If you like manga, manwa, manhua, web comics, or even just ordinary US comic books about super-powered people, take a look at the talented Uru-chan’s unOrdinary, available for free over at Webtoons. I read it faithfully every Thursday, sometimes waiting Wednesday night until midnight, just so I can read it before going to bed! I could gush about the artwork…
… or the humor…
… or the suspense…
… or even about how incredible it is that Uru-chan manages to get a chapter out every week!
But instead, wearing my literary scholar hat, allow me to highlight just two things that to me place this series a cut above: the characters and the themes.
First, let’s take a look at Uru-chan’s skill at crafting characters, exemplified in that cocky king we all love to hate:
As our hero’s primary antagonist through a good chunk of the story so far, Arlo displays, as one would expect, a fair amount of jerkishness. (It’s a word. Look it up.)* He’s manipulative, brutal, and not above pretending to be your friend before grinding you into the ground beneath the boots of his boot-licking lackies.
Yet we slowly find Arlo isn’t into all this for the evulz. He’s got principles. Arlo values social order and responsibility, and he views characters like Sera as irresponsible inasmuch as they won’t take on their socially-demanded roles. “You ran away,” he complains at one point, “and left all this burden on me.” And when the badder bad guys show up and threaten harm to his classmates, it’s John who flies off the handle and Arlo who remains calm and rational and holds things together.
Arlo shifts easily between being a reprehensible character and a sympathetic one, and yet there’s a clear sense of continuity between these two poles. Let’s hear it for multi-dimensional characters!
While you can probably tease out multiple themes from any given story, the one that strikes me most vividly in unOrdinary is the question, “What is the relationship between power and justice?” (I’m using justice here as a shorthand for moral goodness, rightness, or authority. Moral philosophers, eat your heart out.)
On the one hand, John and his dad criticize the cratocracy** they live in, arguing that just because someone isn’t as physically powerful as another doesn’t mean she is less valuable. On the other hand, as the officially god-like Seraphina points out, whether people use their power for good or evil purposes, “Only the powerful are able to influence the outcome of something.” If might does not make right, where does right come from, and how can a society ensure that it acts rightly, justly, without resorting to sheer force? Is someone like Seraphina a hero for bucking the unfair system, or irresponsible for shirking the role that she is best qualified to fill? Are both true? Can we call someone who is both heroic and irresponsible, ‘herresponsible’? Within the world of unOrdinary, these questions have not yet been resolved—and I look forward to seeing how they continue to be developed.
The massive popularity of unOrdinary, such that it is literally the #1 or #2 series on Webtoons.com most of the time, is a testament to Uru-chan’s ability to write, to illustrate, and also to engage her audience. The fan community has a lot of fun engaging her and her work together: I see it especially in the comments following every episode, as well as on Uru-chan’s Twitter feed. My favorite example of this is how, after months and months of the fans referring to Arlo as “Asslo”, Uru-chan made his fan nickname canonical! She wrote it into the story! I loved it, and so did thousands of other people. (Literally. Just check the number of “likes” on chapter 61, currently at 44,813.)
Any way you approach it, unOrdinary is a lot of fun. Prepare for an extraordinary experience.
* You won’t find “jerkishness” in the dictionary if you do look it up, but it is a word. As of right now.
** Strength-based society. The strong do as they wish, the weak suffer what they must.