Unicorn Jelly by Diane Reitz, reviewed by Matt Trepal

Unicorn Jelly, described by its creator Jennifer Diane Reitz as a "MangaStrip," is the story of a society coming to terms with its apparent imminent destruction and its efforts to survive. But it is also the story of the struggle between the heart and the mind, of the power of change in the face of tremendous odds, and of the power of the individual who believes.

The story is set in the very alien universe of Tryslmaistan, where life exists on triangular worldplates arranged in a rigid matrix, and native life is crystalline or jelline in form. Humans and other terrestrial life are cosmic castaways, dumped into a generally hostile universe by a mishap of space-time. Humans have managed to dominate Tryslmaistan, relegating the intelligent jellies and the unintelligent crystalline life to the desert fringes.

But the humans are not in complete control. As the story opens, the witch Lupiko has taken custody of the young girl Chou, who had been attacked and wounded by a crystal basilisk, one of the crystalline life forms. Although Lupiko manages to save Chou’s life with the help of a friendly jelly, she could not reverse all of the effects of the attack, and Chou’s family rejected her as a monster. With this we are introduced to Tryslmaistanian society.

The society of Gryrnu (the worldplate on which Unicorn Jelly takes place) is kept in a balance between the Wiccans, or witches, and the Alchemists, or engineers. Technology has not progressed much beyond a medieval level, although much applied animal husbandry has been accomplished (creating creatures such as the bosom sows), and properties of the crystalline structure of the world have been exploited to allow a limited level of flight. However, the balance of power is a tense one, threatening to unravel at any moment. And unravel, it does.

Unicorn Jelly is a completed story, one that begins as a simple adventure, but gradually evolves into an examination of the meanings of faith, loyalty, family, government, religion, and society as a whole. Although Reitz states that she had a sense of the complete story even before she began drawing the first strip, she also indicates in her notes that each strip was done ad lib, with almost no scripting. In fact, she admits that in most cases the art was drawn first, with only the barest mental outline to suggest what should be portrayed, and the text and dialogue were added to fit the artwork. As such, Unicorn Jelly is a unique piece of storytelling, and the reader can sense the free form of the story as sidebar tales are told and diversions are followed. At the same time, the core tale remains, and the reader can't help but notice how the story evolves from its straightforward beginnings toward the weightier subject matter of the later episodes.

The artwork of Unicorn Jelly begins in a simple style that would look at home on a first-generation Nintendo Gameboy. This fits the simple manner of the beginning of the story. As the story progresses, however, and becomes more complex, the artwork matches, growing more detailed and intricate. Throughout the story, the art always has a "chibi" look (an anime term meaning "small"), and in certain instances bodies do not always seem to move in a natural manner. But Reitz has drawn all the artwork pixel by pixel, using a mouse, and after this astonishing realization the reader may be inclined to forgive Reitz for any anatomical inconsistencies – particularly when she shows what she can really accomplish through her use of this technique.

Unicorn Jelly is that rarity among webcomics, a completed work, and as such it can be judged in its entirety. It tackles important subjects, and hits them head-on. All the characters grow and develop, so that the reader feels the love or hate or fear that they feel, and can understand why they may act in the way that they do. And though the characters brave the Apocalypse, they do so with their heads up and their eyes wide open. Would that we could do the same.

Matt Trepal is a staff contributor for Comixpedia. More Details.