What I really have to say to everyone who is thinking of entering the next one: you know that the finalists will be posted online. Use a bigger font, dammit! Nobody will vote for your story if they can't read your story!
Mushroom Frenzy by Mog Park
Amusing. :D The art is pretty good - not much in the way of backgrounds, but that's not a problem for a story like this which takes place outside of normal time and space. The design is very flowing and dreamlike and reminds me of Chinese embroidery, which fits with the Asian-style milieu that the characters inhabit. The art could benefit for bringin in a bit more of the flwoing dreamlike stuff near the beginning - it's not until the second half that it really kicks into gear. The story is not too long, with an ending that surprised me a bit, which is hard to do with stories this short. Quirky and charming.
NecrOphealia by Christina Ballinger
The title itself turns me off, not because it's got the 'Necro' bit added, but because it's a misspelling of 'Ophelia.' This is the sort of thing where I'm looking in the story for an explanation of the extra 'a' in 'Ophelia' and I suspect I won't get one (eta: nope, the character's name is that, and it's DRIVING me CRAZY). Second strike: the first page has a big paragraph of solid text, and it's almost unreadable because there reeeeally need to be more space between the lines and between the words. It's not a prologue, which is good, but a humorous warning, so it gains a few points back from that. But the font is too small for online display - it's probably fine for print, but it's not shown at its best online. The story appears to be about a girl and her best zombie friend who inexplicably decide to go shopping, then spend a night at a haunted manor. I can't tell you any better than that because of the font size, which makes over half the text unreadable. The pages have a good balance of darks and lights, but they seem a bit cramped and crowded. The figures are up and down, with the zombie being the most well-drawn. The backgrounds are pretty good, adn there's some nice establishing shots.
The Orphans by Anthony Go Wu
I have to say that I really liked the tonework in here, and the spotting of the blacks. Unfortunately, that's all I can say because the font was too damn small and I have no idea what-all was going on. I got the idea that the two black-and-white-only pages at the front were indeed related to the rest, mostly through the font size, and when the words "Ninja Knight" were spoken again, but that's about it. Except that I seem to have the idea that we're meant to take "Ninja Knight" seriously and yanno? I just can't do it. Sorry. Art's great, another person who will be pro shortly, can't say a thing about the writing.
Phoenix by Crystal Hawkins
The art here is OK. Very few backgrounds, but since it's supposed to be a story in the afterlife, this shouldn't be a problem because it's not set in our here-and-now world, but in a hazy place. But it doesn't work like it ought. What it really needs is variation in line width - with something like this with sketch backgrounds, the focus is really on the characters and the characters have to be drawn solidly, with lines that are alive, to capture the eye. And unfortunately it doesn't. The story is predictable and the climax of the action isn't long enough - it's the decisive moment for the protagonist, and it's over in half a tick.
Rain or Shine by Hoday Stearns
This is another shoujo-style story, a short one about a girl with a crush on a boy who waits for him to offer to walk her home in the rain. This is the sort of story that could work well, but doens't quite hit it here, because of not enough time spent on characterization. Even though the whole thing is from the main character's point of view, at the end of the story all I know is that she's shy, insecure, and that has a crush on this guy, and I learned that early on. This needs to be longer, not because it's too much story but because it needs mroe non-story time focused ont he girl, to make me know her and to root for her. Why does she like the guy? What does she do other than pine for him? The art is decent, although it doesn't stand out too much. The mangaka has a pretty good grasp of shoujo tropes and styles. There's one other problem I have with this story, which is that: why is it set in Japan? The mangaka is probably not Japanese, and while I certainly don't think that people can't do things from cultures not their own (I'm an anthropologist. Other cultures is what I do), the problem is that there's a million stories set in Japanese schools out there. There is nothing about this story that means it has to be set in Japan - it could be in Korea, Bulgaria, or Iowa. And I think it would make it a little more interesting if it were set in a place that there aren't already a million manga about.
Saint of Heart by Alyssa Farris
Interesting, quirky art that I thought was charming. I have no idea about the story because half the font was too small. The toning and spotting of black were really nice, and I liked the character designs, although I have to say that I figured out near the end that what I thought was one person was actually two different people with similar designs. (I'd given up on reading the story by then and skimmed through the rest of the pages). I like the way she plays with perspective, and the rough quality to the art. It's more American comics, leaning towards the Johnny the Homicidal Maniac and Lenore side (without being copies of them), than it is traditional manga.
Samurai Zombie by Hendra Wahjudi
Ooh, splash page. Totally awesome hatching work and a nice graphic design sense. Wonder if the rest of the art will hold up to this promise? *reads a bit more* Ah. A Blade of the Immortal fan, I see. *reads further* Yup, Blade of the Immortal. I believe I recognize some of the panels the mangaka was using as reference. They're not copied, but the poses are characteristic and I know them because I stare at them and use them as pose reference. *reads to the end* Uh. That panel's way too close to a BoI panel. Hm. OK. If I'd never read BoI, I'd totally be all over this one, but since I have - the problem is that it makes me compare the art and story to BoI, and since BoI is totally awesome, this is going to come off badly in comparison. Too many panels were used as reference from BoI - they needed to have had the angle changed a bit or something - and the story is too close as well: the idea of someone being immortal and having to kill 1000 evil men to break the curse. The idea would have been OK if it had been used as a springboard to bounce off and go in a completely different direction, but unfortunately it didn't. The artist has great talent and I love the detail and the hatching and the design, but the poses were a little too close to the references. I would absolutely love to see this artist teamed up with a really great writer, to see what (he? she?) could do with that. As it is ... the story is too close to the source material to be published and if I were a judge I wouldn't have picked it for that one reason (and it would have completely devastated me, because the art is great). If it gets picked by the judges as a winner or the fan favorite -- Tokyopop listen to me: you'd better think very carefully about publishing this one.
Semidevine by Lucinda T. Minatani
OK, again, misspelling the title is a bad way to start. It's semidivine, not devine. Unless you're talking about removing vines from something. And a bit later, it's invoke the god's power. Not evoke. Stunning first page. The figures on the next pages, unfortunately, aren't as good. They're not solid, and there's soemthing that I can't place my finger on that makes them look pretty amateur in comparison to the dragon and the architecture. Part of it is the linework - it's not very lively - and I think aprt of it is that the lines that make up the muscles of the figures aren't very defintie, but are sort of vaguely curvy. Er. Well I know what I mean, even if you don't. They don't take into account the fact that muscles aren't the same size at the top and bottom - it's got biceps that are the same thickness all the way down, when they're really teardrop-shaped and thicker closer to one end. All the major muscles and limbs are drawn like this, and it make them figures look amateur. But the shading on the dragon is stunning - very metallic. The font? Bad choice. The story? Er ... was there one?
Tastes Like Greedy by Margaux Hymel
Ah, yet another person with ComicWorks. I have recognized a goodly number of the tones throughout these stories. XD There's something vaguely familiar about the characters and world ... ah. I'm thinking of a little something I picked up at Yaoi-Con. No, I don't think it's the same artist, just a vaguely similar setup. The art is really good and I'm quite drawn to much of the toning - I think these bits may have been shaded in greyscale and then converted to halftone. I'd have to see it printed to be sure. The pages are a little bit crowded, but the visual flow goes through it pretty well. And 'tis nice to see a story in which elves aren't nature-loving ethereal noble-type people.
Wind Dancers by Peter Nguyen
The characters are really stiff. I was fooled at first, since the main character does a bunch of acrobatics on the first two pages, but once he stopped doing that, there was no curve to his body at all, and very little in anyone else. The pages are crowded, and while the text balloons give a decent path through the page, they would really have benefitted from using solid blacks and whites to help direct the eye. The font is again too small to really see well on the screen, so I'm not bothering to read. The backgrounds and perspective is good - this is another person whose backgrounds are better than their characters. There's some quirkly things I like about the character designs and their expressions, but the fact that they look like they've all got broomsticks jammed up the backsides is too distracting. All can say about the story, since I haven't read the text, is that I hope there's a reason for the projectile vomiting featured on the final page.