Reviewby Casey Brienza, Sep 5th 2008
In the wake of Noah's unexpected death, her ex-lover Jackie goes into seclusion at the height of the holiday season to mourn. Jackie's only visitor is Noah's half-brother Nick, who brings her a jar full of Noah's ashes. Jackie then plans to consume the ashes over the course of twelve days. By the end of this personal ritual, she hopes, she will be able to forget about Noah. But instead, it becomes an exercise in remembering—how they met, how they loved, and how they broke up—with Nick as a willing and compassionate observer. The road of love is never smooth, and that of love between two women is harder still.
Okay, let's start with the preliminaries, shall we? Just in case you were not paying attention to the pronouns in the synopsis above, it ought to be pointed out explicitly that Jackie is a woman. As is Noah, a Korean-American whose name is probably supposed to be the feminine first name “No-Ah” and not that of the Old Testament prophet. 12 Days is, in short, a lesbian love story that deals in a subtle, indirect fashion with contemporary social issues. So if that is not your cup of tea, give this one a pass.
If, on the other hand, you are looking for a sensitive depiction of lesbians that strives for literariness, then you have come to the right place. Creator June Kim, a Korean woman who has studied Japanese language and literature in Seoul and cartooning in New York City, delivers her quiet tale of friendship, love, and loss with nuanced, high-serious sensibility that looks a bit like an indie comic and a lot like a josei manga. The truncated, one-volume story proceeds in a linear fashion, frequently interspersed with flashbacks that gradually reveal the characters' respective backgrounds and motivations. We find out, for example, that Noah yearned to please her father by agreeing to a heterosexual marriage. Yet, at the same time, Jackie did not exactly strive to keep her as she perhaps should have, brushing off conversations about children and refusing to try to talk Noah out of her decision. In their own disparate ways, they were both ashamed of their homosexuality, and that shame ultimately destroyed their relationship. Nick, for his part, has always been secretly fascinated by his enigmatic sister.
In the end, we discover that Nick has been spooning something disagreeable into the ashes that Jackie is consuming, and when she sickens, he takes her to the hospital. By that time, the New Year has arrived, and it seems that Jackie is ready to turn over a new leaf as well. After a warm hug, Jackie and Nick go their separate ways, Nick with the engagement ring that Jackie had intended to offer to Noah mixed in with the remnants of her ashes. No fireworks, just two people in the process of moving on.
But what makes 12 Days truly exemplary is not the plot (which is pretty straightforward) or the characters (which are basically one-dimensional plot vehicles). Hopefully, Kim will improve in these respects in subsequent published endeavors. No, what makes this so-called global manga is the artwork…or specifically those aspects of the artwork that do not involve panel sequencing or facial expressions. While her visual talents all around are of reasonably good quality, her eye for setting and background detail is second to none. She has gotten New York and its environs down to a science. The interiors of Jackie's apartment and Nick's family's house are almost frighteningly authentic-looking. Not a kidney bean-shaped coffee table is out of place. And Kim devotes the same realist attention to food the characters eat and the clothes that they wear. Foodies, fashionistas, and interior designers will all be duly impressed by such painstaking effort.
Incidentally, the book itself is a good half-step above Tokyopop's usual production values for a piece of printed matter priced at $9.99. The understated yet awesomely intricate cover illustration (see above) is, minus the selected bits of blazing, eye-catching red here and there, actually composed entirely of metallic foil stamping on a matte finish. There is more silvery line work on the spine and back cover as well. The inside of the back cover features an illuminating creator bio, which helps put the myriad artistic influences on display in 12 Days into the context of Kim's colorful multi-cultural background. Also, paratextual elements such as the front endpapers, title page, and table of contents evince a well-considered, thoughtful design that lends the book an unexpected but pleasing page-to-page fluidity. These value-added yet tasteful bonus features match the tenor of the content perfectly and are likely the work of a conscientious editorial staff. It is a shame that such pitch-perfect efforts are not more common in the American manga industry.
Overall : B+
Story : B
Art : A-
+ Impressive artwork and some silvery bling on the cover. A sensitive treatment of real-world homosexuality.
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