If there was ever a “most surprising” webcomic for me this year, hall of swords by Toonimated (Tara and Julian) that’s it. From the early episodes, it might as well feel like another time/trap loop in a video game/virtual reality narrative, but after its first twist, it becomes so much more. It’s a story about confronting figurative and literal demons, breaking the cycle, and finding the strength to move on.
Fun story: I first discovered WebToon (circa 2019) through one of its YouTube trailers. Whether I was in the mood or because I clicked “skip ad”, I didn’t give it a chance until I finally checked out WebToon last year. After reading the first 3-4 episodes, I passed on this webcomic assuming it was another time loop/time travel story. Do not mistake yourself; I’m a sucker for these stories, but I also tend to be picky. I had just seen/read too many time loops or VR too many. So I moved on to other webcomics and I wouldn’t give hall of swords another try until recently. I regret not hanging on to this one the first time around.
Reader Warning: This review contains suicide mentions regarding the reviewer and his personal interpretation of the webcomic. If you are going through a mental health crisis, know that there is help. Call National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (free and confidential) to talk about it. For readers outside the United States, please refer to this directory of international helplines.
There will also be minor spoilers for Seasons 1-2, which will be flagged as needed. If you’re interested in this webcomic but don’t want to know the significant moments/clues in advance, you can watch this trailer instead.
Gyrus Alexei, a native of the year 2545 AD, wakes up on an unknown planet. With a starfish-shaped tracker called Scout, he searches for his ship and its captain. He meets a woman named Tori who hails from 1000 AD and then a cavewoman named Sylvia who hails from 1200 BC. Soon they discover dangers, enemies to defeat to earn one of the boss swords, and even potentially deadly forces that manifest after the black solar timer in the sky ends.
Like I said before, I regret that I didn’t read past the first few episodes at first. The creators take their time to unfold the narrative turns. Think of it as a blooming flower. The story begins with a seemingly simple plot. Three characters (and later more) meet and navigate an unfamiliar environment. As the stakes rise and the characters are forced to make difficult decisions, the first petal unfolds. We are now at the first turning point, realizing that this story is more than meets the eye.
However, we don’t have the full picture yet (aka the Anthesis, when the flower fully blooms), and the creators, Toonimated, have done a phenomenal job of providing enough breadcrumbs along the way. Each plot point clicks effortlessly with revelations between events. It’s a layered story that doesn’t feel convoluted or overwhelming.
Reader warning: Minor spoilers beyond this point.
What begins as a time loop becomes a narrative about trying to break free from a vicious circle. Gyrus’ character arc strikes me in more ways than one. The dark entity inside of him, locking that darkness in his mind, and how that darkness manages to break free – I can’t help but relate it to someone struggling with depression and/or d other mental illnesses. Gyrus’ struggle not to give in to his fate resonates with me personally. I feel his desperation and the desire to end this. Due to his past actions, the other characters in the Hall of Swords do not trust him. He doesn’t remember what he did, but he doesn’t deny it or minimize it.
The relationship between him and Kodya (romantic!) naturally acclimatizes even when they’ve already been through previous timelines together. In fact, their dynamic genre reminds me of Adora and Catra from 2018 She-Ra to restart. Gyrus and Kodya encounter obstacles that threaten to ruin their happiness, including an abusive mentor who grows even nastier over time.
And the bad guy! Definitely one of the most dimensional and irredeemable antagonists I’ve ever encountered. I appreciate that while the story reveals a tragic past, it doesn’t justify the villain’s actions. I can’t reveal who that is because it’s a big spoiler, but believe me when I say you’ll love to hate this character.
As a prose writer, I admire the storytelling techniques and animated parts of Toonimated, but the music and sound effects amaze me. Fans of RPGs and video games will appreciate the chiptune musical style. The sounds that accompany certain episodes/scenes chill me. From breaking a musical instrument to performing computer commands, the sound design really adds to the playback experience. (Note: Just a warning, please pay attention to the volume even when wearing headphones, as the sound effects may scare you.)
To sum it all up, hall of swords serves up a well-constructed narrative about the cycles we can find ourselves in and the choice to stay in or out of them. I highly recommend giving the memorable characters and clever structure a chance.
hall of swords is available to read on WebToon.
Check out Toonimated’s store and patreon.
For more great webcomic recommendations, check out our Wednesday Webcomics Archive!
Author: Brahidaliz Martinez
Brahidaliz (pronounced Bra-da-leez) is a 2019 graduate of American University’s MFA in Creative Writing program. Their cross-genre chapbook, Coquí’s Song, is forthcoming (2023) with Mason Jar Press.
Location: DC Metro Area
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