part of foil and competition for An’s interests (obviously before An was revealed to be a girl). She also played a rather cruel prank on Keti just because she could (though Keti managed to turn the tables nicely). The psychological profile of Sparkle in the Cast page sums up Sparkle perfectly: she [is] a charming, highly intelligent and talented young woman … she is also a manipulative little bitch who thoroughly deserves to be taken down a peg or two. She plays the traditional part of “snobby bully” perfectly, and watching her get taken down a peg (several times) is admittedly a guilty pleasure of mine.
In an interesting subversion for Ally and Em’s usual skills in character development, we don’t see much development for Sparkle, or even any back-story that might explain her behavior. At the end of Chapter Six the above-mentioned faerie pirates kidnap her to be a wench/serving girl for them. To date, we’ve seen neither signs of Stockholm syndrome or anything reminiscent of O’ Henry’s The Ransom of Red Chief (which makes sense; Sparkle is mostly defenseless and surrounded by armed pirates who could hurt her if they wanted to), though she’s remained snarky and fairly insolent even in the face of servitude. This seems to be classic Sparkle, so I’m unsure whether to lament at the theoretical lack of character growth in this situation, or applaud Sparkle for remaining defiant even when facing possible pointy doom. Considering her snarkiness in the face of adversity has me cheering for her… I’m applauding while hoping for some further chances at character growth.
As might be expected for any comic with a “school story” focus, the secondary (and tertiary) cast is fairly sizeable. Unfortunately, this has resulted in the vast majority of the cast remaining untouched. We’ve had maybe three members of the secondary cast with any significant fleshing out and development (that being Cherry/Steve, Jimmy, and Iordan). The rest of the cast has remained pretty much background detail that serves little purpose except as setting. Yes, it makes sense that a school (or dojo) would have a goodly number of students, but few secondary characters have had an opportunity to shine. We’ve seen remarkably little about Keti’s classmates in Kung-Shoe, which is surprising when you consider these are the girls Keti has the most contact with on a daily basis. Outside of Jin, Keti’s formed no friendships with her classmates, which is a shame as these extra friendships would have given these characters a chance to be fleshed out and grow.
Likewise, we’ve seen little of the Antagonist Squad, aka the Magical Girls (and Cherry) of the School of Marketable Magic. They pretty much serve as little foot troopers and yes-women for Sparkle to command, and a couple of them are given bare-bones detailing to give them a tiny bit of individuality, but outside of Sparkle and Cherry, I couldn’t name any of them or really mention what purpose they serve besides giving Magical Girls a bad name. Mind you, I have to applaud at a most unique depiction of magical girls as completely contrary to the traditions – not only are most of the magical girls not heroic, but they are in fact quite despicable, with Magical Transvestite Cherry being the odd duck out (in more ways than one) in that outside of doing what Sparkle tells him to do, he’s a fairly decent person. Cherry’s a favorite of both Ally and Em, and has been fleshed out further in his own mini-comic, which I suppose makes him a subversion as he’s both a secondary and primary character as a result.
The same lack of development holds true for the School of Useless Mecha, and if not for the relative dearth of students in Indiscriminate Whacking (with two of the four students being part of the primary cast), I’m sure it would hold true for this school as well. Alice Nuttall created a beautiful and detailed setting with the dojo for Footloose, but ultimately this was meant to be a stepping stone for Keti to prepare her for the bigger adventure ahead. As I mentioned earlier, at the end of Chapter Seven Keti has left the dojo while following An, and the secondary/tertiary cast has been slashed from 20-something to five (six if you include the captive Sparkle), which should make it easier for the secondary cast to be fleshed out further.
(To be continued in Part 3)