Last month, I spent a couple weeks reading the second longest Jimmy Neutron fanfic in existence, Margaret Anne’s The Other Side of Tomorrow. Margaret (or Mara as she prefers to be called) is widely considered the “queen of Jimmy Neutron” since she made the show’s popular fansite, Idreamofjimmy.com.
Gotta admit, those are pretty awesome snapshots to combine.
Now I’d heard of The Other Side of Tomorrow (hereafter referred to by its official acronym, TOSOT) many times over the years, but I’d never been willing to invest the many hours it would take to read through a nearly 200,000 word piece of fanfiction. But seeing as how Jimmy Neutron has always been such a huge part of my life and I had a lot of free time over the past three weeks, I decided to finally take the plunge and check this story out.
TOSOT takes place around the same time as the Jimmy Neutron show; the kids are still in fifth grade and in Ms. Fowl’s class. But after a teleportation prank goes wrong, Jimmy and all his friends are transported into an alternate universe. They discover that in this universe, it wasn’t Libby who was exposed to Jimmy’s megalomanium in the episode “The Tomorrow Boys,” but Jimmy himself.
Just like in the show, it’s never explained why Jimmy thought making this was a good idea. It is literally the worst thing to ever invent, it is pure evil and could never have any purpose.
This morphs him into a ruthless madman known as Dictator Jimmy (DJ for short) who threatens to exterminate all life in the galaxy. Future Cindy, now called Aurora, is one of humanity’s only survivors and has paired up with April the Gorlock to take Future Jimmy out once and for all. Jimmy and his friends decide to help save this universe before heading back to their own world.
Now that is a kick-ass story idea, but this book goes well beyond a great concept. Quite simply, I was not expecting to be touched the way I was. TOSOT is not a perfect story, but it is leaps and bounds above typical fanfiction. It captured my interest almost immediately and thoroughly held it the whole way through. So let’s just jump into why this fic worked.
(Just a note, there will be spoilers in this review.)
- Huge Aspirations
I’ve written before about how if there’s one thing I hate, it’s laziness in any artist. I despise people going back to the same well and repeating something that works, I can’t stand cliches, and I just hate people who don’t take any risks in their work. TOSOT is definitely not guilty of this. This is the most imaginative and sprawling Jimmy Neutron story I have ever seen. There are a dozen major characters, most of whom are incredibly fleshed out and have their own story arcs. Tons of different locations are visited, from a deserted Retroville all the way to a sprawling space mall. There are crazy action scenes, quiet character moments, musings on alien culture, light-hearted comedy, basically everything you can dream up is done here, usually to great effect. I heartily applaud Mara’s ambitious spirit; it’s clear she strove to truly create something great with this piece.
- April & Aurora’s Relationship
As I said before, most of the characters in this story reel you in, but I loved the relationship between these two female leads most of all. In Win, Lose, & Kaboom, Cindy and April spent most of their time as jealous rivals for Jimmy’s affection. The idea that April would be the one to rescue Cindy and take her under her wing after the rest of humanity was destroyed was a brilliant idea full of potential. Thankfully, Mara took this concept as far as she possibly could.
Throughout the first quarter or so of the story, it’s clear that April and Cindy are best friends. Yet in spite of their easy camaraderie, the reader can’t help but feel their friendship is not one of choice. Though they’ve come to love to love each other, Cindy and April never share any quiet moments or emotional revelations, they simply seem to be making the best of being stuck together.
This theme truly starts to get interesting when Aurora discovers that Future Libby is not still kidnapped by Dictator Jimmy, but is actually hiding out on Earth. As they revel in being reunited, one of the saddest and most interesting subplots of TOSOT truly begins.
As TOSOT focuses more and more on Aurora’s relationship with Future Libby, her friendship with April is mentioned less and less. It’s a brilliant way of slowly showing the distance growing between these two friends. The final straw that breaks these two’s relationship is Aurora sparing Dictator Jimmy’s life after he murdered April’s fiance, Nav. April understands the logic of this decision: Future Jimmy sans the megalomanium can use his intelligence to make the galaxy a better place, and none of this was really his fault to begin with. But though she understands why Aurora made this decision, she simply cannot condone it. So she parts ways from her dearest friend with a beautiful, sorrowful final message.
Ending their relationship by repeating one of the first lines they ever shared was a brilliant decision.
It’s just so poetically tragic. These were two characters thrust together for ten years, but in the end they just can’t stay friends. Even though billions were killed under Dictator Jimmy’s reign, the destruction of Aurora and April’s relationship struck me as one of the cruelest things DJ ever did.
- A Brilliantly Foreboding Atmosphere
Even though this fic had tons of comedy and light-hearted moments, Mara never let you truly forget what what these characters were up against. At just the right times we were given reminders of the importance of our heroes’ mission. A sobering war council would discuss the millions of casualties an assault on DJ’s base might result in, the kids took a quiet trip to a long-deserted Earth, Aurora and Future Libby discuss how hard it is to keep going on after all they’ve been through.
This was the first line of TOSOT that I copied and saved for later; it made me decide this book was good enough to write a blog post about.
Simply put, Mara did a great job of never letting you forget the stakes and suffering in this universe. I especially appreciated how she kept the ending hopeful, but not overly saccharine. DJ was stopped, the kids got back home, and the healed Future Jimmy and Aurora promised to help make the universe a better place. But in spite of all those victories, there were still many sacrifices. Nav (one of my favorite characters) died, Aurora and April’s relationship was shattered, Future Sheen and Libby would have to go through hard times before good ones, and most importantly, humanity was still nearly wiped out. I was so glad that Mara didn’t have Future Jimmy find a way to restore all the people the nanobots deleted; leaving Earth nearly barren was a perfect reminder of the suffering this universe went through.
- Some Gut-Punching Emotional Moments
For the first third or so of this story, I was rather disappointed in how conflicted the five JN kids seemed. This book clearly took place after much (if not all) of the third season of the show, where the JN gang were clearly friends forming on family. Yet throughout much of TOSOT, the guys and girls barely seemed to tolerate each other’s presence. There were certainly some nice moments between these two groups, especially between Libby and Sheen, but overall I felt Mara was slacking in this regard. While I still might argue that this book needed just a hint more comraderie between these kids in the first half of the book, there was one scene between them that seriously touched me.
It was Cindy’s “Jeez” that hit me hard.
There’s so much to love in this short exchange. As I said, Cindy’s quiet shock at the solemnity of Carl’s statement was awesome. I love the idea of these characters agreeing to have a pretend toast; it’s so perfectly child-like and something I can easily imagine kids that age doing. Lastly, I think Mara chose the perfect lines for each character during their toast. I’d just end up repeating all of them if I tried to analyze them further, I’ll simply say once more that this whole sequence, especially the kids’ actual toasts, showed me that this book was truly something special.
Another of my favorite moments of the story comes from when Jimmy and his friends infiltrate DJ’s base. They travel through a maze of rooms, and each one assaults them with a different form of emotional torture. The group realizes they have to rely on each other to get through it; if any one of them are strong enough to survive each room they can pull the others through. This whole sequence was riveting, but what really hit me hard was when the group was forced to face the worst of who they were.
Cindy’s utter desperation and self-loathing was a great way to wrap up this segment of the story, and Jimmy’s immediate insistence that she’s not this vile person was one of the best moments they shared.
- Jimmy and Cindy’s Story
I always respect any fanfic that focuses more on J/C friendship than romance. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with writing a romantic story, I’ve written tons of them myself. It’s just that harping on their friendship shows a degree of restraint and a willingness to explore new things that earns any author major points in my eyes. To that end, I really liked Jimmy and Cindy’s story throughout this book.
When I was reading through TOSOT, I desired a little bit of an…easier J/C relationship. This links back to my earlier complaint, where I thought that the JN gang as a whole should be closer. But looking back over the story, I actually think that Mara did a really good job. Even though Jimmy and Cindy spent 80% of their time arguing and seeming exasperated with each other, there were plenty of quiet, appreciative moments between them peppered at just the right times to show these kids really were friends.
This is one of my favorite subtle J/C moments of the story. Cindy immediately tries to comfort Jimmy when he feels guilty for his alternate self’s actions. In return, Jimmy feels he can trust her and asks for him to back up his crazy plan for stopping DJ. Later on, Cindy does choose to side with James.
And though it’s hinted at the end of TOSOT that Jimmy and Cindy may soon become more than friends, they never kiss or say they love each other. They simply admit that they each bring something to the table; it’s a great reflection of Win, Lose, and Kaboom (which this story obviously took great inspiration from).
But my favorite moment between these two was a very quick scene after stopping DJ.
This is exactly the kind of writing I love.
In two quick lines, everything that these kids have been through and all they feel for each other is summed up. No matter what happens they know they need and can depend on each other. It’s subtle and real and utterly perfect.
- Artwork & Suicide
I’ve never read a fanfic with art before, and it goes a long way in raising this story up a notch. Getting to see what these future visions of the kids actually looked like, as well as the original characters, just plain helps you visualize things better.
I know that’s not an Earth-shattering analysis, there’s just not too many ways I can say art = good.
What I will do is focus on my favorite drawing from the story.
Future Jimmy realizes all he’s done.
This was a chapter I was really looking forward to. After a vicious battle to give DJ the megalomanium’s antidote, Future Jimmy awakens and must consider with a clear head all the devastation he has caused. When I saw this picture at the top of the chapter, I knew that Mara understood what her readers wanted. It’s just a brilliant capture of all the agony Future Jimmy must be going through.
This chapter also has another of my favorite scenes from the book, when Future Jimmy realizes exactly what he’s done. I assumed that his first instinct would be to kill himself, and Mara shared that thought.
This was just what I was hoping to see; Future Jimmy’s utter desperation to kill himself in one of the worst ways possible (slicing his own throat with a scalpel) is heart-breaking.
This was a brilliant scene made even better with the inclusion of a chilling drawing.
- Some Great Comedy
I’ll quickly repeat this in my criticisms later on, but not all of TOSOT’s humor is great. I felt the jokes were about 50 / 50; Sheen in particular was a mixed bag when it came to humor. But when the humor landed it was fantastic.
My favorite comedic moment of the story; Cindy’s pure disgust and that extra “so” in front of “sorry” is beautiful.
Yet what I think was absolutely the most brilliant comedic decision in this book, by far, was to refer to Future Carl as “Skinny Carl.”
Carl is the group’s biggest punching bag, and it is utterly hilarious to me that all the other future versions of the kids are referred to as Future Jimmy, Future Sheen, etc. Yet for some reason these children utterly refuse to call this universe’s Carl “Future Carl.” This completely unnecessary dedication is insanely amusing to me.
- Really Great Writing After the Halfway Point
For the first half of TOSOT, I thought the writing was passable to decent. It was never bad, it was just never great either. It got across what it wanted to say simply. But after around the halfway point, Mara’s prose really picked up and became consistently great. It’s really more of a general thing than a specific excerpt that I can point to; but notice how pretty much all of the awesome moments I’ve listed above come in the latter half of this story.
- Future Jimmy
I said above that I really liked Future Jimmy’s first scene after being cured and realizing all he’s done. Unfortunately, that’s about the only time I liked him. Nearly immediately after, he reverted into a cocky jerk. He constantly stroked his own ego and butted heads with Aurora. I found this really hard to understand; he bounced back from feeling awful for committing genocide way too fast. I know that having Future Jimmy sitting around, crying, and whining about all he’d done wouldn’t have made for an interesting conclusion to this story, but there’s got to be a middle ground here.
Sheen’s characterization was nowhere near as upsetting to me as Future Jimmy’s; I just didn’t really like it. Now to be fair, Sheen is (in my opinion) definitely the hardest of the JN characters to write for. It’s just plain difficult to balance his sweetness, anger, insanity, and humor. Misbalance any of those characteristics and all of who he is goes out the window. In this story, I just felt that Sheen was a little too immature and his jokes didn’t land hard enough. It was by no means a deal breaker, but I feel he could have been written a bit stronger.
- An Overly Long & Circuitous Final Battle
As a whole, I really enjoyed chapter 39, which is where DJ and Aurora begin their final battle. It was filled with startling revelations, well-described action, and a wonderfully tense goodbye between the JN gang as they split up.
Unfortunately, this last battle between Aurora and DJ stretched into chapter 40, and I believe the climax suffered for it. A huge amount of the tension went out the window as I realized that this battle was meant to last a long time; I stopped believing that each punch or energy blast might kill one of the characters. Condensing this final melee into a single chapter and eliminating a lot of the repeating switching of upper hands would have kept me on the edge of my seat the entire time.
- Lots of Scenes Dragged On…But Only Slightly
This is obviously to be expected in a first draft of any story, and it’s actually impressive how slightly many segments of this story seemed to drag on. From a writing standpoint, this was a great first draft. But from the reading perspective, pretty much every segment of this story could have been trimmed a fair amount. I think the segments on The Gorlockian homeworld, Shangrai Llama, and the final assault on DJ’s base could have been shortened the most. Again, it’s not a deal breaker, and each portion of the story only seems to drag a little, but it does add up to rob this epic tale of a bit of its momentum.
TOSOT is not a perfect story; no first draft can ever be. But in spite of its flaws, this is easily worth a read. You’ll notice some areas of improvement, but you’ll still be sucked into this world and get attached to these versions of the characters Mara has created. And when you’re done? You’ll be left satisfied and with more than a handful of scenes that will stick with you long after you’ve stepped away from the computer.