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Thursday, 1 July 2010


Writer and artist: Fred Gallagher
Co-creator and original co-author: Rodney Caston
Featuring additional material
by Dominic Nguyen and Sarah Gallagher

What’s It About?
Piro and Largo are two American gamers who make a scene at the E3 Gaming Expo and feel the need to leave the country for a while. Boarding the first available plane they find themselves broke and trapped in Tokyo until they can earn the fare home. The Tokyo city of Megatokyo is a loving pastiche of manga story conventions.

What’s Good About It?
There are, broadly speaking, two forms of manga: shounen (“boy’s comics”, usually action-oriented) and shoujo (“girl’s comics”, usually romance-oriented).  Megatokyo uses its two main characters to play with the conventions of both forms.

Piro is an aspiring American manga artist, a shy young man, unassertive in most circumstances but with a well-defined moral core. He is in many ways a typical shoujo hero and his ongoing story is one of emotional growth as meets new friends, finds a job, forms relationships and ties himself up in emotional knots. Piro is the vehicle for all the more everyday forms of comedy: social misunderstandings, relationship comedy, workplace situations and the like. This half of Megatokyo’s ongoing plot is slow-building, plotting the evolution of Piro’s relationships in meticulous detail as we learn more about each member of the cast in deeper and deeper detail. In a story that has been going as long as Megatokyo has this approach would normally run the risk of becoming long-winded and dull, which is where Largo comes in…

Largo is Piro’s friend, a computer programmer of some skill, a drinker of great tolerance and quite possibly insane. His storylines take the more science-fiction and action-oriented modes of shounen manga. Largo’s Tokyo is populated by far more fantastic figures than Piro’s (or so it seems initially): his best friends are an assassin in the employ video game company Sega and a ninja whose main job is catching truant schoolchildren. Gallagher (and Caston, originally) have great fun using Largo to poke affectionate fun at manga’s enduring tropes: police officers in Megatokyo drive giant robots instead of squad cars, Godzillas can be rented by the hour and no one bats an eye when giant turtles or zombies rampage through the city.

Over the years the two main characters have acquired a large supporting cast: aspiring voice actress Nanasawa; cynical game-seller Hayasaka; Junpei the hit ninja; creepy and mysterious schoolgirl (and possibly queen of the undead) Tohya; each one with their own motivations and backstory who link the two differing worlds of Piro and Largo in sometimes interesting and sometimes subtle ways.

Finally, Megatokyo makes a nice primer for new readers who have never tried manga before. This comes as a personal recommendation because I myself had only tried a few manga series before reading Megatokyo and found them a little impenetrable because I didn’t understand the conventions and tropes they employed. The work of a manga fan itself, Megatokyo is very much about how manga stories works. It may not be the most definitive introduction to the form you’ll ever see but it is one of the most fun.

What’s Bad About It?
There are two ways to follow Megatokyo: free through the website or through buying the print collections. Whichever one you choose, the problem is infrequency.

The website has always operated on a Monday-Wednesday-Friday schedule that is, to put it politely, purely theoretical. From its earliest days Megatokyo has been plagued by delays, to start with because Gallagher and Caston wrote it as a hobby and in more recent years because while the author has gone full-time with the strip, he also has a business to run and a small child to look after.

To compensate for these breaks the story pages are interspersed with various additional material such as images from Gallagher’s sketchbook (known as Dead Piro Days); surreal between chapter short comics placing the established characters in unusual surroundings (known by the Japanese name “omake”); and the occasionally disturbing stick figure comics of Shirt Guy Dom. As entertaining as they are and they’re certainly better than nothing (or worse, inferior quality comics to keep up the schedule) they do break the flow somewhat. If you want the story uninterrupted, you’ll have to follow through the printed books.

Each book collects about a year’s worth of comics. The main benefit of the books is that it presents the material in a more ordered fashion than the website: all the story pages together in one section at the front with divergences like the omakes, Dead Piro Days and Shirt Guy Dom strips at the back of the book. (An ongoing joke concerning the quality of the Shirt Guy Dom strips has them provided with a dotted line on the page for “easy removal”). The story flows better like this without the delays and interruptions of following the website but the big disadvantage of the format is, of course, that you have to pay for it.

Finally, in its early years Megatokyo was conceived as less the soap opera it became and more as a gaming strip and so there are a few strips that assume a level of knowledge about video games that the average reader may not have. These were rare even in the beginning and pretty much die out by Chapter Three.

What the Art Like?
As ever with webcomics, internet etiquette demands we not post art examples on our website but provide links to the comics themselves.

One of the things that makes Megatokyo’s erratic schedule forgivable is the quality of the art. The art is strikingly different from the start as Gallagher renders his pages in un-coloured, un-inked pencil. Gallagher was originally an architect and his art reflects his old profession’s attention to detail with massively intricate backgrounds such as in this example.

The strip began with a four panel, square layout but as time moved on and Megatokyo became more plot-driven and less joke-based Gallagher moved to a full page format. This allowed for more variety both in plot and art as well as greater plot progression in a single installment, another compensation for their infrequency.

Dominic Nguyen’s Shirt Guy Dom art is, to put it mildly, somewhat less impressive, consisting mainly of wobbly stick men and copy-pasted images. Dead Piro Days are simply one-off images from Gallagher’s sketchbook, disconnected from the plot but sometimes offering insight into the characters. One-shot episodes are usually drawn in a more sketchy style than the story pages, you’ll notice the lack of fingers on the characters in the example, and quite often concern the real life of the creators or taking place in the MMORPG world of Endgames, whose story is linked with the “reality” of Megatokyo.

A Brief Note on Translated Speech
At various different times the characters of Megatokyo speak both English and Japanese, both are usually written as English. Japanese is rarely shown untranslated, when it is this is usually because the point-of-view character of the scene doesn’t speak Japanese, which is an effective way of conveying that fish-out-of-water feeling of being surrounded by people you can’t understand.

The way to tell when the English words you’re reading represent Japanese is that the speech will be bracketed using triangular brackets such as these: < and >.

This example shows all these forms of speech in use: Largo (the man with the large hair) understands only English, Nanasawa (the blonde woman with the bow in her hair) understands on Japanese and Junko (the black haired schoolgirl) is translating between the two.

Other Information
Aside from a few extras prepared for the print collections, none of which are part of the main storyline, the whole of Megatokyo is available for free at www.megatokyo.com. The comic updates (theoretically) on a Monday-Wednesday-Friday schedule with extra commentary blog entries from the creators below the comic.

The books are available from Amazon at about £6 to £8 (each volume is longer than the last and so prices vary). The sixth volume will be released 13th July 2010. Amazon links below. Volume 4 is currently out of print but available cheaply second hand (or free, on the website).

Megatokyo volume 1 ISBN 978-1593071639
Megatokyo volume 2 ISBN 978-1593071189
Megatokyo volume 3 ISBN 978-1593073053

Megatokyo volume 4 ISBN 978-1845764760
Megatokyo volume 5 ISBN 978-1845764838
Megatokyo volume 6 ISBN 978-1401224813

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