Anomaly graphic novel (and augmented reality app for iPad) review
At a time when iBooks and the Kindle are making digital novels, comics and magazines conveniently portable, the team behind sci-fi graphic novel Anomaly seem determined to give their readers hernias. Weighing in at a whopping 2.9kg and 370 10x15in full-colour pages, it’s both recklessly opulent and defiantly analogue.
Ah ha! But that’s where you’re wrong – because the book is launching alongside a free app which gives those flat pages a 3D, digital element. Point the camera at certain specified pages (11 at present, but 40 more are promised with the next update) and an animated character or object will start leaping around and responding to your touch. Click the caption for background information.
The augmented-reality elements are well implemented and fun, not to mention excellent for showing off to an audience. But they’re hardly integral to the experience. There are really two separate activities on offer here: reading Anomaly – a grand, absorbing sci-fi tale we highly recommend, and discuss further below – and playing around on the Anomaly UAR app, which is enjoyable but a tiny bit gimmicky.
When page 17 of Anomaly is viewed through the free accompanying iPad/iPhone app, the 'Watcheye' spy robot appears out of the page and bobs around in 3D
Anomaly: the graphic novel
It's the year 2717, and ecological devastation has forced almost the entire population of Earth to live on vast orbiting structures. The planet - and its empire of assimilated systems - is controlled by an organisation called the Conglomerate, which appears to be part government and part corporation, and more powerful than either. A brutal social structure and Orwellian 'enforcers' maintain an atmosphere of grim totalitarianism.
Against this backdrop a small, idealistic group of explorers, scientists and former soldiers leave Earth on a mission of peace, planning to make contact with a new world without resorting to the violent means of the past. And then... well obviously all is not as it seems. But I won't spoil any of the surprises.
Anomaly is witty, and sometimes lightly political in a broad sort of way - there's a nice bit early on about a couple getting harrassed for not having a 'mating permit' - but what it's best at is action, of which there is plenty. The grandest spectacle is when this action pulls back to make the most of those enormous pages; a double-page spread here is three quarters of a metre across, and when you fill that with spacecraft or alien armies the effect is stunning.
Imagine these 75cm across
I've read reviewers referencing Lord of the Rings and Star Wars, and while the epic sweep of the storyline has elements of both, what I'm most reminded of is Avatar. The central character in particular, a cynical, disgraced former enforcer who tags along with the scientific mission for initially selfish reasons, has much of the appeal of Jake Sully in that movie: less annoying than Luke Skywalker, more 'lovable loser' than Han Solo.
A short-term pleasure, but still a pleasure, this augmented-reality app is frivolous fun. Updated content will add to its appeal, and the book it accompanies is terrific.