Set in a fictional version of Tokyo, Megatokyo portrays the adventures of Piro, a young fan of anime and manga, and his friend Largo, an American video game enthusiast. The comic often parodies and comments on the archetypes and clichés of anime, manga, dating sims and video games, occasionally making direct references to real-world works. Megatokyo originally emphasized humor, with continuity of the story a subsidiary concern. Over time, it focused more on developing a complex plot and the personalities of its characters. This transition was due primarily to Gallagher's increasing control over the comic, which led to Caston choosing to leave the project. Megatokyo has received praise from such sources as The New York Times, while negative criticism of Gallagher's changes to the comic has been given by sources including Websnark.
In May 2002, Caston sold his ownership of the title to Gallagher, who has managed the comic on his own since then. In October of the same year, after Gallagher was laid off from his day job as an architect, he took up producing the comic as a full time profession. Caston's departure from Megatokyo was not fully explained at the time. Initially, Gallagher and Caston only briefly mentioned the split, with Gallagher publicly announcing Caston's departure on June 17, 2002. On January 15, 2005, Gallagher explained his view of the reasoning behind the split in response to a comment made by Scott Kurtz of PvP, in which he suggested that Gallagher had stolen ownership of Megatokyo from Caston. Calling Kurtz's claim "mean spirited", Gallagher responded:
"While things were good at first, over time we found that we were not working well together creatively. There is no fault in this, it happens. I've never blamed Rodney for this creative 'falling out' nor do I blame myself. Not all creative relationships click, ours didn't in the long run."Four days later, Caston posted his view of the development on his website:
"After this he approached me and said either I would sell him my ownership of MegaTokyo or he would simply stop doing it entirely, and we'd divide up the company's assets and end it all. This was right before the MT was to go into print form, and I really wanted to see it make it into print, rather [than] die on the vine."
Megatokyo's early strips were laid out in four square panels per strip, in a two-by-two square array — a formatting choice made as a compromise between the horizontal layout of American comic strips and the vertical layout of Japanese comic strips. The limitations of this format became apparent during the first year of Megatokyo's publication, and in the spring of 2001, the comic switched to a manga-style, free-form panel layout. This format allowed for both large, detailed drawings and small, abstract progressions, as based on the needs of the script. Gallagher has commented that his drawing speed had increased since the comic's beginning, and with four panel comics taking much less time to produce, it "made sense in some sort of twisted, masochistic way, that [he] could use that extra time to draw more for each comic".
Megatokyo's earliest strips were drawn entirely on single sheets of paper. Following these, Gallagher began drawing the comic's panels separately and assembling them in Adobe Illustrator, allowing him to draw more detailed frames. This changed during Megatokyo's eighth chapter, with Gallagher returning to drawing entire comics on single sheets of paper. Gallagher has stated that this change allows for more differentiated layouts, in addition to allowing him a better sense of momentum during comic creation.
The strip is currently drawn digitally as of strip number 1084
Gallagher has occasional guest artists participate in the production of the comic, including Mohammad F. Haque of Applegeeks.
Gallagher has emphasized that Megatokyo will continue to remain on the Internet free of charge, and that releasing it in book form is simply another way for the comic to reach readers, as opposed to replacing its webcomic counterpart entirely. Additionally, he has stated that he is against micropayments, as he believes that word of mouth and public attention are powerful property builders, and that a "pay-per-click" system would only dampen their effectiveness. He has claimed that such systems are a superior option to direct monetary compensation, and that human nature is opposed to micropayments.
Much of Megatokyo'ss early humor consists of jokes related to the video game subculture, as well as culture-clash issues. In these early strips, the comic progressed at a pace which Gallagher has called "haphazard", often interrupted by purely punchline-driven installments. As Gallagher gradually gained more control over Megatokyo's production, the comic began to gain more similarities to the Japanese shōjo manga that Gallagher enjoys. Following Gallagher's complete takeover of Megatokyo, the comic's thematic relation to Japanese manga continued to grow.
The comic features characteristics borrowed from anime and manga archetypes, often parodying the medium's clichés. Examples include Junpei, a ninja who becomes Largo's apprentice; Rent-a-zillas, giant monsters based on Godzilla; the Tokyo Police Cataclysm Division, which fights the monsters with giant robots and supervises the systematic destruction and reconstruction of predesignated areas of the city; fan service; a Japanese school girl, Yuki; and Ping, a robot girl. In addition, Dom and Ed, hitmen employed by Sega and Sony, respectively, are associated with a Japanese stereotype that all Americans are heavily armed.
Characters in Megatokyo usually speak Japanese, although some speak English, or English-based l33t. Typically, when a character is speaking Japanese, it is signified by enclosing English text between angle brackets (<>). Not every character speaks every language, so occasionally characters are unable to understand one another. In several scenes (such as this one), a character's speech is written entirely in rōmaji Japanese to emphasize this.
Megatokyo is divided into chapters. Chapter 0, which contains all of the comic's early phase, covers a time span in the comic of about six weeks. Each of the subsequent chapters chronicles the events of a single day. Chapter 0 was originally not given a title, although the book version retroactively dubbed it "Relax, we understand j00". Chapter 0 began during August 2000, with chapters 1 through 10 beginning in June 2001, November 2001, October 2002, April 2003, February 2004, November 2004, September 2005, June 2006, April 2007, and July 2008, respectively.
Piro, the main protagonist, is an author surrogate of Fred Gallagher. Gallagher has stated that Piro is an idealized version of himself when he was in college. As a character, he is socially inept and frequently depressed. His design was originally conceived as a visual parody of the character Ruri Hoshino, from the Martian Successor Nadesico anime series. His name is derived from Gallagher's online nickname, which was in turn taken from Makoto Sawatari's cat in the Japanese visual novel Kanon.
In the story, Piro has extreme difficulty understanding Megatokyo's female characters, making him for the most part ignorant of the feelings that the character Nanasawa Kimiko has for him, though he has become much more aware of her attraction. Gallagher has commented that Piro is the focal point of emotional damage, while his friend, Largo, takes the physical damage in this comic.
Largo is the comic's secondary protagonist, and the comic version of co-creator Rodney Caston. As the comic's primary source of humor, he is an impulsive alcoholic who speaks L337 fluently and frequently. A technically gifted character, he is obsessed with altering devices, often with hazardous results. Gallagher designed Largo to be the major recipient of the comic's physical damage. Largo's name comes from Caston's online nickname. Largo seems to be entering into a relationship with Hayasaka Erika, at present.
After their eviction, Piro begins work at "Megagamers", a store specializing in anime, manga, and video games. His employer allows him and Largo to live in the apartment above the store. Largo is mistaken for the new English teacher at a local school, where he takes on the alias "Great Teacher Largo" and instructs his students in L337, video games, and computing. The "Tokyo Police Cataclysm Division" hires Largo after he manipulates Ping into stopping a rampaging monster, but they soon dismiss him for failing to contain a riot.
Early in the story, Piro meets Nanasawa Kimiko at an Anna Miller's restaurant, where she is a waitress. Much later, Piro encounters Kimiko outside a train station, where she is worrying aloud that she will miss an audition because she has forgotten her money and railcard. Piro hands her his own railcard and walks off before she can refuse his offer. This event causes Kimiko to develop an idealized vision of her benefactor, an image which is shattered the next time they meet. Despite this, she gradually develops feelings for Piro, though she is too shy to admit them. Later on in the story, Kimiko's outburst on a radio talk show causes her to suddenly rise to idol status. Angered by the hosts' derisive comments about fanboys, she comes to the defense of her audience, immediately and unintentionally securing their obsessive adoration. The stress of the audience's focused attention overwhelms Kimiko, and she lashes out at Piro when he tries to defend her.
Meanwhile, Largo develops a relationship with Hayasaka Erika, Piro's coworker at Megagamers. As with Piro and Kimiko, Largo and Erika meet by coincidence early in the story. Later, it is revealed that Erika is a former pop idol, who disappeared from the public eye after her fiancé left her. When she is rediscovered by her fans, Largo helps thwart a fanboy horde and offers to help Erika to deal with her "vulnerabilities in the digital plane". Erika insists on protecting herself, so Largo instructs her in computer-building. This leads into a little more relationship than Largo can handle however, as he insists all computer building be done in the nude, or as close to it as possible, to avoid static electrical discharge ruining components.
The enigmatic Tohya Miho frequently meddles in the lives of the protagonists. Miho knows Piro and Largo from the "Endgames" MMORPG previous to Megatokyo's plot. She abused a hidden statistic in the game to gain control of nearly all of the game's player characters, but was ultimately defeated by Piro and Largo. In the comic, Miho becomes close friends with Ping, influencing Ping's relationship with Piro and pitting Ping against Largo in video game battles. Miho is also involved in Erika's backstory; Miho manipulated Erika's fans after Erika's disappearance. This effort ended badly, leaving Miho hospitalized, and the Tokyo Police Cataclysm Division cleaning up the aftermath. Most of the exact details of what happened are left to the readers' imagination.
After getting yelled at for retaining her waitress job, Kimiko quits her voice acting job and goes home to find Erika programming her computer in her undergarments. Not long after Erika tells Kimiko to strip, Piro comes by, who she tells to get undressed as well. While Erika and Piro talk about her, Kimiko runs out of the apartment. Kimiko runs into Ping, who wanted to talk to Piro about why, after an earthquake, she had started crying. They encounter Largo at the store, who explains what went wrong, although no one knows what he means until Piro comes in and translates. Ping is relieved to know that she won't shut down and Kimiko hugs Piro and apologizes for her actions. Largo leaves for Erika's apartment after she calls looking for help. That night, while Piro and Kimiko fall asleep watching TV, Erika, who finished the computer with Largo's help, tries to seduce Largo, but it freaks him out and he runs out for home. The next morning, after Kimiko departed, Piro finds out she quit her job and tries to find her.
However, Dom tries to coerce Kimiko to join SEGA for protection from fans, but she denies, resulting in Miho rescuing her from a robot sent for Kimiko. Piro encounters a group who found her Cell phone and computer after she abandoned them to escape Dom. They want to help Piro get together with Kimiko, partially due to feeling bad for trying to snap a picture up Kimiko's skirt. As Piro and the group set out for a press conference Kimiko has agreed to attend, a zombie outbreak occurs downtown, apparently under the control of Miho, who later calls them off.
Largo and Yuki steal Rent-a-Zilla to fight the outbreak, but Largo leaves Yuki and Rent-a-Zilla to help Piro get to Kimiko. Unfortunately, Rent-a-Zilla gets bitten by a couple of zombies and turns into one himself, going on a rampage downtown. Yuki protects Rent-A-Zilla from the Tokyo Police Cataclysm Division and even adopts him as a pet later on, much to her father's chagrin.
A while afterwards, Piro and Kimiko have made up and Kimiko returned to both of her jobs. Ping is concerned about the whereabouts of Miho, but Piro is still upset about what happened.
As of May 23, 2007, five volumes are available for purchase: volumes 1 through 3 from Dark Horse and volumes 4 and 5 by CMX/DC. The books have also been translated into German, Italian, French and Polish. In July 2004, Megatokyo was the tenth best-selling manga property in the United States, and during the week ending February 20, 2005, volume 3 ranked third in the Nielsen BookScan figures, which was not only its highest ranking to date (as of August 2006), but also made it the best-selling original English-language manga title.
In July 2007, Kodansha announced that in 2008 it intends to publish Megatokyo in a Japanese-language edition, (in a silver slipcased box as part of Kodansha Box editions, a new manga line started in November 2006). Depending on reader response, Kodansha hopes to subsequently publish the entire Megatokyo book series.
Some critics, such as Eric Burns of Websnark, have found the comic to suffer from "incredibly slow pacing", unclear direction or resolutions for plot threads, a lack of official character profiles and plot summaries for the uninitiated, and an erratic update schedule. Burns also harshly criticized the often uncanonical filler material Gallagher employs to prevent the comic's front page content from becoming stagnant, such as Shirt Guy Dom, a punchline-driven stick figure comic strip written and illustrated by Megatokyo editor Dominic Nguyen. Following Gallagher taking on Megatokyo as a full-time occupation, some critics have complained that updates should be more frequent than when he worked on the comic part time. Update schedule issues have prompted Gallagher to install an update progress bar for readers awaiting the next installment of the comic.
Megatokyo's fans have been called "some of the most patient and forgiving in the webcomic world." During an interview, Gallagher stated that Megatokyo fans "always [tell] me they are patient and find that the final comics are always worth the wait," but he feels as though he "[has] a commitment to my readers and to myself to deliver the best comics I can, and to do it on schedule," finally saying that nothing would make him happier than "[getting] a better handle on the time it takes to create each page." Upon missing deadlines, Gallagher often makes self-disparaging comments. Poking fun at this, Jerry "Tycho" Holkins of Penny Arcade has claimed to have "gotten on famously" with Gallagher, ever since he "figured out that [Gallagher] legitimately detests himself and is not hoisting some kind of glamour."
While Megatokyo was originally presented as a slapstick comedy, it began focusing more on the romantic relationships between its characters after Caston's departure from the project. As a result, some fans, preferring the comic's gag-a-day format, have claimed its quality was superior when Caston was writing it. Additionally, it has been said that, without Caston's input, Largo's antics appear contrived. Comics Bulletin regards Megatokyo's characters as convincingly portrayed, commenting that "the reader truly feels connected to the characters, their romantic hijinks, and their wacky misadventures with the personal touches supplied by the author." Likewise, Anime News Network has praised the personal tone in which the comic is written, stating that much of its appeal is a result of the "friendly and casual feeling of a fan-made production."
Gallagher states early in Megatokyo Volume 1 that he and Caston "didn't want the humor ... to rely too heavily on what might be considered 'obscure knowledge.'" An article in The New York Times insists that such scenarios were unavoidable, commenting that the comic "sits at the intersection of several streams of obscure knowledge," including "gaming and hacking; manga ... the boom in Web comics over the past few years; and comics themselves." The article also held that "Gallagher doesn't mean to be exclusive ... he graciously offers translation of the strip's later occasional lapses into l33t ... [and] explains why the characters are occasionally dressed in knickers or as rabbits." The newspaper went on to argue that "The pleasure of a story like Megatokyo comes not in its novelistic coherence, but in its loose ranginess."
Megatokyo was nominated in at least one category of the Web Cartoonist's Choice Awards every year from 2001 through 2007. It won Best Comic in 2002, as well as Best Writing, Best Serial Comic, and Best Dramatic Comic. The largest number of nominations it has received in one year is 14 in 2003, when it won Outstanding Environment Design.