At this rate there’s a good chance I’ll finish this readthrough today!
End of an Era
It looks like Elliot and Sarah’s video review series has continued despite their initial reluctance, and probably found some success!
Elliot and Susan are kinda-flirting? I don’t think either wants to acknowledge it though.
Tedd has let people know about their near-whale experience. They’re antsy about the warning. Tedd’s dad won’t divulge any details on the whales, or even acknowledge their existence. We get a brief bit of evidence that Ellen and Grace have been training martial arts pretty hard.
Elsewhere, Sarah privately reveals to Nanase that she wants to break up with Elliot. The comic had evidently been building in that direction. As much as I’d prefer Susan not to be in a relationship with a man, I think it’s kind of welcome on some level? The original Elliot/Sarah storyline was pretty awkwardly done and the basis for their relationship was pretty flimsy. This time around, Dan Shive has been trying to build up a lot of common ground and closeness between Elliot and Susan and the relationship will probably feel a lot more natural than the original storyline.
So they talk more about Elliot’s passivity thing. It’s interesting how Dan Shive has kind of developed this. Elliot was a pretty flat character to begin with, but now this flatness is being turned into something pretty explicit in the narrative, which actually sort of makes him a more concrete character?
a little comment on the commentary again:
All the same, one has to be careful with their good intentions. I remember when I was playing Fallout 3 and I thought I was being a super cool guy by convincing the people in this one place to let a bunch of ghouls live with them, and, well… Um… Yeah. Let’s just say hindsight is 20/20.
The Tenpenny Tower residents deserved what they got. Bethesda’s horribly broken race metaphor is not a good basis for, well, anything.
As Nanase and Sarah agree that Elliot “probably isn’t ready to be in a serious relationship” and that breaking up is a reasonable decision, Diane overhears and decides Elliot is excellent boyfriend material… so we’re going to get some kind of love triangle over Elliot with her and Susan? Perhaps I spoke too soon saying this is a decent development.
Next up: a bunch of introspection to try and develop Elliot’s character. Elliot is actually… probably the main character I care about least in this comic? But OK.
Still, Dan Shive is now meticulously taking apart the ‘true love’ storyline he wrote before with Elliot and Sarah, and essentially retconning more complex feelings back there in a pretty natural way through Elliot and Ellen’s conversation. It’s a pretty interesting process - he clearly doesn’t like to declare any past storyline non-canon, but he has definitely become a significantly better writer (and, I think, generally more mature person) since he wrote that storyline, and he’s applying his usual approach to ‘past mistakes’: reinterpret them with a new storyline. It does kind of mean much of the comic is commentary on previous parts of the comic, but it’s quite an interesting thing to see in a marathon reread like this.
Tedd has, sadly, not entirely lost the whole ‘creeping on their friends’ character trait.
So this works various angles towards the impending breakup. Currently it seems to be setting up for an end to Elliot/Sarah and a beginning of Elliot/Susan, but I expect there to be a twist of some kind. Maybe involving Diane here, who’s just shown up to talk to Rhoda about Elliot.
Rhoda raises the similarities between Diane and Susan. Diane doesn’t buy it, but there’s clearly something up here.
We finally get a mention of the song reference that was hanging in the air back in the What Is Love storyline. Which for some reason I thought was the soundtrack to Robot Unicorn Attack, but it’s actually an old YTMND meme that was big back in the days of 4chan-dominated meme culture.
After a bit of discussion within the comic about Tedd/Grace, Dan Shives talks explicitly about what he’s doing here:
I grew up watching a lot of sitcoms. That’s pretty much all I cared about that was on television in the late afternoon and evening, and over time, I started to get annoyed by recurring elements such as "will they / won’t they” plots. At the time of the first comic, I was thinking stuff like “I’m not gonna do anything like that. I’m going to cut right to the chase and BAM! Characters will be together.”
I have since, um… Obviously changed my position on that matter. Such scenarios can become exhausting, but there’s such a thing as getting characters together too quickly (“hey, it’s season two! Let’s get these two together now! It’s not like we’ll last ten seasons”), and then there are couples who I feel are best left never getting together prior to the finale, if at all.
I find this quite interesting? And I’m definitely liking the more mature attitude the comic is taking towards relationships.
With Tedd and Elliot we get a bit of discussion of the hazy boundary between the constructs of ‘romantic’ and ‘platonic’ with Frodo/Sam as an instance of a really strong platonic relationship. I like to read Frodo and Sam as gay personally, but I’m not going to say other interpretations are wrong.
The usual lack of copy/paste art in the comic makes this instance of it (where identical panels are used to show passage of time with Elliot still in shock as he processes feelings) very narratively effective! Worth noting!
So, with both Elliot and Sarah mutually deciding they want to break up, they go ahead and get it over with. Overall I think this whole storyline has been handled very well, fleshes out the past and adjusts the status quo in a way that’s more comfortable with the more developed characters. And it involved people talking about things openly and directly and figuring out what they want and how they want to relate to each other and I really like that sort of thing haha.
Also neat: Elliot has gotten a lot more comfortable with his transformation powers, including the Party Form. It’s nice to see and I’m vaguely curious as to whether Elliot might be developing some kind of Trans Feels which would be cool.
So, ongoing storylines: the possibility of Elliot/Susan; the possibility of Elliot/Diane.
We begin with a montage of Ellen and Nanase: mystery solvers in the Famous Five/Secret Seven tradition. Or, to be less referencing stuff that has zero appeal anywhere outside of Britain, more of the Scooby Doo tradition.
This storyline is dealing with Ellen and Nanase getting invited to a party with
uni college (bah humbug american blah blah) students as a result of their mystery solving.
Pony references have continued in quiet form, but thankfully mostly either in the commentary or from Nanase’s eight-year-old sister Akiko. I’m much more forgiving of ‘Nanase’s eight-year-old sister is into MLP:FiM’ as a very plausible character trait for a little girl than gratuitous playing to a brony audience basically? So if Dan Shive keeps his pony stuff to Akiko I’m cool with it.
Turns out: Rhea, the student who invited them, is Diane’s sister.
And like Susan, Diane’s birthday is also on New Years’ Eve… oh something is definitely afoot. And hopefully we’ll finally find out what! Though Diane was born 10 minutes before midnight.
(Actually, I don’t know much about baby delivery (perhaps not surprisingly - my parents had friends who were midwives once, but it’s been a very long time since we met, and it’s been more than 18 years since my sister was born), but when someone gives birth to twins… I’m assuming the twins are delivered very soon after each other? Can there be as many as 20 minutes between the two baby deliveries? …actually apparently there are actual statistics on this. About 76% of twins are delivered within 15 minutes of their twin, and about 16% are delivered within 16-30 minutes. So it’s definitely plausible for Susan and Diane to be twins.)
And of course in the very next strip, Nanase looks up those same stats. Ha.
Some restrictions on the angel spell: only when someone’s in danger, burnout guaranteed.
So we get a pretty natural conversation between Ellen, Nanase and Diane. I’m glad Diane is getting a bit more fleshed out.
Time for… even more new characters. And I thought Homestuck had a lot of characters. So we meet Elijah and Rick, two college students who are friends with Rhea. Rick’s presented as a ‘fanboy’ who squees and stuff. Not long after we meet Charlotte, an ‘afficionado of spooky things’ who lives upstairs.
For some reason Dan Shive goes back to do the ‘fake lesbians for male attention’ joke/trope/whatever the fuck thing again. It’s even worse this time and horrendously awkward to read. Damnit, I was actually really positive about this arc until now: I was going to be all like unreservedly this comic has gotten really good.
Well, moving on, Charlotte has apparently deduced most of the events that happened when Beardy Abraham attacked the school, and lets Ellen and Nanase know upstairs after they leave the party to play Wii games…
OK so the ‘fake lesbians for male attention’ are shortly revealed to be making out in a quite corner so I guess… I’m not sure why this trope needed to be brought back in the first place but it’s a better resolution than I was expecting I guess.
Anyway, what’s also happening is that all the men attending the party gain normatively-female bodies without noticing. Huh. Back to good old EGS tropes then.
Diane - who has, notably, not been drinking - is the first to notice something is up, and points it out to Rhea. Who responds very strangely, first of all believing they’ve always been women, and then calling Diane ‘my lord’.
Diane discovers that every other guest at the party who drank is apparently unthinkingly obeying her commands. What was in those drinks?
(Actually, despite the emphasis on who’s drinking and who’s not, it might not be the drinks - perhaps it was regional, and affected everyone in that one room.)
Whatever’s going on, it’s also blocking cellphone signal. They deduce the culprit is likely male given the ‘my lord’ thing, and soon guess it has something to do with the santa-hatted ‘busybody’ who stopped Diane drinking. Nanase guesses that that was the ‘reincarnation’ (i.e. memory-wiped instance) of Jerry, the santa-like immortal who created the hammers of mild censure. He, after all, considers himself to owe a dept to Susan - who he implicitly indicated is indeed Diane’s twin sister.
Edit back from slightly further on: immortals are only allowed to empower and guide humans. So even though his intentions with the hammers were kind of creepy, this goes rather beyond ‘empower and guide’ and seems rather out of character, so it almost certainly isn’t Jerry’s fault.
Having hatched a plan, they go downstairs and things get even weirder. Now the entire party has been transformed to look like Nanase. Creepy. (Also it’s nice that - to some extent - faces are becoming differentiated enough that we can tell that this is happening, though I probably wouldn’t have made the exact connection without it being spelled out.)
I am kind of uncomfortable with the fact that this whole mind control/transformation spell is implicitly a rape spell - even if it’s not explicitly spelled out on the comic. You don’t have to think too hard about this to consider this possibility and… yeah. Very uncomfortable with this comic going there.
Once they get outside… a demon shows up? And we learn a little about what’s going on here: it has something to do with Nanase’s aunt, who is Tedd’s absent mother. Her name is Noriko.
The demon turns out to be ‘Tengu’, a message board user on the magic forum that Charlotte
frequents admins… they try to keep him talking by telling him how shitty a tengu he is.
Reveal: Noriko robbed Tengu of his ‘flock’ and he’s here to make a new group of mind controlled identical subjects. He was drawn here by the excess magical energy.
So Tengu baits them into attacking him by saying killing him would undo the enchantment. He definitely deserves it and then some, but he looks alarmingly powerful…
…and if they attack him, the ‘defence only’ clause of Nanase’s Guardian Form angel spell won’t be triggered. Though I think an argument could be made they’re acting to defend the party attendees…
…which Nanase immediately does make as she gets her magic back and immediately goes Guardian Form. She points out that it’s about protecting others not herself. Nice!
Tengu however was apparently trying to bait her into using Guardian Form to disable her other spells. Dan Shive rather deflates this by pointing out how useless her other spells are in a fight.
Oh and here’s a neat revelation: Ellen’s copy power can be used to clone the Guardian Form. This gives them two-way psychic communication. I don’t know if accessing a Guardian Form by cloning means Ellen’s also going to be magic-locked. Either way, they’re now a badass lesbian angel squad.
They figure they can’t actually win a fight against him with twin Guardian Forms, but they can deplete the ambient magical energy enough to free the people at the party. I think that’s their plan anyway. I write these comments strip by strip.
So yeah they make old Tengu fly around an awful lot (and in the process royally piss him off).
Reveal: Tedd probably has at least one sibling. Given that Dan Shive highlighted the implication in the commentary? Almost certainly.
Well, the plan works perfectly (because they didn’t spell it out!) and Tengu uses up all the magical energy and flops out. What a nerd.
And Grace and Elliot are here to make sure he doesn’t try anything further. I know I’ve complained about magical battles before but I rather liked this one - partly because it was much more about trickery and guile than comparing power levels, and partly because I like lesbians doing awesome shit (shock).
So we get the plan explained explicitly (it was foreshadowed pretty clearly, so I got the implication right), and Ellen ends up blonde.
Diane shows up, favouring executing Tengu before he gets up and starts causing more trouble. And a further reveal: Tengu isn’t actually a huge demon guy, he’s just an ordinary magic using human. Which, I’m quite sure deliberately, fits the Scooby Doo ‘the monster is actually a human in disguise’ theme of Ellen and Nanase’s mystery solving adventures.
Reveal: Tedd’s mum was a ‘legendary monster hunter’ with a ‘long family history’ of catching bad magic shit.
The rest of the arc is mostly tying up loose ends and talking about the ethics of revealing magic to people…
Also we learn Diane is a huge fan of Nanase.
And finally, at the end, we see Nanase has regained her magic again, and can cast the fairy doll spell.
So while I largely enjoyed this arc… given how magic in this comic has generally been kept quite light-hearted until now: transformations are very deliberately consequence-free, fighting spells mostly consist of DBZ-style energy blasts, body transformations are generally played for awkwardness rather than horror…
well, the reveal that there is powerful mind control magic that is heavily implied to be used by this man to create a group of identical women under his absolute control that he could, and given his comments about how he wants them to be attractive, implicitly would rape? that is not a direction I really want to see this comic go in. At all. Even in implication.
While we’re only half way through The Dawn, that was two long sub-arcs, and we are at the start of a mid-arc a Q&A section, and I need to head out soon, so I’m going to cut this post here.