It’s Tuesday which means it’s time for Crossroads Comics!
This week we’re taking a look at Road Map Not Included: A White Nuzlocke by ashdrawsarts (they/he). Finley wants to go on a journey through Unova, and the plan for that is pretty simple. You just catch some Pokémon, visit some cool sites and cities with your friends, challenge some gyms along the way, and profit! Easy enough, right? Unfortunately, even for the most planned person, rarely does life go the way you expect.
Road Map Not Included has been on my to-read list for a while now and I was very excited to actually binge through it. So excited, in fact, I accidentally comment-bombed the author (sorry again Ash, if you’re reading this TuT). But, it just goes to show there’s a lot to like about this comic! On top of following the classic Black and White story, which anyone knows I am absolute sucker for Unova comics, Road Map Not Included adds in a lot of extra worldbuilding and character dynamics that really make the world come to life in a way that I think a fair number of other Pokémon comics can fail to do. We’ll save the worldbuilding for the spoiler section, but first I want to discuss the character dynamics because I feel like this comic serves as a great example of why strong and realistic character dynamics are important in a story.
Character relationships, much like real world ones, are extremely foundational in a story. They’re one of the main factors that can make or break a character, as the relationships a specific character has with other characters will shape the audience’s view of that character. To that end, it’s very common for stories to establish likeability for characters through relationships, and Road Map Not Included is no different. Starting with the human characters, one thing I really enjoyed about this is that Finley has an active traveling relationship with Cheren and Bianca.
One of the main staples of Pokémon Black and White is that you frequently meet up with these two throughout your journey, and you get to see their characters grow as you do. However, due to the formula of these games, you don’t really ever to travel alongside them like friends in this sort of relationship normally would. Road Map Not Included throws that out the window though and have the trio more or less actively traveling with each other throughout the bulk of the story thus far. Having the trio travel with each other makes for an interesting balance because you really get to see the friendship dynamics between Finley, Cheren, and Bianca as well as between their teams. I have no doubt it’s a lot to balance, but it’s really interesting to see the different personalities and interactions between the team members. It allows for very a variety of character dynamics like rivalries and friendships to grow, as well as serve as a great bonding point for everyone involved. Overall, I found myself growing very attached to all the members of the teams because I saw how they interacted and bonded as a group.
This is something I think a lot of Pokémon comics, Nuzlockes in particular, could really learn from. It’s very hard to develop a team, as a whole due to managing screen time and story progression, and it can be hard to balance character development while also making sure not to lose pacing. However, as a result, there’s a very common trope where characters only really get development once they’re about to die, which is a shame because in my opinion, it can make the death overall less impactful. When a character dies in a story, you don’t want just the reader to be impacted by it, but also the characters around them, and Road Map Not Included is very cognizant of this. Which leads us too…
Thus far there have been two deaths in the nuzlocke, both of which were early game encounters: Nimbus and Mika. Road Map Not Included was somewhat blessed in the fact that none of their deaths seem to have occurred until around the fourth gym, giving these two characters (who were the second and third encounters in the game) a lot of time to be developed. This, obviously, gives Road Map Not Included somewhat of an advantage in the emotional and character development aspect, since I know full well early deaths can be very hard to write around making for some shoehorned in character development. But even then, Road Map Not Included established very early on the character dynamics between Nimbus, Mika, Clover, Finley, and the other subsequent members of the time. We got to see them discuss their goals, train together, interact with the other teams, and so forth. Even by the time they leave Striaton, all of these characters are fairly well developed in terms of what the audience knows about them, as are a few members of Cheren and Bianca’s teams. So I’d argue that regardless of when Nimbus and Mika died, it still would have hit really hard because ashdrawsarts does so well at writing these dynamics between these characters.
So how does he do this? Well by having Cheren and Bianca travel with Finley for much of the story, ashdrawsarts sets up a perfect venue for downtime interactions. At the end of every day, the characters are all together in a room interacting with each other. This is in addition to any interactions between them that are had during training or other story progression moments. By setting this pre-established downtime up, it makes any subsequent downtime feel natural and doesn’t hurt the pacing when every once in a while the characters sit down to just chat for several pages. ashdrawsarts also masterfully uses this to lay the groundwork for some of the more interesting moments in the story, with the most recent and obvious being Mika’s death.
Mika’s death, or rather the cause of it, is somewhat foreshadowed as early as Striaton, which is some pretty masterful writing on ashdrawsarts‘ part. Finley notes that Cheren didn’t use his full team during their Striaton rival fight and after a bit of discussion, Cheren reveals that it’s because his Purrloin is having behavioral issues. Later on, after Cheren’s gym battle with Lenore, we see her pull Cheren aside, and though we don’t hear the contents of the conversation at that time, it’s actually something that comes back later. This Purrloin, later Liepard, ends up being the indirect cause of Mika’s death, with their reckless behavior and disregard for others around them causing Mika to have to sacrifice herself in order to protect the Liepard from a rampaging Emolga. Cheren later tells Finley that the reason Lenore pulled him aside after their battle is because of his (then) Purrloin’s behavioral issues, and if he had listened to Lenore’s advice instead of brushing it off, perhaps this wouldn’t have happened. This is actually a really neat detail that I super liked seeing the follow through on and I’m hoping there’s more instances like this.
Additionally, the character interactions make for some really interesting group dynamics at large. Cheren’s battle-centric mindset is actually shown to have an impact on Finley’s team, as Nimbus in particular becomes rather embittered towards Joey because Nimbus believes that only of them will likely be boxed before Elesa’s gym, and Nimbus doesn’t want to be the one to go. This ultimately leads to Nimbus acting reckless and dying, leaving the other characters in a rather shocked and upset state, the ramifications of which we see still on the cusp of Clay’s gym. We also see how some Pokémon like Bianca’s Munna, Munni, for example, are friends with members of Finley’s team and try to check on them following the deaths of their teammates, as well as see how the rougher attitudes of some characters can really rile up the others. Different characters also have different reactions towards the deaths of the teammates, so like Striker and Wess, who are brand new to the team when Nimbus dies, don’t really react to it much at all. And this makes perfect sense because why would they? They have no idea who Nimbus was outside of the brief interactions they had with the Simipour in the hours before he died. It just makes a lot of sense and I really like it.
One thing I really like in particular though is that almost all of the interactions with Cheren’s team sort of further the fact that his team overall lacks synergy and how that negatively impacts them at large. The Liepard is the best example of this, but it’s not just them. Cheren’s Pansage points out the fact that Cheren’s other team members aren’t very friendly, with his Tepig/Pignite being rather self deprecating and hopeless, and his Tranquil just being… a bird that the Pansage can’t really talk to (I do adore Skittles with my entire heart though). It makes me curious if we’ll see better team synergy as we go on, since Cheren is likely to grow as a person with the story’s progress, and it’d be nice to see his team sort of reflect that in the process. I’d like to see his starter get more confident and his team overall grow as well to overcome their differences and become a real force to reckon with.
One other thing I’m curious to see is how Bianca’s team reacts to her decision in Nimbasa. Her Oshawott is very battle focused whereas Bianca actually isn’t, which makes for an interesting dynamic. I’m curious if that will have story implications in the long run or if perhaps Bianca’s team will come to enjoy and support the path has chosen in life. All in all, ashdrawsarts does a really great job of developing not just the main cast but also a lot of the side characters as well, which really makes the world come alive in a way that you don’t really see in a lot of trainer-centric comics. I literally could write several more paragraphs about all the really cool interactions I like, that’s just how great and refreshing it is. It’s something I think a lot of comic creators should take note of, since while it’s definitely a difficult balance to strike, it certainly pays off if you get it right.
One last thing I want to touch on briefly though before we wrap up the spoilers section is the worldbuilding. Due to the nature of Generation 5 being rather story-heavy, there’s always quite a bit of worldbuilding and lore that these comics have to work around when formulating their nuzlockes. Every nuzlocke chooses to show off the worldbuilding in different ways, either by emphasizing the lore or the mundane sides of the story. Road Map Not Included actually does a bit of both, by having Finley be something of a history and legends nut while Bianca and Cheren are more grounded in the mundane. Thus, you get this really fun dynamic of Finley going off about the Swords of Justice or the legendary dragons, meanwhile the other two can highlight some of the other general aspects of the world.
So, for example, when Finley meets N for the second time in Nacrene City, they go off about the legendary dragons as well as the Swords of Justice, and N actually sort of highlights how unusual it is for someone to know so much about them. Finley acknowledges this but also then later on continues to talk about it and show a genuine interest in these legends, with this interest ultimately being the explanation for why Finley visits the Relic Castle as well as gets an Archen egg. It serves not only as a great way to tell the story of Black and White, but also explore ashdrawsarts‘s own worldbuilding surrounding the lore of Unova’s dragons, and how Finley and N fit into that story. Which, side note, Finley and N’s dynamic is also great and I could talk about how much I love their conversations for days because ashdrawsarts does really well writing them but this review is already long enough as is so just go check it out yourself.
By contrast though, Cheren and Bianca seem much more world aware, highlighting the presence of the adoption center where Finley gets Nimbus and an art fair in Nacrene. Not only does this show their genuine interests and overall knowledge of the world around them, but again, it just gives the setting a lot more depth. The fact that Finley actually adopts Nimbus from a center rather than just finding him in a box in the Dreamyard, or the fact the Cheren actually acknowledges that different gym leaders have different teams for varying badge levels are just little details that give the world depth in a way that readers can appreciate. They aren’t necessary, but they really bring the world to life in ways that just enhance the story for it.
One recent detail I actually really like is that the other Gym Leaders in the world actually recognize and engage with events that happen in the story. So, in this particular example, because Mika was killed by a rampaging Emolga, Elesa actually acknowledges this and offers to change up her team for Finley to not include Emolgas. And it’s actually somewhat implied that she isn’t just doing this for Finley, but for other trainers as well who may have been impacted by those events. Finley ultimately ends up declining and later getting a tongue lashing for it, but it’s a neat detail that makes the characters feel like one-dimensional and shows that they are aware of and engage with other aspects of the world outside their little gym boxes. The Unova games already somewhat do this by having certain characters like Burgh and Iris appear outside their gyms, but Elesa is one of the characters that you don’t get to really see this with so it’s nice to have ashdrawsarts give some more depth to her as well as the other gym leaders.
All in all, Road Map Not Included is a very great comic to read. I’d definitely say its character dynamics and interactions are the strongest aspect of its story, so if that is something you enjoy, I would say this comic is definitely up your alley. And that’s not to knock on the art or the worldbuilding by any means, because those are both really good too and are also appealing for their own reasons. But Road Map Not Included really just sort of sets a bar for character interactions with how well it handles its rather large cast. There’s few other comics out there, nuzlocke or otherwise, that effectively balance a cast this large and don’t really shirk anyone in terms of development. Sunlocke is the only one I can really think of off the top of my head that also does this really well (and I also reviewed them about a year ago if you want to check that out here), so it’s just really nice to see more comics do this and I think other comic creators should take note! It’s very refreshing to see all in all and it’s definitely what really drew me into the story the most.
So if you’d like to read Road Map Not Included , you can check it out on the NuzForums, Tapas, Deviantart, Webtoons, and ComicFury. Be sure to check it out and support it as well as ashdrawsarts if you like their work!
And without further ado, now that I’ve finished my like fifteen paragraph essay, let’s get into the rest of this week’s line up shall we?
Ask a Staravia New friend!
PMD: Chanterelle Look at that Shadow Ball!
PMD: Explorers of Life Well look who decided to crash the party.
PMD: The Stones of Life Muppet time!
PMD: Wildfire Well that’s not… super comforting.
Pokémon: Triple Tousle Looks like Chakra needs to work on his egg-ecution!
Rejuvenation: The Interceptor Journey That’s not good!
Shinka: The Last Eevee Alright Castor, calm down. We gotta get the facts straight here.
The Shaymin Café Ooh horned Shaymin?
The Spaced Out Rangers Gotta collect those mirrors quickly!
Bloom: An Ultra Moon Nuzlocke Comic Malasadas!! A delicacy!
Creeping Shadows Dead
Forgotten Boundaries But is that what’s best for the egg?
Life Like Weeds Oh a BABY!!
PMD: Broken Cycle So there was an imposter among us, is what you’re saying?
PMD: Stars Above It’s a forest, Cleo. There’s going to be bugs.
PMD: Souls Run for your life!
Pokémon Overcast Blue Yeah I can’t see this ending poorly.
Tales of a New Star What a cute story so far!
Broken Sword Yeah after all that, everyone deserves a little break.
First Summer – A Rijon Adventures Nuzlocke The cave backgrounds are so pretty.
Old Gods Time to venture further…
PMD: Keepers of Light They’ve got a plan! Time to put it into action!
PMD: Team Rowanberry This is definitely their toughest fight yet.
Soul Brothers They did it!! Yay!!
The Rabbit Hole Eerie…
Wanted! – Pokémon Colosseum Nuzlocke That’s a battle worn Pikachu if I’ve ever seen one.
When Little Emma Ran Away I already love this grandma.
Ask Executive Proton Hiss kick bite violence!
Ask N Obviously
Ask Team Spirit Wonder what those are for!
Ask the Isle Gotta rest up after an intense battle.
Ask Sol Searchers Time to retreat to safety.
Cain and Mabel Character growth!
Moképon Looks like Dragonthing took that evolution personally.
Sacred Prophecies Look at all those cool Pokémon!
The Glass Scientists Occasionally what now?