My favorite webcomic. Which may come as a shock to some people, because Nuzlocke comics don't exactly have the best reputation. I should know - I read a ton of them back in the day. "It's a Hard Life" easily transcends nearly all of its peers and really stands out among what you'd typically find on DeviantArt or the Nuzlocke forum, but how does it hold up against 'normal' webcomics?

Well, honestly, it doesn't start out that great - although the watercolors do give it a unique look, the actual artwork is... beginner-tier, to put it mildly, although there are some really fun expressions and a lot of 'movement' to it. I can't say it feels stiff. But probably the weakest element of early IaHL is the story: as the author describes it, the first few chapters were "dark and funny" rather than "dark and miserable" like it would later become. The meaning of "dark and funny" basically boils down to "WHOAAAA, that pokemon just DIED and there's blood and guts everywhere and adults are irresponsible hedonists and people swear a lot! So edgy!"

I am very pleased to say, however, that IaHL only gets better with every successive chapter. Even by chapter 2 the humorous elements (which were not all that funny anyway) start to get dialed back, and by chapter 4 they're practically absent. Adopting a more serious tone was an excellent decision, because it really allows for more focus on the tragedy of Robin's situation. Seeing her speedrun the path to domestic terrorist, first by justifying theft, then by justifying manslaughter, then by justifying murder of "bad guys", then by justifying breaking and entering, then by justifying murder of law enforcement, then by justifying arson, then by justifying mass murder in general and generally any act, no matter how cruel or destructive, so long as it helps her evade her enemies, was a fascinating ride and one of my favorite character arcs ever in fiction.

One of my favorite scenes in the whole comic is when her sandslash, Kato, asks her if she misses her old family and her old life. Robin responds that she misses them sometimes, remembering her mother's cooking skills fondly, but ultimately, they were 'jerks', and she doesn't need them, because she has her pokemon now. They're her new family. What a perfect summary of the whole tragic situation: She traded a family she hated, but could be passive towards, for a family she loves, but has to constantly defend from overwhelming external threats.

Every single pokemon on her team is a delight to read about, and there's no one I ever wanted to see get more screentime over another. (At least for the main cast - her HM slaves are just sorta there, and I think it would have been better had they been left out of the story entirely, or else been chapter-specific characters.) That's what makes their quest to stay together and maintain their freedom so compelling. Puck's pigheaded loyalty, Jojjo's compassion and motherly wisdom, Cogito's reluctant but deep love for her teammates, Kato's bravery in the face of intense fear, Swann's chivalrousness and courtesy, Bimm's unwavering love for partying and fun times - They really do feel like one big family, and their happiness in spite of everything contrasts beautifully with the intense suffering inherent to the life they've chosen.

Despite the superb character development, there's a lot of story moments that don't quite make sense, even in later chapters - the dialogue can get kinda cringy at points and more importantly, the police come on to her surprisingly hard right off the bat. Yeah, okay, it makes sense that they'd go all-out after Robin hijacks the SS Anne, sets fire to it, and crashes it into the harbor, killing hundreds of people and causing billions in property damage, but even when the only crime to her name is petty theft and the assault of a boy who's not much older than her, she still gets a wanted poster saying "dead or alive" on it. What kind of justice system exists in Kanto that bounty hunters are allowed to kill a 10 year old kid who's only suspected of committing a crime, and not even a serious crime at that? When a police officer does find her, she shoots at her with live bullets after Robin runs away in panic. After that, they get together a full strike team, including a gym leader, to come take her out. Why? Although she has committed one murder at this point, what makes them think this girl is such a huge threat? Just cause she beat Brock? He sucks!

What really sells this comic, though, is the art. To say it looks astonishing would be underselling it. Every single panel is a visual feast. I'm not an artist myself so I don't have much in the way of technical terminology to explain what specifically it does well, but I can say that the mix of watercolors gives it an incredibly unique look. Chapter 8 especially is a must-read, the thunderstorm is jaw-dropping.

Finally, the action. While there are good action sequences all throughout the comic, (I especially liked the escape from the S.S. Anne) chapter 11 is something else entirely. One of the most intense, compelling fights I've ever read, even compared to professionally done shonen, with an absolutely perfect conclusion and transition to the next arc. What makes it so good is that there are ACTUAL STAKES involved - unlike most action comics where it's just an endless stream of punching bags to fight, here everything is on the line and there's no telling how it's gonna turn out. I think that's also why Warhammer has had such a surge in popularity recently while franchises like Marvel and Star Wars are on the decline - aside from garbage writing, it's just boring because the villains have no chance of ever succeeding. The 'good guys' will always win and make everything right, The End. That's why the conflict here feels more 'real', for lack of a better word.

It's a Hard Life isn't gonna be everyone's cup of tea. But it's my favorite for some good reasons.

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