Insta Made Me Read It is a twice-monthly column covering the webtoons advertised by Webtoon (used to be LINE Webtoon—now just Webtoon) on their Instagram account webtoonofficial and on their app (also available on webtoons.com). The focus of this column is on what’s both popular and encouraged to be popular by the publisher-platform itself. I focus on Instagram as an example of a comics publisher’s attempts to reach audiences beyond the bounds of already-reading-comics because I personally use Instagram regularly, making it practical for me as an unpaid critic and commentator, and because I was not a Webtoon reader before I encountered their advertising there on Insta. Webtoon also places outreach ads on youth-market apps such as Snapchat, which appears, anecdotally, to be very successful as well.
This time, I’ve been reading Eggnoid and Deor.
Eggnoid was advertised on webtoonofficial on the twenty-fourth of September: a semi-animated tableau of the three primary characters with some sunflowers, as leaves and petals beautifully drift past. Very romantic, very dreamy; all ruffled hair and warm breeze. It was pretty, and nostalgic, but what caught my attention was the name. “Eggnoid” is a very daft-sounding name, and I cannot resist the daft. This advert was to notify of Eggnoid’s return from hiatus, as is quite regular with these Instagram features. It’s a longer-running series, in its “fourth season,” which is basically saying it can be conceptualised as being a print series with four volumes in publication. Added up, it has one hundred and seventy-plus chapters available to read at time of writing. Deor was advertised on webtoonofficial back in July, with a more intensively produced mini-video that introduced the visual style and the characters by name. It was new that month, and tagged as such in the video.
Eggnoid by Archie the Redcat
Eggnoid took me deep.
It does not, on the surface of it, look like something that would. The blurb is basic in the extreme; the first chapter fulfils it precisely. A handsome man does come out of an egg, and he does start calling the protagonist “Mom.” We can all happily admit this is bonkers, I should think. And honestly, “bonkers” is enough to keep me happy for a handful of chapters—enough to build a column from, at least. This kind of bonkers is nostalgic, too: that throwback sort of “I found a person in my porridge and oh no they’re super hot” energy that dominated the translated manga scene in the middle 90s to early 2000s. Chobits, Video Girl Ai, Oh My Goddess. Only this time—even better than just plain recognition nostalgia—the found person is a boy and the finder, a girl. Again I find myself marvelling at the platform accessibility of webtoon, and the primary reader market. Every series this column has covered is the fairy godchild of CLAMP, that fancomic-making team who turned pro and invented things you can describe in ways like “Highlander, but with angel wings, and queer longing”—all these gleeful assertions of the validity and inter-relevance of “my interests.” But Eggnoid conforms to their blazed trail more neatly than most, being so much in the vein of Chobits, and recalling to my mind the fluffy-bouncy iconography of Cardcaptor Sakura in the design of the titular Eggnoids’ eggs.
So—yes, as it begins, Eggnoid is a funny-as-in-strange comic, with a funny title and a funny tagline. It introduces its protagonist and her classically protagonisty life circumstances. She was orphaned young, and lives in her family’s home all alone, with the neighbours looking in on her. Her best and only friend is the boy next door, whom she adores and who looks after her. She’s a generally sweet girl, naturally serious and able to balance a house budget but easy to laugh when she’s with him. She nurses a secret romantic crush on him. But, now they’re in high school—he’s got himself a girlfriend, he’s ignoring her, and she’s all alone.
Until… Egg. Man. Mom. As we used to say, at the time, “hijinks ensue!” Except they don’t, really. The egg delivers a boy physically of high school age but emotionally of zero experience. Our girl Ran looks after him, because she’s that sort. And in taking absolute responsibility for this person who—like a newly hatched chick—only knows how to be affectionate and sweet, she begins to grow as he grows, question herself through his reflected lens, and vaguely identify the perspectives of others and she needs to explain them to him.
Though the bonkers nature of a baby egg man arriving out of nowhere (and “nowhere” may be either the future or another dimension, by the by) is never forgotten or sidelined, and how such a being might be integrated into a normal, average school in a normal, average community is never far from the core of any chapter, the focus of my interest in this comic is its protagonist’s initial inability to understand the rules of how to be happy “in society”—and not in a Joker-type way.
Ran was not abandoned by her only friend because he stopped liking her, or because he wanted to be cruel. He abandoned her because he came to notice that he was her only friend—that she didn’t even try to make friends, or positive acquaintances, besides him. He, a good, kind person, saw that was unhealthy for her. He didn’t know what to do, and in his teenage panic chose to push her out onto the ice and yell I don’t want you any more! so she could grow self-sufficient. But self-sufficiency in a simulated crisis is not the same as lifestyle self-sufficiency, and until Eggy the Eggnoid (bonkers!) arrived inside of her house knowing no language but “mom,” she was unable to respond to her need for companionship by making more friends. Ran couldn’t perform any friend-making action, because it didn’t occur to her to do so: she did not know that she should make more. She simply existed in her misery, working on the problem of how to regain the comfortable equilibrium that rejected her. To this character, “making friends” is not a base impulse or comprehensive, active protocol, though having friends is beneficial and nice. When she enters a classroom it’s neither nature nor nurtured into her to stop by a classmate’s desk and say hi, to smile at everyone. To Ran, the obvious thing to do is make her way to her seat, sit in it, and wait for the class to begin. She does not have resting smile face. She does not recognise her privileges, though her disadvantages also go unnoticed by those who resent the former by reflex.
That it’s possible to be a person who does not identify all or “obvious” practical needs and norms is perhaps the primary testimony of Eggnoid. That learning how not to offend people might be a process, even if you do care. It’s main beauty is that this inefficiency is not made repellent, absurd, or foolish; only unfortunate, and necessary. Ran isn’t textually pathetic. She is a good girl who does her best. But you can’t do your best at things you don’t know or can’t feel you should do! If you crave sympathy for the ways and times you don’t know how to behave, Eggnoid has it to give. If you remember upsetting people or making accidental enemies and only understand how or why ten years down the line, Eggnoid is about moving your spirit on. I’ve read eighty chapters of Eggnoid so far, and it’s basically been free therapy.
Archie the Redcat excels in other ways, too: their character design, for example. The majority of characters are fairly regular, unremarkably Attractive Teens but Ran’s aunt is seen at two stages of her life and the congruence between them is dazzling and delightful. In the majority of the comic, set in the eternal now, she’s thirty, a baby business cougar. Brief flashbacks show the same character ten or more years back, before her big brother died and before she was a leader in business. With far bittier fashion, we see a looser, goofier version of the same woman, a heavy post-Avril vibe on a carefree attitude. The recognition of it all! It’s not at all easy to create viable versions of characters at multiple points in their lives, let alone have each enhance the other, but this set’s a banger.
On the subject of recognition, Archie is Indonesian, and Eggnoid is set in Indonesia, which makes the very gradual increase of references to food, dialect, wedding fashion daydreams and the class full of character names an unexpected pleasure amongst the comfortable familiarity of reading English-language high school drama with a bonkers central concept. Ran, for example, is a recognisable name from manga, if not encountered elsewhere. But her full name is Kirana Chandra, which for me at least is less etymologically familiar. I, otherwise basically ignorant about Indonesia, feel this as a notable benefit, as I’m getting to reduce my ignorance of how much I don’t know. More importantly it’s probably also rather comforting to the English-reader who knows Indonesia or Indonesian culture. I can’t think of a single negative aspect of this comic.
Eggnoid is receiving an adaptation to film, the production of which is already well underway. Teasers are pretty fascinating, as the earliest had a heavy, oily, Guyverish, ’90s tokusatsu look, which is in stark contrast to the comic’s day by day, soft high school aesthetic. The second, longer teaser-trailer looks like it’s skipping the high school elements altogether and focusing on the gentle intimacy between Ran and Eggy. I find the former innovation very compelling, the latter less so, but I’ll be watching anyway if I get the chance. As an Indonesian film produced by Visinema, I’m not sure if it will receive a legal international release. But I hope so! And with Webtoon’s newly minted partnership with Crunchyroll, maybe that’s a viable chain of business? I’m sure it’s more complicated than that, but at least it makes “maybe” seem viable.
Deor by J.oori
When I was writing the weekly(ish) BOOM! Pubwatch for this site I found myself describing limited series concepts as “like a ’90s OVA” more often than expected. What that meant was I was coming across high-concept/high-fantasy reads that wanted to include far more than they were eager to explain—comics that replicated the feeling of watching an hour of animation, give or take, that referred to events that have never been laid to cel; worldbuilding that was only seen in relief; climaxes to adventures and dynasties that never actually began. The OVA was a message-via-medium, that all you had to deliver was a complicated spectacle to win yourself an audience. Deor, which as of writing is on hiatus with fifteen published chapters available to English-reading app users, sparks that same recognition. In this case I think it works fairly well.
Deor is a young Prince of a fantasy kingdom, and he can’t do magic. That’s all you get in the synopsis, and it’s also about all I can give you without describing everything informative in those fifteen chapters. There are details to be discovered in reading, and they’re only really worth knowing as a reader because they’re delivered with such a particular aesthetic execution—and because they’re not especially meaningful without the mood lighting that this aesthetic presents them in. There’s court intrigue, endangerment, issues of self-worth and a kingdom to be protected against demonic armies. Alliances and rivalries are visible. It is “a fantasy story” set in “a king’s court.” If you’ve read a two inch novel, heard the word “Crystania” or seen a HBO dragon you know the structural gist, and all you can gain is the specific in-through-the-eyes experience of reading Deor. It’s easily likely that that’s something to gain. J.oori draws wetly lush “after anime” comics that have a sort of tragedy baked into their gesture. Every character looks deadly depressed underneath the compassionately diplomatic smiles and iron-spined posture, but their hair is lovely and their eyes are so pretty.
Large physical events aren’t always easy to follow visually, but narratively it always becomes clear. No confusion needs to worry a reader because all you have to do is keep reading, and it’ll be clear what’s happened in a panel or two. Deor feels OVAish because it’s so new and so paused, and because it’s plunged straight into relationship details regularly interrupted by the need to command soldiers against a demon horde. But it doesn’t feel 90s at all. The physical events are big, in a hurtling, Gainaxy way. The most recent show that it calls to mind for me is Bones’ Daughter of Twenty Faces/the Phantom Thief: a deep, deep-seated misery inside a very swish, acrobatic physicality. It is anime that Deor draws to mind before any peers in comics both because J.oori’s art is full colour, vibrantly full of high contrast, glowing spot focus and cel-shaded effects with very careful use of overcasting shadow to indicate mood energy, and because Webtoon’s scrolling format discourages the overlapping panels and extreme diagonals that manga specifically specialises in, instead using motion blur and various aspects of craft to suggest depth of field and exaggerated motion. J.oori seems to be based in America, but their style has a lighter touch when it comes to implicit (literal) gravity than other anime-heavy titles, for example Matchmaker Hero. Unexpectedly, when putting together the images for this column, I also discovered an apparent re-use of assets (the outline of the majority of Deor, below and below), furthering the comparison to animated fiction. This is very practical and did not make itself clear when I was reading in the normal fashion.
Deor’s hiatus is due to illness on J.oori’s part, and I hope but doubt that’s unrelated to labour strain. They seem to have been working on two comics concurrently, Deor, and a boys’ love romance called Dishonestly Honest, which can’t be a light commitment as a solo cartoonist even without the presumably intensive colouring regime that characterises their style.
No wins for Webtoon titles at the Ringo! Awards, despite several nominations—except for in the fan-decision categories, where three out of five categories were taken by Webtoon cartoonists. Ringos are more generally voted for by working comics professionals, but there are a handful of anyone-can-vote categories, including these: Favourite Hero (Toaster Dude), Favourite New Series (Luff), and Favourite Cartoonist (Enjelicious). Both Luff and Enjelicious’ comic Age Matters are romcom comics full of mishaps; Toaster Dude is “about an ordinary guy who goes on a mission to save his toaster.”
The Ringos were co-sponsored by Webtoon, but settling them in alongside Cards, Comics & Collectibles, Baltimore Comic-Con, BOOM! Studios, Fantastic Forum, Graphite, Source Point Press, and Valiant Entertainment makes that less of a rumple, I guess!