Webcomic of the Week: “Karasu the Crow”

Disclosure: The author of this article is a member of the Discord server Ink Drop Café along with Nintala. The author of this article also employs and maintains a business relationship with Nintala in the creation of the comic The Human Atlas. Participants in the Webcomic of the Week column are selected mainly on a first come first serve/volunteer basis, plus occasional direct contact with creators. Professional favoritism, quid-pro-quo transactions, and bias—political or otherwise—are not involved in selecting the creators featured in and interviewed in this column.

“I got power, poison, pain, and joy inside my DNA.”

Karasu the Crow begins with a story within a story.

At one time, the nature goddess Tsuchi was tasked with maintaining the balance of the earth. As time passed, however, she grew disillusioned and angry with humans: the very charges she was sworn to protect. Rather than living in harmony with themselves and the earth, they were slowly destroying the planet, pushing out and rendering other forms of life extinct, and plunging the world into war. With her divine duties rendering her unable to take any action against humans on her own, Tsuchi crafted the first chimeras: living weapons designed to demolish mankind from within by using the power of their own sins against them. But before she could put her plans into motion, Tsuchi disappeared…

Many years later, the chimeras remain left behind. Now seemingly without a purpose after Tsuchi vanished without a trace, they are reviled―both by many humans and many of their own kind―and live painful lives, constantly at war with themselves and what they were created to do. An old medical building serves as the hub for the few chimeras who want to protect humanity, and it is these chimeras who task themselves with picking up the pieces and, if necessary, bringing their own to justice. Only rarely do Tsuchi’s old instruments of vengeance have humanity’s interests in mind, and not only are many of these leftover chimeras free to roam unchecked around the island city in which Karasu takes place, increasing numbers of them are becoming rogue: succumbing to their own animalistic impulses and becoming superpowered, mindless versions of themselves. And in the middle of all this is the protagonist Karasu herself, whose only seeming interest is scratching her own back.

To the point that a chimera and a human have to chase after her.

Karasu the Crow hardly shies away from exploring dark territory, and as the story advances, it even starts to revel in it. The comic comes with a mature content warning.

As a comic, Karasu the Crow is all about the intersection of opposite worlds and concepts. The overarching story is extremely ambitious, proudly wearing its influences on its sleeve. Nintala’s art style―a pleasant, unusual yet familiar hybrid of cartoon and anime―does a fine job of supporting the plot and making it chug along. Their two main influences of Atsushi Oukubo (Soul Eater) and Don Bluth (Anastasia, The Rescuers) result in a collision of Eastern and Western styling that looks very simplistic yet characteristic, and it serves the comic very well. As a result of this, Karasu‘s art is a rarely-found balance of specialized and adaptable, and as the comic slowly cycles through its varying genres―traditional slice-of-life, action, suspense, psychological horror, mystery―the art obediently and consistently paddles along with it, showing very few signs of ever breaking a sweat or having trouble fitting into its own britches.

Much like in Rulopotamo’s M9 Girls―a previous Webcomic of the Week―the fantasy story and mythos of Karasu the Crow is rooted in hard science.

This theme of complimentary opposites also shows up in the story’s cast and plot. Most of the named characters in Karasu the Crow are chimeras, which are a type of human-animal hybrid created by implanting a human being with a DNA jewel, a seed containing the genetic material of an extinct animal. The process of creating a chimera has an extremely high failure rate; most people who reject the jewel outright die, and those who do not are horrifically deformed beyond all recognition. But if the jewel does implant, it results in the person gaining enhanced regenerative abilities as well as animal traits, the extent of which varies from individual to individual. The main character Karasu, a hooded crow chimera, sports two pairs of wings as well as a propensity for stealing (kleptoparasitism), a behavior commonly found in corvids. At first glance the chimeras may seem like fun kemonomimi-type anime characters, but Karasu does not sidestep around the deeper implications of these animal hybrids’ existence―ethical or otherwise―and as the story progresses, even begins to plow headfirst into them.

Karasu shifts through a variety of genres over the course of its narrative, but it never runs short on comic relief. In this scene, snow leopard chimera Pell demonstrates that apparently, he did not inherit the feline sense of balance.

As of the time of this writing, Karasu the Crow has a grand total of thirty-four published chapters, which can make it quite the daunting read for newcomers. However, the chapters themselves tend to be on the short side (there are a few exceptions) and easily digestible, many of them taking no longer than five or ten minutes to read and process. Its genre-blending of slice-of-life and action, with hints of psychological horror that increasingly take the stage over its considerable length, presents as both Karasu‘s most valuable strength and its most dire weakness. While the comic can and does occasionally linger on one of its many genres for far longer than it should, Karasu is a comic that rewards patience. Fans of almost every classifiable genre will find things to enjoy in it. In particular, readers who love character-based storytelling regardless of genre will likely find Karasu the Crow to be an especially worthy read. The comic may have a large cast, but it never once feels daunting and (again, with few exceptions) every character feels lifelike, relatable and believable.

Overall, it may be quite the lengthy comic and some parts of it can feel unpolished, but if you have the patience and dedication, Karasu is set to steal your heart.

For first-time readers, can you give us a spoiler-free rundown of the main characters and their importance to the plot?

  • Nintala: Karasu is a plucky action girl that wants to do good, and not see an evil woman get away with doing whatever she wants. Pell is Karasu’s guardian, but he himself is scared of the world. All he wants is to see Karasu stay out of trouble and be safe. Elizabeth is the boss in charge of the gang! She’s stern and gives off a commanding vibe. There’s a total of seven main characters and three antagonists, and I’d love to ramble about all of them, but I’ll leave the comic to talk about all of them for me!

    A large cast is a little hard to juggle, but the comic delves into each of their own stories and why their lives are all connected.

Seven main characters and three antagonists is, like you’ve said, quite a large cast. Why is Karasu the main character and not someone else?

  • Nintala: That’s a good question, if you asked her that she’d have no clue haha!

    When I started this, I approached the comic with a typical manga protagonist who wound up in a large plot on accident, and that changed when I wrote up more of the cast and their backstories. Every character has a reason for being here and so I wanted to write the story not solely focusing on one character, but what connects them. Karasu yearns for adventure and is curious about the world around her, the audience finds out things with her.

A lot of hard science and research went into the writing and development of Karasu the Crow, especially when it comes to the concept of chimeras. Tell us about some of it!

  • Nintala: Yes there was a lot of research… nearly seven years of just research was put in since I first began the story! I’ve always had a very strong love of science and nature and the more I conceptualized, the more of that love I wanted to put into things.

    While the story and chimeras themselves have a touch of the supernatural to them, I set out to never have “magic” be an answer to why something can happen. With chimeras, their design approach is 80% science and 20% magic. I pulled inspiration about how some of their supernatural quirks work from science. For example, chimeras have an energy only they possess and other chimeras can sense this because it’s the same wavelength, meanwhile humans can’t sense this wavelength nor do they possess it. This was inspired by how magnets can attract metal but not plastic.

    All of the animal knowledge went to flesh out characteristics and habits of characters, I’ve even taken a zoology class for the comic. The characters have quirks based off their animals, while the animals aren’t necessarily based off the characters’ quirks. Science was the base, and from that grew ways of how some magic can work.

Tell us more about the setting! Karasu is set on a small island off the coast of Japan, is there any deeper meaning behind this?

  • Nintala: The comic takes place on Hashima Island and the reason I chose that island was because in real life it’s been abandoned and left to nature, humans only used it to mine a resource and once that resource was obsolete, they just left the island. The action of the island’s abandonment was similar to how humans are seen by main villain Tsuchi in comic.

    The second and more abstract reason for the island’s choosing was because of the wall that surrounded it, keeping the harsh ocean waves out and the people on the inside safe and ultimately secluded and cut off. The island is caged in itself, and in the story thematically it’s a controlled experiment for Tsuchi to test upon.

When did you first start conceptualizing Karasu, how did the initial idea for the project take shape, and how long ago? If you had the chance to do anything differently, what would you do and why?

  • Nintala: My original draft of the comic back in 2007 was actually some sort of magical girl story with robots mixed in. It was… well, awful to say the least. I was too caught up in following cool anime trends at the age of 13.

    As answered, above a lot of research went into science and building my characters, what I did not get a lot of time to work on was my own understanding of writing and dialogue. A mix of dyslexia and a worsening speech impediment steered me clear of buckling down and understanding how characters talk and general writing skills, and while I’m learning things now to write better and make a more cohesive story, the older chapters still have a feel of “noob” to them that I want to improve.

    While I’m happy with what I have, there is a feel of improvement as the comic goes on with me making it, but I think the older writing is not up to par with more recent chapters that I’m most proud of. I even re-did the first chapter of the comic this January because I was so embarrassed of it and I’m slowly making small changes to the dialogue in other areas of the comic!

Finally, let’s end with a fun question. If you woke up in the world of Karasu as a chimera, what species of chimera would you be and what would you do?

  • Nintala: Haha! Personally a bird or simple mammal like a dog would be the safest in terms of chimera side effects and appearance, the weirder the animal you are the less enjoyable it is to be a chimera. And I imagine I’d use a chimera’s immortality to learn vast skills and travel to experience different things! If I ran into any of my characters though… not all of them are perfect people, I think I’d be a little annoyed meeting some of them. I’d like to give Pell a hug though and tell him things are not as bad as he thinks.

Find Karasu the Crow as well as Nintala’s social media sites here:

Comic Sites (SmackJeeves | Tumblr) | Comic Twitter | Personal Twitter | Personal Tumblr | Instagram

Mede Colvin
Under The Ink Reporter

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