Review

by Casey Brienza, Nov 21st 2008

Evyione: Ocean Fantasy

GN 1

Synopsis:
Evyione: Ocean Fantasy GN 1
Evyione, the beautiful but independent-minded Princess of Emvonia, is coming of age this year, and to celebrate, her royal family fetes her on the decks of a handsomely appointed oceangoing vessel. Unfortunately, the ship is attacked by a sea monster, and Evyione is thrown overboard…and into the arms of the king of the sea, a gorgeous creature with the chiseled torso of a man and the tail of a fish. He has fallen in love with her, but instead of carrying her down into the depths, as his forefather did with a human woman, he instead puts her ashore, where he plans to become human and join her! But then she meets the benevolent but mysterious errant knight Fidelis. Who will be first to win her heart?
Review:

Young-Hee Kim. It's hard to imagine a more innocuous—and ordinary—Korean name. But to those in the know, the name Young-Hee Kim has become synonymous with some of the most visually awe-inspiring—and distinctive—sunjeong manhwa (shoujo manga) in the business. She is most famous for the long-running, baroque tale of wizardly romance Masca, which was licensed for U.S. release by CPM several years ago and was, unfortunately, discontinued after the publication of a single volume. Evyione: Ocean Fantasy is her latest work, and it is far and away Udon Entertainment's most exciting manhwa “get” post-ICE Kunion breakup.

However, let us, at least for a moment, shake the stars out of our eyes and talk about Kim's shortcomings. For she does admittedly have some. The most obvious, as indicated by the synopsis above, is her penchant for derivative plots. Masca began as a transparent rip-off of You Higuri's Seimaden, and Evyione: Ocean Fantasy adapts a story more recognizable still: Hans Christian Andersen's The Little Mermaid. Disney adaptation aside, most potential readers know how that one ended. Switching the gender of all the characters around does not seem likely to change the outcome. Indeed, Kim admits in her afterward to the first volume that she had trouble finding a publisher at first for the reason; one publisher coldly informed her that the concept is “old, common, and unoriginal.” In other words, it's been done before.

The above is a legitimate criticism, and thus far Kim has done nothing to dispel the concerns of the publisher that rejected the project. The plot is proceeding, albeit at the comfortable, confident narrative pacing that we would expect from a veteran manhwaga, exactly as we may have guessed. The princess is thrown overboard, and the (not so little) merman inadvertently delivers her into the arms of the human who is bound to be his eventual rival for her affections. Desperate to be with his beloved, the merman makes a visit to the lair of a sea witch, pleading with her to make him human. For this he trades his—wait for it—voice. He also consigns himself to some unspeakable yet certain doom if he cannot get her to fall in love with him. The first volume ends with Eyvione finding the newly-formed man sprawled out naked on the steps of her mother's mausoleum.

But never mind the derivative plot or the one-dimensional, fairytale characters. Bishounen fans, the demographic that undoubtedly constitutes Kim's core audience, will be too busy drooling all over the sea king's sculpted set of pecs and seven feet of tangled blue hair to care about the niceties of narrative originality. Her artwork is deliciously sensuous, and all of her character designs, male and female, ooze sex appeal. (They also only ever seem to wear one expression, which leads to a disconcertingly liberal use of Korean-style emoticons.) Indeed, the extravagance of Kim's richly-detailed shoujo style linework and impressionistic, asymmetrical layouts rival only a handful of rarified manga elite—CLAMP's Mokona Apapa, for example, or the aforementioned You Higuri. She has managed a pitch-perfect eighteenth century Mediterranean fantasy world and costumes that look like they belong in a big-budget Hollywood historical drama. The costumes have, apparently, become a big draw to the series.

Clearly, this ongoing series has plenty of room to grow, especially from the standpoints of plot and characterization, since there is nothing with respect to either to keep readers coming back from more. On the other hand, there is nothing keeping Kim from veering rapidly away from The Little Mermaid everybody knows, and Evyione: Ocean Fantasy will improve dramatically if she does so. She is one of Korea's best female creators, so it's definitely worth it to stay tuned and see what happens.

The Udon Entertainment edition of Evyione: Ocean Fantasy has been co-branded with its original Korean publisher Seoul Munhwasa (a.k.a. Seoul Cultural Publishers). Trim size is identical to the original, and a bonus, fold-out color poster has been included. Production values overall are reasonably good, as is the retail price of $11.95.

Grade:
Production Info:
Overall : A-
Story : B
Art : A+

+ Stunningly sexy characters in superb period costume, not to mention some of the best artwork in the business.
A story premise that is, to put it mildly, derivative and little evidence, at least thus far, that it aspires to innovation.

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