Creator/s: Oliver Knörzer, Ute Knörzer, Puri Andini
Section/s: Ch. 2, "Shadowdancers"
Website: For some reason, the comic has very inconsistent load times for me. I timed the pages as taking anywhere between three and 50 seconds to load, with the latter number obviously being completely unacceptable. It's possible it has something to do with my own software or Internet connection, but if that's the case, then how come I've never noticed this problem with any other website? I think this is a major problem that the creators urgently need to look into. I suspect it might have something to do with there being four large advertisements on every page. (I got pop-up ads a few times as well.)
The site has a simple-but-elegant look that's easy on the eyes and easy to use. I'd certainly consider it to be fully featured, as it has multiple pages with more information about the comic, as well as its own forum. Interestingly, the comments section can be only be viewed by clicking on a certain link, so that aspect of the site's completely optional for readers.
Lastly, Gaia updates twice a week, which is pretty impressive for a webcomic with such detailed artwork. And on top of that, the creators do another webcomic called Sandra and Woo that also updates twice a week.
Writing: The story's set at a Harry Potter-esque wizard school in a medieval fantasy setting that's about as generic as possible. Gaia blatantly copies Final Fantasy VII's concepts of Gaia and the Lifestream, keeping Gaia the same and merely renaming Lifestream to "Bluestream." In addition, the largest city in FF7's named Midgar, while the largest city in Gaia's named Midgard. The concept of powerful crystal fragments being hidden throughout the world is featured heavily in at least Final Fantasy I, III, IV, and V. Lastly, the comic also features the Mythal and the Dalelands, which are lifted straight out of Dungeons & Dragons without even changing their names. It's unclear if the creators sufficiently credit Square Enix and Wizards of the Coast; what is clear, though, is that their fantasy world's uncreative and borrows extensively from various sources.
The characters aren't properly developed either, as the chapter's hopelessly fixated on Lilith's suffering. Between her getting attacked by a wizard, getting arrested, being sentenced to death, getting treated poorly in jail, being attacked in jail twice (1, 2), having everybody think she's an evil traitor, and feeling guilty about not helping her schoolmates enough (1, 2), the chapter's basically one big Lilith pity party. And despite her being the focus of the story, we never actually learn anything about her background or personality -- every scene merely iterates that she's an innocent, helpless girl who's mistreated by evil people, while meanwhile being the love interest of the two handsome male protagonists. I think it's pretty clear that she falls into the dreaded "Mary Sue" category. And her suitors, Ilias and Sandril, aren't any better, lining up neatly with Jacob and Edward from the Twilight series. (Ilias is the humble nice guy, while Sandril's the wealthy bad boy.) Sandril's prone to angry outbursts, which makes him slightly more interesting than his more stoic counterpart.
The best parts of the writing are the natural dialogue and coherent plot, and this is somewhat surprising since the writers are German. Gaia actually has much better English than most webcomics written by native English-speakers. The creators are helped by no less than four editors, though, which I'm sure has something to do with how successful the comic is in this area. I think getting assistance in this situation is a smart move.
Lastly, what's the point of the random fight with the robot? I mean, it looks cool, and the punchline's pretty good, but I imagine the chapter would be better off if those pages were used for some much-needed character development.
Art: Readers should be wowed at the comic's top-notch fantasy artwork. With its detailed backgrounds, realistic anatomy, fluid body postures, distinct character designs, elaborate period clothing, and attractive coloring, the comic's very appealing, perhaps even coming close to representing a professional level.
The cartoony facial expressions are hit-and-miss for me, though, and it doesn't appear the creator's given this area a high level of focus. I'm somewhat shocked that an artist with this much skill repeatedly makes the newbie mistake of drawing characters' mouths on the side of their cheeks, and it's a distracting turn-off for me in a lot of the pages. Other times, though, she'll draw faces as being anatomically correct, so it's difficult to even consider the cheek-mouths as being part of her style. And a lot of the faces have their mouths somewhere in-between, inconsistently showing up wherever below noses. I think the creator just doesn't have a clear idea yet of how cartoony the comic should look, which isn't excusable considering that Gaia's already almost up to its 100th page. Also, what's going on with the weird snout noses that just started popping up in the last few pages (1, 2, 3)?
The other oddity that bothered me's that some of the women in the comic don't really look their age. I can't shake the impression that Viviana has the head of an 8-year-old, even though clearly has the body of a teenager, and might even be an adult. And it's even worse in the earlier pages. It might be her large eyes and round nose that make her look so young. Lilith also suffers from this, as seen in pages like the ones here and here, where her head drops more than a few years when we're supposed to feel sorry for her. The scene where she gets arrested is particularly guilty of this (1, 2). The other prominent female character, Alissa, never seems to have this problem, though, strangely enough.
Overall: Twilight fans might get a kick outta Gaia's love triangle, but I expect most readers will "ooh" and "aah" over the brilliant artwork until they quickly grow bored of the uninspired story. Bad pacing, weak characterization, and derivative concepts prevent this webcomic from being a worthwhile read. Gaia's still early enough into the story that it can be turned around, though, and hopefully the creators'll realize that great artwork can only do so much for a webcomic.