This week, I’m looking at once comic I saw on the Webtoon Instagram, Little Matcha Girl. It wasn’t a promoted post, but it was a video advert for a new release—notable production investment. The other, Fluffy Boyfriend, was suggested for me by the Webtoon app based on the comics I subscribed to (i.e. the comics I’ve covered in these columns so far.)
Fluffy Boyfriend by Mihi
Fluffy Boyfriend is a very straightforward title: here’s what you’re getting. Fluffy boyfriend. And indeed it delivers, though to be absolutely accurate he’s only fluffy part of the time. Niko (get it … neko = cat) is a special sort of magical human who also has a cat form. He’s unlucky, though, because even when he’s people-shaped he retains his cat ears and his cat tail, making him a being the general world must be kept ignorant of. Because of this, Niko used to live in a prison-like laboratory, but he’s also spent time in the regular world living as a little girl’s pet. They grew older together, Niko keeping his truth a secret, even as the girl (Anna) lost her mother and her memories, and came under a curse. Anna has a condition where occasionally butterflies come out of her body and paralyse people—her paralysis power(?) can also be contracted via skin-to-skin contact, making her very isolated and sad.
You may have noticed that there’s kind of a lot to that paragraph—Fluffy Boyfriend is not a narrative of great clarity or strong focus. Mihi, the cartoonist, clearly has a lot of ideas and a large sense of their created world—they’re very creative, and they’re dedicated to exploring their ideas at length. They’re quite young, which I think contributes to how this story trips over itself to include more and more aspects of that worldbuilding. Reading ten or twenty chapters you get to know plenty, but don’t feel like you have a firm grip of what the gist is or where things are going. Characters’ motivations and behavioural patterns aren’t mysterious so much as still unstated. There are things the audience doesn’t know but which characters do, which don’t seem to be being withheld to any great affect so much as for the aesthetic of withheld information. People keep going backwards and forwards, and a lot of the emotional scenes undercut themselves. It’s a big soft cloud of narrative smoke, basically, that you get to wander through enjoying various scents. Like being blindfolded at a barbecue. For me it’s frustrating; I’d like to sit down with this cartoonist and get them organised. The poor translation and proofing doesn’t help (I should have mentioned this aspect of Webtoons more, in previous columns).
But mine is a pretty demanding perspective, and I can easily see this comic working for a lot of people. Clearly it does—the first chapter has seventy-four thousand likes, and the most recent (from this week) almost twenty thousand. Fluffy Boyfriend has strong Fruits Basket vibes, template characters with animal motifs caring about each other while they miss their mothers and feel inconsequential. There’s a big readership there.
Saying Mihi is young is a guess, based on their chapter eight upload. It’s not the eighth chapter, it’s an apology (another follows fairly quickly). They discuss their commitment to the story and how busy they are with studies, explaining that trying to do everything has taken a toll on their health. I hate that this is something even potential teenagers experience for the sake of comics. I mentioned last week how I was surprised to discover the workload of a webtoon, and how it compares to Western print creation (about ten pages a week). Fluffy Boyfriend’s apology chapters are an important piece of evidence in the story of this format.
Mihi’s art is attractive, and makes continuing to read this comic, despite my personal misgivings, quite easy. They have a nice handle on small expressions, and those hold the humour of their work much better than the larger, more explosive scenes. Their illustration is cute and pretty. They want to deliver a dreamy “what if my cat was a loving boyfriend and I just don’t know it yet” aesthetic story, and they’re doing that! It just comes with some big side helpings of “Dark Angel-style secret laboratory/experiment children” and “nobody loves me because I am poison” and, also, “why did my mother die and what terrible secret did she have and why do I have amnesia?” It’s a heaped platter. I shall be moving elsewhere on this buffet, but I hope you eat as much as you want here!
Little Matcha Girl by mame ´･ω･`
Little Matcha Girl is a new Webtoon, with only four chapters available so far (all uploaded at once to provide a solid buffer). At time of writing they’ve been up two days and are averaging thirteen thousand likes. Not views—likes. It’s easy to see why there was such a flurry of interest: as well as being advertised on Instagram and on the scrolling banner on the Webtoons site and app, Little Matcha Girl and its promo art are glowy and intriguing. The blurb is this:
“Poor Matilda. All she wants out of life is to be a RuneTube star – sharing her escapades with fellow adventurers from around the world. But when you’re the granddaughter of a killer mafia boss, and necromancy is a family tradition, your life plans have a tendency to go awry.”
It’s a necessary introduction to the comic, because honestly the first four chapters aren’t especially informative. From them, you get “magic is real” and “Matilda has a family,” as well as some basic character cues. Her younger siblings are very intelligent but goofy and love pranks. Her grandmother is a sort of lich. Matilda herself isn’t easy to parse, mixing anime-classic “off to the shops” goodbye cheer with long-suffering expressionlessness. This comic is another one that’s hard for me because of the tonal mismatch with my preferences that I mentioned in Blood-Ink and which also set me back a little in Furry Boyfriend. Regular jumps between low-key delivery and hyper-animated shouting just isn’t something I read well, and it makes it harder for me to glean other narrative qualities and stay engaged long enough to properly appreciate art.
The brushwork is very nice, with an “international animation” feel that suggests a wide range of influences, and the character designs are interesting and informative as well as pleasing to look at. The colouring is a phenomenon, illuminating magic, time of day, and temperamental cues.
The one negative point I can suggest objectively is that some of the panels in this comic are far easier to read when they’re at large-size on a desktop or tablet than they are on a wee lil phone. What Matilda is looking at on her phone in chapter one isn’t clear at all on the screen size I have as a mobile reader, and magical details in chapter four are likewise invisible until you see them at full size. Sometimes the unbubbled, “casual aside” dialogue common to manga gets lost at the smaller size, making regularly bubbled replies confusing.
The idea of building a story around “advloggers,” adventure vloggers, is a good one, and I don’t say this only because it’s something at the centre of one of my own comics projects (ah, that moment of horrible recognition!). The only advlogger seen so far wasn’t treated especially kindly by the narrative, but all things must develop. If this comic is being translated (this isn’t something the Webtoons’ blurbs habitually make clear, as far as I can see) the translation is good.
Like Furry Boyfriend, Little Matcha Girl appears to be going in a few directions at once. Matilda’s family problems and her career aspirations don’t seem to be related in any way at all. The RPGish fantasy land “Ynerxia” (get it … “inertia” (cute)) they live in, with magic aplenty and “silvers” for money, doesn’t appear to be strongly connected to either concept. The mafia boss mentioned in the blurb is either Matilda’s grandmother or her grandfather, but this hasn’t been stated. If it’s the grandmother, the fact that she’s an undead horror seems a lot more important. If it’s the grandfather, which his pinstripe, double-breasted suit suggests, he’s appeared in one panel and was apparently inconsequential. And lastly, I don’t understand the title! I expected a poor girl selling tea on the street? But—all things must develop.