Falconhyrste: Spell Before The Bell

Falconhyrste is about a magical boarding school full of secrets, wonder, and danger. Most of all though, it’s about finding one’s way through a formative time, making friends, making enemies, struggling with identity, and navigating through the drama of it all. In other words, high school!

 

Cei, the protagonist, is a shy trans boy. He doesn’t have a lot of friends, and is being preyed on by the two school bullies, Yumi and Kasper. He feels lonely and misses his two moms; not even his favorite anime can cheer him up. Suddenly, a mysterious new student named Mira appears in class. She is even more antisocial than Cei, and doesn’t seem much accustomed to social norms. Cei has a feeling there is something mysterious and supernatural behind Mira. He wonders where exactly she came from. In the meantime, disgraced journalist and school pariah Octavia suspects the Student Council of corruption. It seems paranoid, but Octavia might actually been on to something. It’s enough to get the Fox siblings, Sebastian and Gaia, to do everything in their power to cancel her  journalism club, the Falconhyrste Toxtram Club. Both Cei and Octavia’s stories intertwine for a story of friendship, rivalry, fear, angst, joy, adventure, and magic. Again, high school! Hopefully, the cafeteria food is a lot better than what you’re used to!

 

The first thing to grab my attention about Falconhyrste, before I even knew what the story was or who these characters were, is the art. I hate to reduce it down to a singular word, but my best summarization of it is colorful. The color palette is wide in range, covering so many shades and fusing them together. I think the best example of this are the prologue pages:

 

 

This page alone is a prime example of what Melissa Capriglione and Clara W. are capable of. It demonstrates simple yet carefully applied detail, and the pinkish-purple color palette has a mystical, eye-catching tone to it. The color palette also visually diversifies the cast. Each character is given unique colors for their personal features. Cei with his blue hair, Octavia with green hair, Gaia and Sebastian in their white uniforms, Elisha with her green eyes and head scarf, etc.

 

I also find that this approach to character gives it a strong queer vibe. I am not LGBT myself, so I can’t really give a detailed insight to why. However, something about the style just signals to me that queerness is as much a part of the aesthetic as magic. I hate to limit my interpretation to a comparison, but Falconhyrste reminds me of Steven Universe, a show irrefutably queer, that has similar stylizations: a colorful palette and diverse character design including race, body shape, fashion, etc. I have no deep insight to why this is good other than that I love something diverse, inclusive, and unique.

 

Reading through Falconhyrste is a magical journey of panel after panel full of wondrous color. Not only that, but there are some truly inventive panel layouts on display, such as here:

 

 

I just love how the eye is directed from Gaia’s dialogue balloon to her hand to the inset panel of her clutching Cei’s arm tightly, and then to the bottom of the page where they enter the castle. This is all done without jamming the scene into tiny little boxes typical of comics. It’s so refreshing and inventive. There are smaller panels used at times in equally inventive ways. The technique is to insert the smaller panels into larger ones. There are many examples of this in the series, but the page below is one of the most innovative. From the first to last, mini panels are used to capture the pace, angle, and tone of every action.

 

The art combined with the panel layouts keeps the story going while also remaining visually interesting. Clearly, the creative team is not letting a single page go to waste. They want to make each one its own masterpiece.

 

 

That said, there are issues with quality. After the wonderfully detailed prologue, the subsequent pages for Chapter 1 are less so. Character models look stiff while running and have issues of proportion. The colors, while still varied and bright, appear flatter and less atmospheric. I didn’t mind this much though. I saw the logic behind it. The prologue was meant to be an instant eye-catcher, something to grab the reader’s attention immediately so they would want to continue reading on.

 

Switching to a less detailed style helps with time and cost, too. After all, making a webcomic at a regular schedule is not easy, and sometimes quality has to drop a little bit in order to maintain the schedule. It reminds me of a large percentage of manga that starts off with intensely detailed and colored pages in the beginning before switching to less detailed black and white pages. It can be irksome, but at the same time it’s the nature of the beast. I’m personally fine with it as long as quality is consistent; not to mention, there is always the possibility of quality improving over time as the creators get more of a feel for their style.

 

Unfortunately, consistency is shaky. Around Chapter 3, I noticed that the style had changed significantly. Character designs are even flatter and less detailed. The coloring is so flat, it sometimes looks like streaks of paint. I found this odd because it seemed like such an abrupt change after two chapters of getting used to the previous style. I can understand that if it’s a guest artist, but there was no indication of this.

 

 

Changes in style are welcome, but in comics, the best changes tare the gradual ones, the kind of changes you don’t realize until you take a step back and see the difference in previous issues. The artwork for Chapter 3 and the first half of Chapter 4, in comparison to what came before, looks like a downgrade. It’s a perplexing dip in quality that did take me out of the story. Fortunately, the artwork in the second half of Chapter 4 and onward is fantastic! There are more details to characters and backgrounds, the color palette is even brighter and has more interesting effects, and the issues I had with stiff character movement are remarkably approved. Overall, the art is Falconhyrste’s strongest selling point.

 

Falconhyrste is a very character driven narrative despite it’s fantasy setting. The focus is mostly on the students, they’re various social circles, and personal struggles. There are way too many characters to cover, but there are some that stick out who worth mentioning. The protagonist Cei is friendly and cheery, but made of industrial strength awkward. He rarely interacts with people except his roommate Viktor. Cei most spends time talking to his moms on the phone or watching anime.

 

Cei’s awkwardness makes him a magnet for bullying, particularly two students named Yumi and Kasper. Cei is not much of a fighter, so he does his best to avoid conflict. The problem is that Cei avoids just about, well anything. He is not an active protagonist that takes any kind of initiative. Things just happen to him or he coincidentally stumbles into the right moment in time. While I definitely sympathize with Cei, he didn’t demonstrate any qualities to counterbalance his shyness and apathy. I understand this is because Cei is homesick, but I would to like to see some kind of quality that makes him not so inactive.

 

Mira is without a doubt the most mysterious character in the series. Admittedly, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out where she came from. Right now, Mira is just moseying around. There isn’t much to analyze because of the fact she avoids human contact. The only defining trait so far is her complete lack of social skills, leading to many awkward moments with the poor kids that she interacts with. Cei is Ferris Bueller compared to her.

 

By far, the most interesting two characters are the siblings Gaia and Sebastian Fox. Despite their shared genetics, they couldn’t be more different. Gaia is outgoing and perky, so much so it’s annoying; Sebastian, pouty goth boy that he is, comes off as snobbish and shows zero interest in other students unless they present as a challenge to his goals. These presentations are surface level though. Beneath that, it’s completely reversed. There are hints that Gaia is actually very cunning and manipulative, the type that can hide the knife behind her back with a smile. On the other hand, Sebastian is ambiguous. It’s not clear if his motivations are just as corrupt, or in his own twisted way trying to maintain peace on campus. It’s still too early to really figure these two out, but by far they’re the characters I’m most interested in.

 

The next characters I’m going to talk about are going to be difficult because of just how abhorrent they are.  The two bullies, Yumi and Kasper, are so bland and brutish, literally talking about how much they love beating up nerds. They’re such stereotypical cartoon bullies, I’m surprised they don’t have mohawks and speak like Junior Stallone. Normally, this wouldn’t be such a problem. One-dimensional antagonists have their uses, but Cei is already an inactive protagonist and a lot of screen time is spent on them.

 

Each encounter just feels like a very typical nerd vs. bullies scenario. I particularly feel irked by these scenes because of how they are played as comedy I’m thinking that is not to make light of the bullying but maintain the tone of the series; something still feels off about it though. I think my judgment here is clouded due to the fact, as a bullying survivor, I have a hard time seeing characters like this treated lightly knowing that, in real life, their actions have profound effects on people. In their defense, Yumi and Kasper do show they have a good side to them and help Cei out. I suspect they are going to change significantly later in the story. For now, the main issue is how much time is spent on them despite being very bland stereotypes.

 

And then there is Octavia. By far, she is the hardest character to connect with because of how incredibly self-centered she is. For her, the only thing that matters is the Toxtram Club, not the integrity of journalism. She doesn’t even care if Cei wants to join or not, she just pressures him into it despite his protests. The event that triggers Octavia’s investigation of the Fox siblings and the Student Council is her feeling insulted by a detention slip. I think an over-the-top reaction to the slightest insult is meant to be comedic, but it can be argued Octavia’s behavior is extreme even by those standards.

Octavia’s selfish disregard for others is is so extreme and belligerent, I’m tempted to say she is a malignant narcissist. And yet, I must admit that there are moments where Octavia shows her better side. Octavia does not have friends, but she does have a pet turtle she takes care of. I find these scenes delightful despite my feelings toward the character. Octavia and the turtle just simply get along. Octavia provides the turtle food and shelter, and it gives her companionship. She actually shows she is capable of love and empathy.

 

With all these criticisms of Kasper, Yumi, and Octavia, I do realize these could be too harsh and rushing to conclusions without seeing more to them yet. It could be that these characters are a lot better than I give them credit for, but I’ve yet to see significant developments in their characters, even after five chapters. The issue could just be too long a wait. I do have a feeling that these characters are about to have significant changes, and it will be interesting to see how they grow.

 

As far as the teen drama goes, it’s not the most exciting. A lot of pages are dedicated to the very mundane parts of these student’s lives: waking up, going to class, having a funny thing happen to them, repeat. There were plot and character developments that occurred, but I didn’t think they were much. I wondered why, and my theory is that there are too many characters.Similar to the previous webcomic I reviewed, each chapter introduces multiple side characters without being particularly memorable. They show up, do whatever they do to advance the plot, and go off their merry way. This also negatively impacts the main characters because it misses the opportunity to further development them via how interacting with others.

 

Also like the last webcomic, the chapters of Falconhyrste tend to drag on. When the story hits a climax, the excitement has fizzled out because of the tedium that came before it. The pace that the creators seem to be going with is a gradual one. I can see that working with a certain type of story, something very atmospheric and experimental like Chaboute’s Alone. But in the case of a YA fantasy series, shorter chapters and snappier story beats are the best way to go.

 

The most significant flaw of Falconhyrste is that it does not take advantage of the setting it’s named by. Falconhyrste is a school in an ancient castle that teaches magic to young people (sound familiar?), and yet that part is rarely, if ever, explored. I wondered if that is because magic is a secret in this world, but nothing in the narrative suggests that. I just assumed that magic was an accepted, everyday occurrence. Not only that, but there is a scene where students play a ball game with see-through, clearly not traditional pigskin balls. It could also possibly be an advanced form of technology. Again, I can’t make that distinction because there is no exposition to say otherwise.

 

Very little throughout the story does much to develop the setting. Heck, very little is done to develop the world. You don’t want to have walls of exposition that yammers on, but it is nice in a setting that’s not the same as the real world to slowly, gradually get a sense of its history and dynamics. Even after reading four chapters, I still have no clear picture of Falconhyrste because too much time is dedicated to the characters. The webcomic is clearly influenced by the Harry Potter series, and yet it lacks the special magic of that story where it balanced out a character-driven narrative with a fully realized setting and world. If you’re going to set a story in a fantasy setting but not let the reader explore it, then why bother have the setting in the first place?

 

Falconhyrste is a visually strong webcomic with some issues of plot and character; not so much that they are unambitious but have of yet to reach their potential. Honestly, the more I think about these characters, the more I realize their potential. I still strongly recommend checking out the webcomic for its art, for its inclusivity, and that it’s an LGBT comic which are always welcome in the medium. If you’re a fan of Harry Potter but always thought that series could be gayer, more inclusive, and include colorful art, then Falconhyrste is a series for you.

 

Read the comic: http://www.falconhyrste.com/

Follow Melissa: https://twitter.com/mcapriglioneart

Follow https://twitter.com/tenthousandbeez

 

Ben Howard
Under The Ink Reporter

Leave a Comment

%d bloggers like this: