It was much harder to select the winner here than from any other category. This was partly because it took much longer to screen “nominees” than for other categories, and partly because I needed to judge a whole series on its merits, taking into account its strong and weak points along the way, etc. In the end, I decided that the best kind of series is one that runs like a season of Daria – many different plots, all tied loosely together, focusing from time to time on supporting characters but keeping in mind that the star is Daria.
The problem with writing a series is that, all too often, the later stories have completely lost touch with the show, to the point where almost every line must be footnoted to help the reader along. By the time the tenth “episode” rolls around, the characters are unrecognizable at best, and sometimes replaced with ones from the author’s own imagination. Character growth must take place without utterly changing their personalities
With all these things in mind, I hereby present the prestigious “Best Series” award to…
What the hell does “Electronic Alchemy” mean? Who cares, the series is brilliant and that’s all that matters.
CAUTION: There are minor spoilers here! I found it impossible to review an entire series without giving away some plot points. Readers are strongly urged to go read the story (link is provided at the bottom) and then come back for the review. It will be time well spent.
Many series start off with a fairly weak “introductory” episode that introduces us to new supporting characters and explains a new situation. The Alchemist jumps headlong into a tense, thoughtful plot with established characters that need no introduction, thus grabbing interest right away. The series begins with “The Missing Link”, which, like the title indicates, deals with a runaway Link (from “Is It Fall Yet?”) and Daria’s efforts to track him down. Many assumptions are made about how characters might react to various unusual situations – i.e., how does Daria deal with someone she cares about being in danger? How does Quinn deal with Daria’s inexplicable behavior? How does Jane handle it when Daria seems to be giving her the brush-off? The answer is that everyone acts in ways that are logical without being too predictable, and the story flows.
Just when you think it can’t get better, it does. The next story, “Memories” had me in stitches. The premise: Tom wakes up in Daria’s bed, wearing only his boxer shorts, and neither of them has any idea how he got there. The rest of the story is a long and twisty attempt to solve this and other mysteries about the night before. I don’t want to give anything away here – just know that it’s absolutely hilarious.
We move on to “A Small Stumble for Stacy” wherein Stacy finds herself in a bona-fide Catch-22 situation, and her only way out is through the assistance of Quinn and Daria. Quinn, of course, is just helping out a friend, but why should Daria help? Her motives, as it turns out, are purely selfish, and Stacy wins out in the end – or not. Not having solved her problems herself, it’s doubtful they’ll go away. One of the strengths of a series like this is that not everything need be tied up into a neat little package at the end of each story.
“Midterm Mania” picks up the story. Stacy’s problems continue, as she must study to pass, and hasn’t the strength to defy Sandi as Quinn did. Oh, and there’s a great side joke about Kevin’s exam-taking technique in DiMartino’s class. Actually, there are side jokes speckled throughout the series, which is another great thing about it. This chapter marks the beginning of the end for Sandi, and – but I’ll get into that later. Let’s just say that, in spite of everything that goes on in this episode, it’s merely the calm before the storm.
“Power Struggles” is the storm. The Helen/Jake plot is excellent, and gives us a great deal of insight into the sort of person each of them are. Jane’s story is intriguing as well, and there’s a lot going on in the fashion club at the same time. This one could have been three different stories, but instead, they’re weaved together seamlessly in a way that not many writers could have pulled off. That having been said, this story also contains what I consider to be the “weak link” of the entire series: Sandi’s attack upon Daria. I just don’t think she has it in her to be so… uncouth. But hey, if that’s the only gripe I can find in a ten-story epic, then the Alchemist is still batting .999 and that’s pretty damn good!
I’m not sure what the title refers to in “The Last Straw” but the story is mostly a clean up after the storm. The fashion club goes on, under Quinn’s leadership, which as a plot point is very well-handled. I may not have cared for the way in which Sandi was ousted, but what goes on afterward makes for entertaining reading. Quinn is definitely her mother’s daughter in this one. As far as Helen and Jake are concerned, their relationship has taken a blow, and we get a look at the roots of their marriage. It’s not as shaky as some other stories would lead us to believe.
One of the more intriguing chapters is “The Games We Play” told not once but five times through the viewpoints of Daria, Jane, Tom, Quinn, and Helen. It’s a great way to mix things up a bit in the series. I’m kind of curious to know the process by which it was written, and how the Alchemist managed to keep everything straight. To review it would be to do so five separate times, since there really are five plots here that just happen to overlap in a few places. I’ll just say that this story is unique in Daria fanfiction, and all by itself would be an excellent read. As far as the overall plot of the series is concerned, nothing really critical happens here, but it’s interesting how some of it mimics events that later took place on the show…
In “A Star Is Born” we learn that there’s nothing more dangerous that Daria when she feels she has something to prove. One of the finest “Brittany throws a Party” stories I’ve ever encountered, including the two actual episodes. The divergence from the actual season five episodes becomes clearer: Alchemists’s Daria is more self-assured and confident than MTV’s version. In a way, this is an improvement, even though it’s perhaps a less realistic portrayal of a typical high-schooler. It’s certainly what we love Daria for.
“Escape from Lawndale” is another story without much plot, but it’s still an entertaining read. Once again, this series mimics the actual show, as Quinn and Daria grow a little closer and the fashion club stands up to Sandi.
And so we come to what is, at this time, the end of the series: “A Very Daria Christmas”. It’s got Barksdales and Morgendorffers from far-off, it’s got Quinn throwing a party, it’s got Daria sabotaging it. But, more than that, it’s got Lawndale regulars meeting Daria’s extended family. Why had no one come up with the concept of “Rita meets Sandi” before? The best part about this story is that it doesn’t seem to end the series – which means there’s probably more to come!
I haven’t actually heard whether the Alchemist considers the series finished. We can only hope it’s not. In the meantime, he’s provided us with ten outstanding pieces of work all in a row, and earned the equivalent of Best Picture for his efforts.
Thanks for the entertainment, Alchemist.
Read all about Electronic Alchemy at Outpost-Daria here