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Strings of Fate by jen w. tochi, reviewed by Stelas

So how was your last New Year's Day celebration? Got drunk? Maybe went out and danced with people in the streets? Found out you're the reincarnation of the Chinese Zodiac's Rat God, and that thanks to it being the Year of the Rat, suddenly everyone wants your power?

No? Then you don't know what you're missing.

Strings of Fate is an independent webcomic by jen w. tochi that updates every Monday. It charts the life of a hapless wordsmith named Tony as he tries to come to terms with both the news about his identity and the various factions looking to oppose, help, or just plain inconvenience him. The struggling writer first learns about his unusual heritage thanks mainly to the meddling of the Cat God Mao, who then proceeds to faint on him – quite undivinely – after offering this mixed blessing of a revelation. Taking her back to his flat, Tony very quickly finds himself in the midst of a series of unanswered questions, and under the scrutiny of the other Gods of the Chinese Zodiac (who, in the finest tradition, are hiding in a restaurant – "We're gods! We like classy hideouts."). Eventually, Tony's actions catch the eye of the Sea Turtle God Ao, who repeatedly attempts to coerce Tony - or rather Tony's alter-ego, the 'true' Rat God Meishuu - to his cause.

The quality of the art in Strings of Fate is top-notch: beautiful splash pages, great composition, some really wrenching scenes, and, of course, lots of pretty hair. It is a very pretty webcomic indeed, and it's hard to really quibble about the art. If there were anything to quibble about, it's that there's sometimes a very stock-bishonen feel to the whole thing; even the characters described as being big and tough are lean and somewhat lanky with pretty hair and pointy chins, just like the remaining majority of the male cast. While a little irritating, this is mostly forgivable thanks to the quality of the art. The other quibble is just that; there's a lot of pages that have been left in the archives as rough sketches, unfinished or uninked. While it's not a fault, per se, it's a great shame to be looking through tons of fantastically-rendered pages only to then come across a number of very sketchy ones.

There's another slight problem – that of looking through the pages. While there's a great deal of writing archived (both the four hundred or so pages in Act One and the first seventy or so pages of Act Two), there's no easy way to browse through them. The first two chapters of Act One have 'next page' links but no active link back to the chapter index, and each page of every chapter afterwards has to be loaded and then backed out of to get to the next. This leads to a lot of 'Back' button pressing, and a lot of wasted time.

The plot, while retaining some rather cliched elements (such as the 'buried' persona and powers of Meishuu, and the increasingly commonplace 'reincarnation of Insert Name Here' theme), is pleasantly mysterious while also providing plenty of answers and some wickedly funny moments - look out for the God of Cats on catnip and the God of Dragons providing some decidedly "off-" humor, in particular. It's not all doom, gloom, and enigmatic questions, though; you'll have to prepare yourself for some truly awwwwww-inspiring moments.

Strings of Fate is a very classy webcomic. It's funny (the character pages alone are worth a laugh apiece), stylishly drawn, and there's a good deal there for any new reader to start ploughing through. Updates have been a little thin on the ground lately, but here's hoping that turns around and it continues for a few more cycles of the Chinese Zodiac.

Stelas is a staff contributor for Comixpedia. More Details.