A Review of Omniscient Reader

I like Omniscient Reader.

A webcomic adaptation of the web novel of the same name, at time of writing the first 51 chapters are available for free on Webtoons. The comic follows Kim Dokja as he ends up living through the death game setting of his favorite web novel, Three Ways to Survive the Apocalypse. As it turns out, Three Ways was as much an educational text as a fun novel that saw him through ten miserable-to-middling years of his life – and because of his loyal readership of said novel, he ends up with some phenomenally broken abilities once the game mechanics kick in properly and the game masters who livestream their increasingly dangerous tasks to an audience of cosmic entities appear.

Normally, that would be a plot device I would look at, struggle through for a few chapters, and then get bored of and abandon in favor of rewatching Sk8 the Infinity, or crying over the Mass Effect menu music, or wishing someone would gift me a copy of the new Story of Seasons game. Ridiculously overpowered characters in isekai and isekai-adjacent stories have a tendency to be either generic lone wolf archetypes, or they just suck so much no one can stand to be around them.

now presenting: exhibit A

A huge part of why I’m so invested in Omniscient Reader is that Kim Dokja has yet to properly do the lone wolf thing. He very quickly starts making friends, and using his hilariously broken skills to protect them and help them grow. He doesn’t coddle them; it’s important that they can all stand on their own if the need arises. But he also seems to understand that people are stronger together, even as he insists on justifying it to himself as pragmatism driven by self-interest. He has an audience to cater to, after all – but while he could easily manage to hold their attention by being the calculating lone wolf who operates on well-intentioned cruelty the way Yoo Jonghyuk, the protagonist of Three Ways, does, he knows how that goes for him, and he wants a happier epilogue.

And if that appeals to you, you should definitely go read it. But as I’ve been left to sit with what’s available, and as I try to put my feelings and thoughts about it into words, I’ve come up against a brick wall, because I’m not sure if I really want to recommend it.

There are a lot of little reasons for that – characters that aren’t really enjoyable who promise to stick around for a while, little jokes that land just this side of uncomfortable, but the biggest problem is that the story simply isn’t well-adapted into the webcomic format.

The most prominent example, for me, is the pacing. Webcomics are always difficult to pace properly, and that’s especially true with Omniscient Reader, which never really gives us a moment to rest in what should be poignant or intense moments – a problem it inherited from the original novel, from what I’ve read of it, but which feels much more obvious in a visual format. The eye is constantly drawn to what comes next, and what comes next is always something. There’s rarely a beat to simply catch your breath; on the exceedingly rare occasion there is it’s not nearly enough of one, and it’s usually undercut by some bit of irony that sours the tone – for example, when they finally get the special item to cook ground rat, and the small instance of normalcy is interrupted by the reminder that one of the characters was cursed by a death god who is going to kill him. It’s played as a joke, but it’s yet another of the constant reminders that they’re all living in a death game world and will die horribly if they aren’t careful or lucky enough not to draw the wrong notice from their viewership.

There’s also the fact that the art just feels too… clean. Even when they’re exhausted and dying there’s an untouchable quality to all the characters, as if they’re divorced from the true horror and struggle of the world they’re stuck in. You could argue that’s part of the point, that it’s meant to represent how Kim Dokja still sees all the people around him, but if that were the case he should be the only character who seems immune to the dirt and the blood.

And those are some very subjective issues to have, and you may be perfectly fine with the format! If you like what you’ve heard about it then by all means, check it out! But it’s difficult for me to truly recommend, even if I can’t really adequately explain why.

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