Yes I’m including motion comics as a book review. Sue me.
For those few out there who’ve never heard of NARR8, it was a relatively new content channel based in Russia and San Francisco, whose most well-known products included motion comics and interactive stories you could purchase on their mobile app. They ranged from intense science fiction, dark fantasy, and much more. Sadly though, it didn’t last long and has gone defunct, with almost all of its beautiful comics deleted and gone.
Surprisingly though, the two most popular motion comics NARR8 had made in their golden years didn’t have humans as the main characters, they had anthropomorphic animals. Both told different stories, but shared the same universe, the same art style, and the same writers. And thankfully, because both held such a dedicated fan base, episodes of both can be found on YouTube with the push of a button.
And I’m going to talk about them today, because I might as well explain to everyone who’s reading this about the epic experience you may or may have missed with NARR8’s semi-lost motion comic gems, ‘Prodigal Angel’ and ‘Subject #9’!
Ah ‘Prodigal Angel’, the first and most favorite motion comic I have read in my Internet years. I remember when this first came out, and cannot tell you how much money I wasted to watch every episode on NARR8’s mobile app, but it was worth it. From the trailer, you get this sense of amazing mystery, at first looking like a crossover between David Levithan’s ‘Every Day’ and the newest Sly Cooper video game, or ‘Zootopia’ meets an episode of ‘The Twilight Zone’.
And I loved every frame and episode of it! 😀
In the metropolis of Middletown, Max Williams is an anthropomorphic cat who has spent the last ten years of his life in a comatose state. Ridden to a hospital bed for most of his life with no memory of his childhood, his only caretakers are his foxy nurse named Martha and an eccentric badger doctor named Albert Cliff, who is curious of what led to his state.
Faster than you can hum the Twilight Zone’s theme, Max one day suddenly wakes up in Martha’s body in the blink of an eye, revealing that he has the ability to take over anyone’s body through a new kind of telepathy. Wanting the chance at a new life and a possible relationship with his nurse, Max must learn to be careful with his new powers as his memory holds a secret to a conspiracy, one that may endanger his past loved ones and his current friends. Not only that, but the mafia has also taken interest in him after he gets caught up in a botched kidnapping of Lucy Lee, a childhood friend of Max’s who holds a clue to rediscovering the past. Will Max save his family and friends, and will he ever wake up again?
The first thing to notice immediately in Episode 1 is the artwork. Not only is it well drawn and beautifully integrated with the comic style and animation, but the line work and coloring is just gorgeous. At times the characters seem stiff in their positions, but again it’s a motion comic, even though it FEELS like an actual animated show. The way the characters move and how the scene angles immerse us into another world is phenomenal, especially for a small company like NARR8. It also helps having a soundtrack to go with it, ranging to upbeat and seeking but also keeping a mysteriously sullen atmosphere.
The artist who did the animation is a Russian member of the furry fandom named ‘Miles-DF’, and he really dedicated himself to giving every location a story, every shadow a purpose, and every character a shining personality.
Speaking of personalities, let’s talk about the main character himself, Max Williams. Being a comatose patient who has the literal mindset of a child (or a cub in this case), Max is an optimistic cat with more than nine lives. He’s kind of like Nico Medina from my last review of ‘Willful Machines’, a young man who loves to breathe the air and will risk his life to wake up from his slumber. You understand his struggle and admire how this cat wants to live again, yet he still has a sense of maturity toward responsibly using his powers.
Martha is also a character to love. Keeping a sense of optimism similar to Max, this foxy lady is womanly and independent while keeping a sense of morality amid cynicism. Martha is a good person for Max to work off of, and a companion to rely on for information and support.
Then there’s Lucy, who some have argued is a Mary Sue and a damsel in distress. On the one hand (or paw) I do think she can be slightly annoying at times, but she does contribute to the plot in the latter half of the series.
I’m honestly surprised why this motion comic isn’t as popular as ‘Subject #9’, since it has a solid plot, good characters, and a cool villain. I guess it has to be that ‘Prodigal Angel’ can be very corny and feel silly even by its own standards. For example, there’s a scene in one of the later episodes where Raymond, Lucy’s husband (and in my opinion this world’s version of Rob Schneider minus the racism) is working on a life for a movie he’s acting in, and it sounds like something from a B-movie. It also doesn’t help that the ending is slightly rushed when it comes to the outcome of Lucy and what happens to Raymond, but then again it’s nothing compared to ‘Subject #9’ and its ending (but I’ll get to that soon enough).
However, what isn’t corny is the villain, a bulking white tiger named Dave who is head of the mafia and always looks more pissed than an alcoholic dad on the verge of being sober. He looks a first like a Sly Cooper boss, but this tiger has proven that you better not mess around or you’ll be sorry. He’s like the Al Capone of this universe, being a charming businessman with the fangs of a tiger.
I’d talk about the rest of the characters, but it would require another review to do. Each one has their own unique design and individual personality, from the simple ones like two evil nurses who work with Martha to ones like Lucy’s quietly ambient bodyguard Maine.
Telling itself in a flowing narrative similar to a serialized comic book all of ‘Prodigal Angel’s episodes are well-written and have its funny scenes as well as adventurous heartfelt moments. They even somehow manage to work in scenes where its characters smoke, swear, and heavily flirt. So yeah, this is an 80’s kids movie in a nutshell.
Probably my most favorite episode out of this whole series has to be Episode 26 called ‘The Kingpin’s Yuletide’, and it’s a Christmas episode where Max goes around Middletown trying to pretend to be a member of a family celebrating the holidays. He comes across this family stricken with poverty and finds out that Dave of the mafia is trying to cause trouble for them. Without giving anything away, what happens is just…magical, it’s magical. I highly recommend watching it on its own this December.
Overall, ‘Prodigal Angel’ was one of my most favorite comics (yes I said comics), and it still is. With flowing animation by a wonderful artist, engaging characters mixed with storylines, a decent bad guy, and a flowing narrative with an interesting plot, this is a motion comic that’ll set your emotions into motion.
Now let’s talk about ‘Prodigal Angel’s twin brother, another furry motion comic simply dubbed ‘Subject #9’, which also happens to take place in the same universe as its predecessor. After reading and experiencing ‘Prodigal Angel’, as well as seeing the trailer from the link up above all those years ago, I held high expectations for this one. Out of these two, ‘Subject #9 is deemed the most liked by fans, and I can see why (though what’s with the trailer? The voice-over guy sounds like a WWE announcer with a mouthful of junk food).
From the trailer, we got mysterious labs, daring escapes, a cat-girl with superpowers, shady government agencies, fighting “the powah”, and all while building up to something grand and epic. And…I thought it was good. ‘Subject #9’ was good, but not as great as ‘Prodigal Angel’.
In my opinion.
Again, set in the furry-populated city of Middletown, Rick is an anthropomorphic cat cub who has spent most of his life surviving on the street and stealing. After a pickpocket goes wrong, he ends up being arrested by shady soldiers and soon finds himself in a mysterious facility called EXA.
Shocked by this ordeal and trapped behind bars in-between unseen experiments, Rick finds out he and the other inmates of EXA have supernatural abilities (with Rick have telekinesis). These include a sarcastic fox with super-strength named Bert, a distant female lynx who can drain people’s energy named Tina, a cat named Jess who can literally hypnotize others with her beauty, an assassin leopard called Shado, two squirrel cubs nicknamed Hotty and Coldy (for a reason), and a quietly psychic mouse named Sebastian.
Combining their powers, our eight characters decide to escape the facility and soon end up becoming fugitives for EXA. As they begin to slowly accept and try controlling their powers though, Rick and his friends begin to realize their involvement in this goes farther than EXA, all the way to a government conspiracy that may cause chaos in their world. How do they have these powers? Will Rick and the other seven have the chance for normal lives? And can the plot twist be more f**king obvious than the one from ‘Batman: Arkham Knight’?
If there’s anything advertisers and especially Hollywood needs to learn, it’s that if you want to entice your audience to keep seeing a product, don’t show the last third of it in the trailers! Just because you have an awesome twist or a fantastic final fight doesn’t mean you should spoil it! It’d be like having a preview of a book be the final chapter.
Outside of the trailer, how does the motion comic itself hold up?
Again, the immediate thing to notice is the motion comic’s animation, also done by Miles-DF. While ‘Prodigal Angel’ kept itself in a modern world with modern technology and pop culture references, ‘Subject #9’ uses its movement and art style to give off a futuristic secret agent-esque atmosphere. There’s more dark shadows, disturbing imagery (okay nothing gory), and a sense of dread. The soundtrack also gives off the vibe as well, mixing in suspense and dreadful ambience with dynamic charisma.
And surprisingly, the characters in this are as great as the ones in ‘Prodigal Angel’, probably even more memorable. Instead of the optimistically selfless Max though, we get the wise-cracking little thief named Rick. When he isn’t flirting at the older women in the group, he’s helping everyone solve the mystery behind EXA and the experiments they went through. He’s a jokester, but compassionate towards his friends’ safety, he’s flirtatious but not callous, and Rick has a sense of morals even if he claims himself as ‘the greatest pickpocket in the city’.
Honestly, he’s like a feline version of Naruto.
The other members of the group are likeable as well, especially the squirrel twins Hotty and Coldy, who serve as the series’ little innocent mascots. Jess and Tina are the beautifully fierce motherly figures, Sebastian’s an awkward but powerful psychic who believes in the best of people, and Bert’s the tough muscle with a fierce temper. The one character that boggle’s the hell out of me in this group is Shado. I mean, he’s a good character with an honor system and good assassin skills, but why the hell doesn’t he have any powers?
For the most part, ‘Subject #9’ is actually interesting, almost like a furry version of Stephen King’s ‘Firestarter’ or the TV show ‘Heroes’. We have an evil government organization, a good balance if interesting characters, and a good sense of humor along with an inkling of drama. The action in this is also terrific; it’s not too much animation or stiff comic panels, but a great blend of animation and poses. The speed and slickness of it is probably as good as or better than the fight scenes from ‘Prodigal Angel’, especially when it comes to the characters and their powers. Miles-DF actually managed to make this motion comic feel like a real superhero comic.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t make up for the fact the plot is so cluttered.
My main problem with ‘Subject #9’, surprisingly, is that it has kind of the same problem as ‘Poet Anderson of Nightmares’. It feels like the writers spent more time focused on the story motivating the characters as opposed to the characters motivating the story. I wanted to know more about these characters, how they interacted with others before EXA, learn more about their pasts. With ‘Prodigal Angel’ the entire main plot was focused on Max Williams trying to solve the mystery behind his coma, and ‘Subject #9’ explained the backstories of our characters in only one episode. And it’s a huge pity, because I wanted to know more about Rick and the squirrel twins, like their pasts and how they became orphans. Instead, the plot of ‘Subject #9’ is basically about leading up to a huge reveal that’s been done before and basically spoiled by the trailer.
In my opinion, what would’ve saved this is if the comic was just about them trying to escape. That would’ve been a good way to tell the story.
Speaking of which, if I had to choose my favorite episode, it would have to be a tie between ‘The Calm Before’ and ‘Then Came the Storm’. It’s where Rick and the gang just escaped EXA and take refuge at a beach house owned by an old mentor of Shado’s, and the episodes are basically about everyone relaxing, cracking jokes about one another, and being themselves while training their powers. The episodes allow our main characters’ personalities to shine and allows sweet character development, especially regarding Tina’s tragic backstory and Rick’s telekinesis.
It’s kind of weird the more I dive into this. The most well-liked furry comic of NARR8 is both an epic and a clutter of a motion comic. ‘Subject #9’ has memorable characters, good action and animation, but it keeps it from being great because of its plot and (sometimes) clumsy pacing. Still, I do not dislike this in any shape or form.
Packed with action and gritty suspense, ‘Subject #9’ is an adventurous science fiction comic with the same animation done by Miles-DF, and is worth a glance or two for curious eyes.
It saddens me that NARR8 is gone, and these two gems of motion comic animation are no longer available for purchase online. It’d be like if Studio Ghibli went bankrupt the next day and we could no longer buy their movies in stores. I know that this wasn’t that big of a deal and I’m not going to act like these two are masterpieces, but NARR8 introduced its fans to two amazing motion comics that touched our hearts. And to delete them because they went bankrupt saddens me for those who can’t read them anymore.
Luckily, for NARR8 fans, some people have managed to record some of the comics and put them on YouTube. It may not be the same as actually looking at it on your iPad or phone, but ‘Prodigal Angel’ and ‘Subject #9’ were a huge inspiration for me as a furry and as a creative writer. It can inspire others and entertain, even if the company is no longer trying to.
True to its word, NARR8 is ‘where stories come alive and never end’.
Have a nice night everyone.
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