"Castle Swimmer": where the "Shape Of Water" is Non-Binary
Written and illustrated by Wendy Lian Martin.
A fantasy webcomic set underwater, Castle Swimmer tells the story of the Chosen One and his adventures. Prophecies play one of the most important factors in the stories, be it "the prince that was promised" or "the boy born at the end of July." Prophecies dictate fantasy genre a lot, sometimes as the trickling point, other times as deus ex machina. Castle Swimmer explores the other side of being the "Chosen One."
Castle Swimmer narrates the tale of one such chosen one, the Beacon, born from a golden droplet. Kappa the golden merboy gets informed by a surface god that he is a light that shines for others. Kappa’s underwater journey gets navigated by the pull of the prophecy. He is always protected by little fishes, which almost makes him an equivalent of a Disney princess with her birds and animal friends. But prophecies are older than Kappa, often riddled with inaccurate information, and often the outcome does not match the prediction, which leaves the merpeople angry and dissatisfied. This causes a lot of distress and hurt to Kappa.
On the deeper end of the ocean, a prince is being raised to kill the Beacon to break the curse on their castle. Siren is a kind and sheltered shark merboy who doesn’t like the idea of "killing one life to save everyone." He believes there must be another way to break the curse. While the entire Shark kingdom looks up to the future slayer of the Beacon, Beacon is being searched for by various other kingdoms to fulfill their prophecies. This constant pressure to be the chosen one taxes both these creatures.
Castle Swimmer, has an interesting art style, which concentrates on neat and clean line art. Since everything is happening underwater, the colour scheme leans towards the darker shades. The dark background helps bring focus on Kappa, who is literally golden and shining all the time. The range of character design for merpeople we see is amazing. The creator has done her research well. From Queen Nee who has a needle-nose like the fish, to Queen Krilli who looks like a crab of sorts, to various merpeople to ordinary fishes, we see them all. Panel layouts are hard in webcomic format, as instead of swiping or flipping pages, the entire story has to be scrolled. Wendy uses single panels that work as slides in a Kodak carousel, but the full-blown background of deep seas balances out the chunky effect that the single panel format creates at times. The speech bubbles generally break out of the panels like water bubbles and spread onto the gutter space; this technique works wonderfully. There are some well-drawn chase and action sequences too, with enough blood to color the water!
The gender representation and power dynamics are well explored and handled with care; it never becomes preachy. Queen Nee casually informs her hosts that she was once a prince and now is a parent to many princesses and princes, but no one bats an eyelid. Queen Nee also has many princes for Siren to court if he doesn’t want to court princess. The rest of the merpeople of Shark Castle tease Siren for not having a boyfriend. We mostly see queens ruling this world, Queen Susca is driven by the sense of duty to save the shark people, while Queen Nee and Queen Krilli have made alliances with numerous schools of merpeople. These alliances would ensure resource management and peace, and to keep them intact they need the Beacon to be alive. Each queen has her own agenda to fulfill and they will use any means and tricks to achieve it.
The twists at the end of season one are foreshadowed with dialogues and gestures and actions throughout the forty chapters, so when it gets executed, it all makes sense. The politics of the underwater world has yet not been explored, as the first season is spent on exploring the stress and dilemma the chosen ones go through. It’s heart-breaking when Kappa wonders if he can stop being the Beacon, and Siren is desperate to delay the execution of Kappa by muttering lame excuses. The romance between these two merboys blooms over time and is adorably innocent to read.
The first season of Castle Swimmer ends on a positive and suspenseful note, and an opening for multiple speculations on how these star-crossed merboys will overcome their fate to break their respective bonds.
Click here to read Castle Swimmer at Webtoons.com