Paranormal inspector Oscar Zahn is quite the unusual figure with a job stranger than his appearance. He crosses the line between natural and supernatural in a battle to free souls trapped in darkness. Zahn will need all his genius to solve the paranormal mysteries which threaten to destroy this supernatural sleuth.
My Review (Part 1)
I love the artistic style of works like The Strange Tales of Oscar Zahn which immediately drew me towards this webtoon. Paranormal investigations are a staple in the world of horror mangas, manhwas, and webtoons but this one appeared different from the beginning. The invisible main character facing down the dangers of the visible world was to fascinating to pass up.
Oscar Zahn is a paranormal inspector who stands out just by being an invisible figure. He is more of a pacifist then deadly slayer of the undead. His status as an undead figure (likely) in the supernatural world gives a sympathetic air to his work. Oscar also has a sense of humor to his work and appears to be apologetic when his opponents get struck by his own bizarre issue.
Agnes is Oscar’s counterpart. She holds him to the real world while still being an understanding part of the supernatural world Oscar exists in. Her appearance as an old woman with a bit of snarkiness makes for a character who isn’t a ‘meh’ filler. She communicates with a raven who also has knowledge of Oscar’s activities.
From the beginning it was apparent the author drew a lot of inspiration from the known and unknown artistic greats. One of the most noticeable is his leanings towards the style of Hayao Miyazaki (yes that Miyazaki!). Several of his characters share similar elements with characters from Miyazaki’s Studio Ghibli greats. One of my most favorite of character looks are the gas mask figures during the Battle of the Somme who battle against Oscar and Charlie Harper. The first glance of them left me reminiscing over the similarity they shared with the mostly-forgotten (wonderfully illustrated) Disney film Atlantis. Understandable since one of the film’s artists, Mike Mignola, is listed as an inspiration to the webtoon’s creator.
Vuong does not copy Mignola’s work; he adds a horrific edge which takes eerie figures down to the level of nightmarish. Part of the brilliance comes from giving the figures blurry edges as opposed to pronounced lines which sets them apart from a character like Agnes. The bonus of their demonic red eyes glaring out of the dark battlefield gives the readers a true feeling of the terror which lies when evil simmers in the dark.
My writings of the art of The Tales of Oscar Zahn may give readers the false impression there is little more than dark backgrounds or features they have seen elsewhere. The Tales of Oscar Zahn is quite beautiful to me. I love the blending of colors which remind me strongly of how watercolor works where up close one can see how it flows together. Many times it is easy to become overly accustomed to the computer generated color art in manga covers (which I also love too) but in this case I am fully in awe of this webtoon’s choice in design. The artist’s decisions are a delightful treat to the eye which only add to the atmosphere of this work.
My Review (Part 2)
After the introduction of Oscar’s first paranormal work the webtoon transitions directly into full storyline mode. At first it seems almost like a new webtoon is sprouting but the building of the storyline is key to Oscar’s role in the happenings. I love how the author chose an unusual setting, The Battle of the Somme, as it is one of the most overlooked horrors in student knowledge of history. The fact that he sets up this character with a background story, the gun even has a background!, and the emotion of a character’s relationship to those he loves, is well done. Critics can complain it initially takes away from being the ‘Tales of Oscar Zahn’ because Charlie Harper Is the focus for this tale of the paranormal not Oscar himself. I disagree as Oscar is a figure with a sympathy for victims of the paranormal. How can one truly show sympathy if there is no basis on why a character is worth the battle to save? This is not a one punch-take out the evil-now move on webtoon. Readers are getting a full on journey with a bit of a twist of an ending.
There is a lot to really enjoy about this webtoon but also many questions which could do with a bit of answering from the storyline. For instance, the author answers questions on Agnes but it would be incredible to see more of her immediate involvement or a slight back story as to how she came to be his counterpart. Oscar Zahn himself is such a unique character readers could do with getting a bit more on his paranormal existence. What is the endgame of these tales? Is he to go on in his paranormal duties for eternity or is this a form of penance or just personal satisfaction which is not about passing on to some other plane of existence? Since this webtoon is still in its infancy, hopefully the author will plan to provide deeper elements to The Strange Tales of Oscar Zahn as the webtoon continues.
To the Reader
The Strange Tales of Oscar Zahn is one for those who enjoy the horror genre, especially readers who are paranormal fans. The supernatural always lends drama to its happenings so those looking for a read in that genre should give it a try. Romance junkies will find better luck in a webtoon like Orange Marmalade unless they plan to hold out an unusual fetish for an Oscar-Agnes ‘ship. If you do, please alert me as I would love to know how you plan to see that develop. I normally do not advise a read strictly because of the art (ok…sometimes I do) but fans of Miyazaki or Mignola should consider the Tales of Oscar Zahn even if it flies outside your norm. There’s something intriguing about seeing styles you love blended in an author’s own unique vision.
Final Score: 9.3 Dead man tell no tales but the work of the undead is worth telling.
Name(s): The Strange Tales of Oscar Zahn
Author(s): Tri Vuong
Artist(s): Tri Vuong
Genre(s): Supernatural, horror, mystery, tragedy
*This review was written at the end of December 2016 before the webtoon returned from a brief hiatus in January 2017. At the time I wrote this review the webtoon series had 29 chapters but because I am posting it now I went with the up-to-date chapter number.*