If there’s ever a “most surprising” webcomic for me this year, Room of Swords by Toonimated (Tara and Julian) is it. From the first few episodes, it might as well come off as yet another time loop/trapped in a video game/virtual reality narrative, but after its first turning point, it becomes so much more. It’s a story about confronting figurative and literal demons, breaking out of the cycle, and finding the strength to move forward.
Funny story: I first found out about WebToon (around 2019) through one of its YouTube trailers. Whether I wasn’t in the mood or because I clicked on “skip ad,” I didn’t give it a chance until I finally checked out WebToon last year. After reading the first 3-4 episodes, I passed on this webcomic assuming it was yet another time loop/time travel story. Don’t get me wrong; I’m a sucker for those stories, but I also tend to be picky. I’d just seen/read one too many stuck-in-a-time-loop-or-virtual-reality by then. So I moved on to other webcomics and wouldn’t give Room of Swords another try until recently. I regret not sticking to this one the first time.
Reader Warning: This review contains mentions of suicide relating to the reviewer and their personal interpretation of the webcomic. If you’re experiencing a mental health crisis, please know that there is help. Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (free and confidential) to talk it out. For readers outside of the United States, please refer to this directory of international hotlines.
There will also be mild spoilers for seasons 1-2, which will be marked where necessary. If you’re interested in this webcomic but don’t want to know about significant moments/hints beforehand, you can watch this trailer instead.
Gyrus Alexei, originally from the year 2545 AD, wakes up on an unfamiliar planet. With a starfish-shaped tracker called Scout, he searches for his ship and captain. He encounters a woman named Tori who hails from 1000 AD, and then a cavewoman named Sylvia who hails from 1200 BC. Soon, they discover dangers, foes to defeat to earn one of the boss swords, and even life-threatening forces that manifest after the black sun timer in the sky is up.
As I said before, I regret not reading beyond the first few episodes at first. The creators do take their time to unfold narrative turning points. Think of it as a blooming flower. The story starts with a seemingly simple plot. Three characters (and later more) meet and navigate through an unknown environment. As the stakes increase and the characters are forced to make difficult decisions, the first petal unfurls. Now we’re at the first turning point, realizing that this story is more than it seems.
However, we don’t get a full picture yet (aka the Anthesis, when the flower fully blooms), and the creators, Toonimated, have done a phenomenal job in providing enough bread crumbs along the way. Each plot point effortlessly clicks with the reveals between events. It’s a layered story that doesn’t feel convoluted or overwhelming.
Reader Warning: Mild spoilers beyond this point.
What begins as a time loop becomes a narrative about trying to break free of a vicious cycle. Gyrus’s character arc hits me in more ways than one. The shadowy entity inside him, locking that darkness away in his mind, and how that darkness manages to free itself — I can’t help but connect it to someone coping with depression and or other mental illnesses. Gyrus’s struggle to not give in to his fate personally resonates with me. I feel his hopelessness and the desire to end it all. Because of his past actions, the other characters in the room of swords don’t trust him. He can’t remember what he did, but he doesn’t deny or downplay it.
The relationship between him and Kodya (romantic!) naturally acclimates even when they’ve been through previous timelines together before. In fact, their dynamic kind of reminds me of Adora and Catra from the 2018 She-Ra reboot. Gyrus and Kodya encounter obstacles that threaten to ruin their happiness, including an abusive mentor figure who becomes even more villainous over time.
And the villain! Definitely one of the most dimensional and irredeemable antagonists I’ve ever come across. I appreciate that while the story does reveal a tragic past, it doesn’t justify the villain’s actions. I can’t reveal who it is because it’s a major spoiler, but trust me when I say that you will love to hate this character.
As a prose writer, I admire Toonimated’s storytelling techniques and animated parts, but the music and sound effects astound me. RPG and video game fans will appreciate the chiptune music style. The sounds that accompany some of the episodes/scenes chill me. From breaking a musical instrument to executing computer commands, the sound design truly adds to the reading experience. (Note: Just a heads up, please be careful with the volume even when wearing headphones, as the sound effects might scare you.)
To sum it all up, Room of Swords serves a well-constructed narrative about the cycles we can find ourselves in and the choice to stay or break out of them. I highly recommend giving this a shot for the memorable characters and clever structure.
For more great webcomic recommendations, check out our Wednesday Webcomics archives!
Author: Brahidaliz Martinez
Brahidaliz (pronounced Bra-da-leez) is a 2019 graduate of American University’s MFA in creative writing program. They’re a submissions editor for Uncanny Magazine. Their various areas of interest include intersectionality in apocalyptic and disaster films, Artificial Intelligence, writing for animation, YA SFF, and LGBTQ+ representation in children’s media.
Location: DC Metro area
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