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Meta-review: Footloose (Part 3)

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Here’s the conclusion to the Meta-review. I apologize for how long it took to write the entire thing; it’s over 5,000 words in length (making it among the longest of the Meta-reviews, though I think the Girl Genius Meta-review might be longer). Part 1 can be found here, while Part 2 is located here. The review in its entirety will also be posted on its own page in the Meta-review section.

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Continuity: 4.75 ribbons
Story Genre: Contemporary and High Fantasy, School Story, Adventure, Comedy

One problem with just about every webcomic lies with the fact they are incomplete works that are put up slowly over time. This gives the cartoonists or writers time to change their mind about details and existing continuity. Unfortunately, this past continuity is still quite visible in the archives, and can create discontinuity for new readers skimming through the archives. (I suspect this is one reason for comic relaunches.) One way around this is by writing out the entire script of the story before the comic even goes online (though even then discontinuities can creep in if the writer isn’t careful).

Footloose is part of a growing number of storytelling webcomics that have done just this. The background setting has been extensively prepared, and much of the past was already written down in the prequel fanfic that Alice Nuttall and Emily Brady wrote several years back (and which actually inspired the current comic). As such, Footloose has a well-written and fairly concise story, and within the comic itself there are no inconsistencies that stood out. (This doesn’t hold true for InubuYAKasha, but Ally and Em found an imaginative method of explaining those inconsistencies away; seeing as the fanfic has minimal bearing on the comic outside of background material, it’s not a factor anyway.)

There is a remarkable level of continuity in the characters behavior and reactions as well; even Keti’s recent odd behavior was built upon layers and layers of previous content which informed all but the most unobservant readers that Keti was going to go nuts. If anything, the level of foreshadowing concerning Keti has been overkill, though some of the shout-outs have been subtly done. Even recent events such as An flirting with Daniel have their roots in the past (though this is more evident in hindsight).

That’s not to say there are no incongruities. The problem is discerning what aspects are mistakes, and which ones just haven’t come to fruition yet. One case in point is with Keti’s mom, Beansprout, who Flibbage initially asked to come to the Dojo to teach. It would not be for just over 190 updates when Beansprout would land the job Flibbage had offered way back when. Add in the presence of a Deus Ex Machina (literally) from the InubuYAKasha prequel story, and almost any incongruity can ultimately be hand-waved away. Hopefully, Ally and Em will take the time and effort to deal with these incongruities before they’re a problem, rather than rely on their Deus Ex Machina (unless, of course, the DEM is in fact the point of said storyline).

Rating: PG

Footloose is rated PG. I don’t recall any swearing (though swear-substitution has occurred, with “Folk” and “Folking” being the primary “curse word” of choice (Folk undoubtedly referring to the “Fair Folk”). That said, there are a couple of scenes with some nudity (full rear nudity for Sparkle, and An’s breast is visible when Daniel “exposed” her during their duel), and some violence as well. The nudity in question was not gratuitous (well, maybe showing Sparkle’s butt was, but seeing that she was the butt of the joke…), and the violence isn’t nearly as bad as that shown on television, so I feel safe in keeping the PG rating. (That said, as always I urge parents to read the entire comic before letting young children read it themselves. What I find tame, others might find objectionable.)

Punctuality: Monday/Tuesday and some Wednesday/Thursdays (see below).

Footloose has had an odd update schedule for a while. Initially, it updated weekly with two pages (one new page, one redrawn art), often on Thursday but sometimes posted earlier if Emily Brady finished the artwork quickly enough. With the launch of the spin-off prequel comic Magical Transvestite Cherry (which updates when sufficient funds are donated toward the comic), the update schedule shifted to two comics a week, with one update for Footloose and the second either Footloose or Cherry. This is the current state of things, with updates often appearing on Mondays and Wednesdays in the U.S. (or very early Tuesday/Thursday in England, where Ally and Em live). There have been occasional missed updates, but for the most part the comic updates on time (or early) and regularly.

Additional Web Content: 3.5 ribbons

One thing I should note about the Footloose website is that some of the content is not related to the comic itself. While the site includes links to the comic, the spin-off prequel comic, and the fanfic prequel, there are also links to a third comic unrelated to Footloose, as well as an art gallery of artwork Emily Brady offers for sale. The art gallery does include Footloose-related artwork and fan-art, though I must admit I wish the art had a sorting system that differentiated new work from existing art. Most art galleries have similar problems with efficient sorting, so it’s more of a personal gripe than something I’d mark off on.

Comic-related content also includes a cast page written up as files for each student in the four classes. While this was imaginatively done, the lack of attached pictures or information on Jin and Keti’s parents (and Flibbage for that matter) does lessen the impact of the page. Oddly enough, it also increases the importance of the secondary characters in my eyes. I’d probably have never noticed most of the secondary cast except for that page. I’m unsure if they’re included because schools (or dojos) would have a large selection of students, or because Ally plans on fleshing them out if and when the story eventually returns to the dojo.

Unfortunately, there are no separate pages for species information, history, or similar categories. This is not to say the information is missing from the comic; instead, Ally and Em integrated it into the comic as a whole. I suspect Ally and Em want to avoid cluttering the site with too much detail, even if it would be easy to reuse specific pages from the comic for these sections. While it would be nice to have a map of Faerie, I can understand why Ally and Em have been reluctant to create one (or at least show the readers this map).

Overall: 4.25 ribbons

As I stated earlier, I first fell in love with Footloose because of its characters. But while Keti, Daniel, Jin, and An may have drawn me into the comic, it was the mixture of story and effective use of storytelling tropes that have kept me here. While I’ve managed to guess a few plot points (to the point that Ally and Em have a standing policy not to tease me with hints any longer), more often than not the plot contains enough elements I didn’t foresee that even when I get something right, I never quite guessed at the entire picture. (But let’s face it; those sky blue pieces are almost impossible to put together in jigsaw puzzles.)

Recent updates have been following up on Keti’s fracturing mental state (as a result of Keti’s MGSD) and its effect on the people around Keti and their relationships with her. One obvious focus will be the relationship between Keti and An; while part of Keti is in denial of her attraction to An, that part of Keti’s not in control any longer. This may actually force An to finally state her intentions, which are probably “just” friendship. While I’ll admit part of me would enjoy seeing An and Keti pair up, An honestly hasn’t shown that level of attraction to Keti (especially when compared to her occasional flirtations with Dan). What’s refreshing about this is the honesty of this character interaction, with An’s refusal to confront Keti up until now for fear of hurting the feelings of what may very well be her only friend.

Other character relations and interactions likewise flow naturally, whether it’s Iordan’s unassertive nature and quiet interest in Keti or the growing relationship between Jin and Cherry. As several members of the secondary cast have slowly grown, their personalities likewise have evolved and come to share the limelight with the primary cast. This is not always obvious and as I mentioned before, only three of the cast (Iordan, Jimmy, and Cherry) have shown significant growth. With the shift of venue (and the reduction of secondary cast), this has been changing, giving Claudette and Sylphia more time in the sun as well. It remains to be seen if the secondary and tertiary cast at the Dojo will see similar attention when the story returns that way, but hopefully with time their stories can also be told.

That is not to say that the relative lack of development in the secondary cast is deliberate; when you consider there’s only been a little over 300 updates for the comic, it’s more understandable that the majority of the secondary cast hasn’t had time to shine. And while the comic’s concept (of Keti being a “story magnet” due to her “primary protagonist syndrome”) is suggestive that the vast majority of Footloose’s stories will involve her, that doesn’t lessen the possibilities of secondary cast development. Keti’s interactions and the development of friendships with the others in the Dojo would give both Keti and her fellow students the time to shine in the spotlight and become individuals, instead of background fodder.

It is this mixture of storytelling skill and distinctive characters that makes Footloose well worth reading. The story mixes both humor and more dramatic moments nicely, without letting either aspect dominate the comic as a whole. This is a refreshing change over the majority of storyline comics, which tend to lose much of their humor for the sake of dramatic storytelling. It is the spots of light humor that help alleviate and contrast the darker moments of stories, and hopefully Footloose will manage to maintain that balance as the story continues to grow.