Reviewed by: JezMM
Released by: Dark Horse
Publishing Country: USA
Author: Fred Gallagher, Rodney Caston
Age Rating: N/A
Page Count: 160
Megatokyo Volume 1 is a collection of strips from the first year of the highly popular online comic. Known collectively as Chapter zero, this book also contains extensive in-line notes and commentary. New to this edition is the a special section called Piro's Sketchbook, which collects drawings, sketches and other material from Megatokyo's early years, most of which has never been available online. Read the book, save your bandwidth.
Megatokyo began life as a small handful of comics drawn by artist Fred Gallagher to shut up his online friend Rodney Caston who was continually pestering Fred to make a webcomic. Since then it has grown to be one of the biggest and most critically acclaimed webcomics, with enough merchandise sold for the author to work on it full time. It has even made the jump from the digital world to paperback. A lot of webcomics in the past have managed print versions, but few actually manage to make it to bookshops like Megatokyo has thanks to a professional publishing deal. Megatokyo even managed to get featured article status on the popular resource, Wikipedia on March 13th, 2009.
The story starts off a bit haphazardly as the comic began life as a "gag-a-day" type strip of the like which you'd see in the cartoons section of a newspaper. The main characters, Piro, (a shy, stereotypical 'pathetic loser' who loves Japanese pop culture and gaming), and Largo, (the polar opposite of Piro in the gaming world, an online shoot-em-up lover who can't get enough violence in his games) attempt to get into E3, a video-games expo that is normally only open to the press. After an incident in which Largo gets very drunk and angry, Piro decides to get him out of the country for a while, also seizing the opportunity to impulsively escape to his heaven, Japan itself. Things go downhill from there, with them running out of money, buying things in Japan, running out of money some more, and basically ending up doing everything they can to not get home, albeit not intentionally.
Meanwhile, the rest of the main cast are slowly introduced throughout the first volume. Kimiko, an aspiring but unconfident Japanese voice actress; Erika, her older room mate who retired from being a voice actress idol earlier in life and now works at the MegaGamers store; and many other soon-to-be-memorable characters such as Miho the undead girl (according to Largo), Ping the PS2 accessory robot, Yuki the high school student, Junpei the "1337" ninja, not to mention the evil SEGA employee Dom and... the list goes on. They are all very quirky and often almost instantly likeable characters, but the pace of their introductions is very well placed so you will seldom get confused.
The art style is very much manga-inspired rather than a carbon copy of an existing style of manga. The artist has clear influences, but very much does his own thing with the book. This gives the comic its own unique and instantly recognisable look and feel. As an added bonus, with about two or three exceptions, every comic was reworked for the book resulting in a much higher quality image than one would get by reading online.
Speaking of book-exclusive features, due to the majority of the first chapter using a 2x2 grid of square panels for the comics, this left an empty space at the bottom of every page in the book. So for this first chunk of storyline there is the bonus of having an author's commentary at the bottom of each page. It is all interesting and entertainingly written, and thanks to the gag-like nature of the opening chapter, never feels intruding. This also gives a nice friendly and easy-to-read environment to get into the storyline, so when the format changes from 2x2 to a standard full manga-style page, you're into the characters enough to carry on reading in a serious manner. As well as additional commentary at the start, there is also various bonus sketches and images at the back of the book, and all of the bonus strips set outside the storyline, and images that were posted up on the website to make up for a lack of a comic, are now collected together into one section of the book rather than being interspersed throughout the regular comics as they were originally. The only downside is that unlike the web version, some of the bonus comics that contain copyrighted images from other sources have had these areas of the comics blacked out. However, this is only present in the version of the book published by Dark Horse. The previous version was published by Studio Iron Cat, is no longer in print, and one or two extra features are only present in the newer Dark Horse version.
There are a few bad elements to the book, but these are few and far between. The mixture of unrealistic fantasy and down-to-earth slice-of-life storyline may be confusing and even frustrating for some, as one minute Piro could be seriously worrying about his romantic life, while Largo is off randomly finding evil tomes in an underground cave with his Hamster conscience at his side. However normally these vast contrasts in tone are limited to certain characters (as in the Piro and Largo example above), so it never feels too jarring. Also due to this being early days for the comic, the art style is occasionally inconsistent as the author gets his bearings, but overall the quality is decent.
This is very much a book for geeks who are into the same sorts of things as the main characters, as they will instantly be able to relate to the characters. In fact, I'd say it's a safe bet to assume that the majority of readers of this book will be ones who are already familiar with, or have already read the comic online. However, all of the geeky jokes are usually explained sufficiently for those who just want a fun and interesting story to get into that can get serious, but also knows when to not take itself too seriously. For those who are already into Megatokyo, as well as the bonus of being a portable easy version to read, this book is chockfull of extra content and well worth the money even for someone who has already read it online. Not only that, but I personally feel the style of comic, once you get past the gag-a-day style opening half-chapter, feels much more at home and comfortable in a book than as an image on screen.
The fact that the book still sells well despite the content being available for free online is a testament to its quality. You can find the book on Megatokyo's merchandise site Megagear.com (where a wide variety of other Megatokyo goods can also be purchased), or in the manga section of most large bookshops.