The Webcomic Weekly is back in your life. And this week, we’re tackling the reality of quest stories with “Reality Quest.”
quest for reality
Written by Joowoon Lee
Illustrated by Taesung
Reviewed by Michael Mazzzacane
Tell me if you’ve heard this one before. A young victim of bullying under immense stress has an experience and things suddenly take a fantastic turn. Now, a good deed in the world of a video game brings protagonist Dowan Ha into contact with a seemingly powerful individual, and the game of life becomes even more playful.
At first glance, “Reality Quest” has many generic and aesthetic similarities that make it one of many webtoons released on Line with little hope of standing out except for fans of the genre. It’s a school drama, which follows that particular brand of Korean school drama that seems to be actively saying that the education system is fundamentally flawed, abusive, and neglectful. It places a heavy emphasis on video games as plot devices as well as their semiotic logic to quickly relate items to the reader. Then it turns into quasi-isekai, in which the logic of all the games becomes part of a surreal element that forms a new reality. All of these generic traits are wrapped around the series’ main character Dowan Ha, the quiet, intimidated type of kid you’ve seen in a bunch of Shōnen manga but somehow more cringe. Artist Teasung also has a habit of making strips a series of seemingly isolated square/rectangular panels with too much gutter space that gets in the way of a solid character’s play. I’m listing all of these things so you understand how, while there are items I recommend, they’re built on this shaky foundation, making it a bit of a chore to read.
“Reality Quest” has all of these elements and yet there is something. Take Teasung’s art, it’s layout-wise pretty one-dimensional in these five episodes. The use of the crazed water buffalo in the second episode is probably one of the most overtly artistic moments, as in something not purely functional, in this collection. Excessive gutter space is one of the traits that irritates me the most in the webtoon format, but here it works in the strip’s favor. Dowan Ha is nothing of a character, cowed into submission and isolated from everyone else, the ultimate blank slate. If this was America, we’d be writing how he’s a mass shooter waiting to happen. Excessive gutter space captures this isolation and alienation, it separates the character from the girl they have a crush on until the next image of themselves in this sequential art form.
The individual panels drawn by Taesung are actually quite good; they have a strong realistic bent, but with the video game elements they bring out the surreal and comedic sensibilities of it all. At first, when we see Dowan trapped at his desk surrounded by phones he’s bullied into playing, I couldn’t help but think about how contemporary Chaplin he is. Modern times. Dowan is forced to tie itself to the production machine and from some point of view the position of cheap contract labor like the Amazon Mechanical Turk service.
Once things take an isekai turn due to impending death, or is it complete death, the experience and the tape begin to surrealistically blend video games and reality, Teasung’s art becomes more comical. The previously mentioned image of the stampeding buffalo is preceded by an image of Dowan and the implication of a large burst of energy emanating from his crotch. There’s a solid, albeit juvenile, visual humor at play in this series that caught me off guard.
“Reality Quest” has a lot of generic and aesthetic factors that should be a drag on me, and they were for the first half of the premiere episode. The story being told isn’t that fundamentally different from the other stories, but Teasung’s art is intriguing and has enough surprises to get me to read more, which is what you’d expect from the first batch of episodes. a webtoon. It remains to be seen whether this can be profitable in the long term.