[Movie Club] Homestuck: When Fans Take Precedence over Story

[Movie Club] Homestuck: When Fans Take Precedence over Story

This is not a “movie” per se, but I will count it as HCAD Movie Club material because the finale of the comic is half an hour’s worth of animation so it is somewhat movie-like.

Introduction

Homestuck ended over a week ago. It was bad. But with this article I want to focus on one aspect of the final two flashes that I think is the real culprit for everything that went wrong. Beside the Too Many Cooks-level of cast size and the overbearing ambition weighing down the plotting, I think the primary factor is that the fan pandering went completely out of control.

MS Paint Adventures became famous for creator Andrew Hussie’s interaction with its readers. Throughout the run of the first big adventure Problem Sleuth and the initial stages of Homestuck, the entire progress of each comic was guided by the readers, who would make plot suggestions via “commands” that attempted to direct the characters. While this was phased out of Homestuck once its popularity grew too large, Hussie continued to interact directly with the readers and took passive input from them. Even as Homestuck became an internet phenomenon, the comic stayed just as obviously fan-influenced as it previously had been.

Homestuck was filled with bizarre self-referential in-jokes (fedorafreak, Pantskat, Fat Vriska) that eventually became part of the story itself, though usually not in any way that would impede the comic for readers who were not a part of the fandom. Eventually, this escalated to the point where entire characters such as Rufioh were created based on fandom jokes.

Not all of these later in-jokes made sense to people outside the fandom. Here is one of the famous examples:

To readers outside the core fandom and non-readers, this joke came off as extremely tone-deaf (see what I did there), and the joke was eventually removed. But to members of the fandom well-versed in the arguments about the aracial main characters and the inanity of the trickster mode easter eggs, it was hilarious.

And eventually, the comic stagnated through the latter parts of 2012, its pace slowing to nearly zero in 2013 just as the comic began to go in hiatus for months at a time. Hussie dropped off the face of the internet. The Homestuck Music Team ceased to produce any more music albums, and the Homestuck video game, which had been Kickstarter funded for several million dollars, went silent (though that was potentially due to legal reasons). When the comic continued, Hussie was no longer a participant in his fandom. Instead, everything he did from then on simply became pure fan pandering.

Now, of course, the fan pandering in Homestuck didn’t suddenly start in late 2012 or anything; it had been going on for quite some time at that point, especially with the unneeded and ultimately plot-irrelevant Beforus walkaround minigames that  introduced twelve characters, ten of whom promptly disappeared from the story afterwards. But starting after the Megapause and Gigapause and Deltapause and whatever each different hiatus was called, the comic seemed to degrade into fan-favorite main characters talking… and talking…. and talking. And not much else. When it came time for the final climactic events that had been exposited about for literally hundreds of pages by various characters, we got… pretty much exactly what the exposition told us we were going to get for hundreds of pages.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Being aggressively self-referential is not necessarily a bad thing. Arrested Development is a fantastic TV series, and its hyper-continuity is one of its biggest traits. Heck, HCAD’s own Election ‘016: The Series is very self-referential (See for an example: This travesty and This masterpiece). But the latter parts of Homestuck take it to a completely new level.

In order to make a truly memorable finale, Hussie seemed to have gotten the notion that appeasing fans in every single way was the only option. He ended up blowing away the entire fandom through sheer frustration And that included some of the biggest fan pandering this side of [insert Revival of Beloved TV Series here].

Final Battle Syndrome

 

homestuck 1

It happens all the time in anime, and it happened here in Homestuck. The final two flashes became so positively focused on the fighting and cool moments and comeuppances of villains that it became utterly chaotic and very hard to follow.

Hussie had a very nasty habit over the course of Homestuck of cutting away just as fight scenes were about to begin, or ending them in anti-climactic curb-stomps. In one instance, a flash called [S] Heroes of Light: Strife began production and gathered art assets, but was cancelled and turned into a (admittedly very successfully-done) meta-intermission by Doc Scratch, something that Hussie seemed to regret based on later comments. But for [S] Collide and [S] Act 7, the comic went all-out with fights. And more fights, and more fights, and more fights.

[S] Collide is eighteen minutes of fight scene spread across four or five different “battlefields”, and it is really just impossible to follow it all without some sort of guide or explanation afterwards.

Everybody gets a moment to shine in fan-favorite ways, but in doing so, it takes nearly the entire length of an episode of Animaniacs to do so. And for many characters, it’s kind of confusing for what’s actually going on due to characterization issues that plagued the comic for years. The kinds of questions that run through your head during a dialogue-less frenzy like this can really end up hurting the enjoyment as a whole, and they ran through my head like crazy:

homestuck 8

Wait, why are they fighting the Condesce again? Isn’t she against Lord English too? Why are they fighting? What’s going on?

homestuck 6

Wait, why are they fighting again? Haven’t they been chasing each other for like three years? Doesn’t Jack Noir not want to fight anymore? Doesn’t he love PM or something? 

homestuck 7

Wait, is PM evil now? Is she going to wear both rings and become the true final boss that only Wayward Vagabond can defeat? What are her motivations again? Is she just roaring because it’s cool? What is happening?

homestuck 9

Why are they burning the rings? Is this supposed to be a cool moment? Are the rings supposed to unlock the frog or something? What?

homestuck 2

I appreciate the fact that Hussie wanted to finally show us some cool stuff in action, like the Fraymotifs that were consistently mentioned but never shown for most of the entire series, but it bloated these two flashes to the point that it was very hard to enjoy.

[S] Collide was very well-animated and the fights were very well-done, but there was just so much going on, and unlike [S] Cascade, whose tight pacing and absolutely revolutionary meta-animation style made it a textbook example of what media can do with the internet that can’t be done in any other medium, it was too hard to follow much of any of it.

Memes

tumblr_inline_o575bnGYq41tk1jyw_540 (1)

lol shrek xD

No, seriously, this was stupid. This wasn’t even self-referential fandom in-jokes to pander with; it was an outdated internet meme from back in 2014 when teenagers were ironically obsessed with Shrek.

homestuck 5

The sudden Undertale scene was not as “haha funny reference” as Hussie wanted; instead, it felt like a really shallow attempt at doing a whole “hey look at that thing you really liked about six months ago, isn’t it so funny” routine that is common in Friedberg & Seltzer movies. The Undertale/Homestuck connection obviously exists, but it felt extremely out-of-place here as an attempt to pander to two overlapping fanbases.

Everybody Lives

 

This is another issue that is carried in from the rest of the comic, but Hussie very clearly doesn’t like killing off characters anymore. Even when they become narratively useless (Wayward Vagabond, Terezi, Calliope, the entire Felt), they remain in the plot for some reason (another connection with most long-running anime series).

Even in this very final battle where the stakes are supposedly high and the tension is even higher, the only deaths for the entire thirty minute run are: Betty Crocker/Troll Empress, Jack Noir (the Lord English one), Jack Noir/Spades Slick, a Bunch of Ghosts

The comic couldn’t even muster up the courage to kill off Meenah or any of the other ghost characters that had any prominent screentime. So in effect, not a single heroic character died the entire time.

I mean, not even LORD ENGLISH died (at least on-screen???). Which reminds me that I could make an entire article about how Lord English is probably the worst “main villain” in any long-running work of fiction that I could possibly think of, but that is definitely for another time.

Art Team Palooza

homestuck 3 homestuck 4

The art for the final flashes and series of pages was, for the most part, really good, and a lot of it was really cute too (see above). But the strange part is that the Art Team was almost nonexistent for most of the flashes in Act 6. It was really only [S] Game Over that used a significant amount of non-Hussie art, up until the finale.

It took me until my second watch, but I realized that [S] Collide had no Hussie art whatsoever (that I could find; I may be wrong about this but even if so it’s still the vast majority). For someone archiving through the ten thousand pages of Homestuck, the sudden permanent shift in art style right at the end is probably pretty jarring. No Hero Mode drawings, no Scribble Mode drawings, nothing.

Even though it’s obviously not true, it makes it feel like Hussie had little to no involvement and just hired out people to finish the comic for him. Having lots of good Art Team art in the flashes was always a treat, but at a point it becomes too much. [S] Collide (and obviously [S] Act 7) went way past that point.

Homestuck: The Anime

[S] Act 7 being fully animated is… pretty much the same issue as the previous section of this article. The idea of an animated ending is cool, but the implementation of it really takes away from the spirit of Homestuck. The sliding flash animations and still shots had been part of the comic for ten thousand pages prior (including just a few pages earlier in [S] Collide), and to take that all away at the very end just felt like a weird attempt to get that “SO HYPE” buzz that would propel the comic back into the spotlight (an endeavor that seems to have failed, seeing as over a week later, the video only has 400,000 views, compared to the millions that used to represent the fandom at its peak).

Also, it was clear that the entire animation was done on a budget. While some of the shots were absolutely gorgeous, they were mixed in with… flash-animation sliding and long still shots… very ironically. It was a very mixed bag.

A good example, is this shot of Lord English:

homestuck 11

And then this shot ten seconds later:

homestuck 10

Visions of the Future

homestuck 12

After Hussie announced an official epilogue would eventually come (probably on 6/12 or 10/25), I realized that all those flashes of the New Earth weren’t there to cap off the comic with a vague “let’s speculate about this forever”-type ending, but instead it was a cynical attempt to get people all “SO HYPE” about the ACTUAL ending to the comic.

An epilogue is naturally fan-pandering at its core, though when Problem Sleuth did it, it was a quasi-parody and was very entertaining. This time, it’s clear that it will be there primarily to get people to make lots of fan art of John and Roxy’s beautiful baby and such.

Conclusion

I’m not going to address any of the billions of loose ends that the comic still has, though I might at some point in the future. I just wanted to focus exclusively on the fan-pandering that led to a confusing, bloated, and frustrating ending that gives Homestuck as a whole a very sour aftertaste.

Homestuck is still one of the most important webcomics of all time in how it used the internet to its fullest to make its meta-fictional epic of a story, and how its fandom quickly exploded and stayed big for a relatively long time (compared to most fandoms that explode and fade away a couple months later). It’s also one of the most important pieces of fiction for me, because it influenced my writing and storytelling like few other works ever did. I don’t think Home Clipart Animal Deer would even exist without Homestuck; it’s hard for me to imagine me writing stories like Spooky Swami, All About Me Boy, or Mateya Cola without having been immersed in a comic and fandom full of strange characters, fourth-wall-breaking parody, and radical ironic 90s culture.

But even if it had such an effect on me, it’s still one of the most disappointing endings to any media since Commander Shepard limped over to the red, blue, and green lights.

One thought on “[Movie Club] Homestuck: When Fans Take Precedence over Story

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *