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Ganda: Night Defender
Episodes Prologue – 10
By Nikki Dibya Wardhana(writer) Linka08 (art)
Reviewed by Michael Mazzacane
“Ganda: Night Defender” is the first Indonesian comic I have read. While there is, culturally specific references, the comic was a comfort food read for me, pushed just a little bit further by Linka08’s art. The setup for “Ganda” is pretty much every other supernatural slaying story. Rika, a surprisingly unlucky college student, through circumstance and a bit of trickery, is sent to her college campus after curfew (9pm) where she discovers the reason why no one is allowed on campus after 9. After that time, the Djinn come out and prey upon human souls, or in Rika’s case, give her that surprisingly bad luck. One run-in with her “older” but under thirty, Professor Mr. Ganda, and Rika is pulled into the world of nightly monster slaying.
The setup for “Ganda” is a bit on the well-worn genre side; like I said this is a comfort food read. Mr. Ganda reads like a cross between Nanami and Satoru Gojo from “Jujutsu Kaisen” with the outfit of Castiel from Supernatural. Rika has that powerful but comically uncoordinated energy and not too much personality yet. Her reasoning for joining Mr. Ganda and his team on those nightly missions is that it’s “cool” and she doesn’t have anything else going for her. There is plenty of room to grow over the 41 episodes currently published. Nikki Dibya Wardhana’s (“Code Hex”) writing isn’t poor. Their episodic structure is stronger than most strips of this type. Their prologue introduces the core concepts of this story in clear but teaser fashion.
What makes this strip worth the read is seeing Linka08’s art. While they play into some tropes of webtoon construction, I do not care for these moments of isolated panel banality are interrupted by beautiful perspective-bending bursts of action. Everything is always in motion while there is a recurring motif of some straight lines as an icon to break up a strips narrative Linka08’s art is never staid. Their kind of sketchy blurred lines give me Kill la Kill minus the costuming of that series. Action is big and operatic to the point of surreal and abstract in a really good way. As Ganda comes into the fight with the Djinn plaguing Rika, we never get a great view of the creature, which is better than it sounds. The artist gives us enough visual information that we know the creature’s general shape and relative size. But all of that information is just that: relative. Djinn aren’t flesh and blood creatures of material space but abstract entities of the collective unconscious of the human condition, essentially. What matters in this sequence is how their vague shape helps to capture and show the power that Ganda has but especially Rika who charges into battle without much thinking.
“Ganda” isn’t just a mindless fight strip, although it could likely get away with being just that for a while. Nikki Wardhana scripting isn’t exactly dripping with forced banter and witty one-liners, thankfully. Instead it takes the back seat and allows Linka08 art to provide a good dose of effective physical and visual comedy in this strip. The moment Rika comes out of the bathroom and mistakenly smashes Ganda in the stomach is pure comedic gold. Is it obvious? Yes, but it’s effective. The use of cartoonish reduction to sell moments of pique or comedy pushes some the writing and comic up a level or two. The artists aren’t changing styles every other panel, but it’s frequent enough that even in the moments that aren’t as effective for me, I still enjoy it because it shows more of that skill set.
There are clear antecedents to “Ganda: Night Defender” and plenty of stories just like it being produced on Line Webtoon and published elsewhere. It’s still worth a look just to see the art. That kind of easy recommend is one of the joys of webcomics the lack of friction in sharing and recommending series. Maybe this will get its hooks in you. Maybe you’ll remember it in 6 months and than devour it in a night after running low on something else. It is a comfort food read.