Reviewby Casey Brienza, Oct 1st 2008
Laya, the Witch of Red Pooh
Laya Han is a young witch who lives, along with her persnickety, chain-smoking cat Puss ('n boots), in a modest cottage deep in the forest on the outskirts of the town of Red Pooh. While during her student days she was not the most attentive of magical students, she now makes an ostensible living brewing potions for the townspeople and various magical denizens of the forest. However, in actuality she spends most of her days procrastinating, trying out new meal recipes, and entertaining a random, rotating series of semi-welcome houseguests, including Niky the Fox, the crow Snowy, a Brain Candy duo, aspiring apprentices Choco Pie and Mikah, and former classmate and current extorter Aniku. This is an up close and personal account of Laya's so-called life.
The two-volume Korean manhwa series Laya, the Witch of Red Pooh is one of the most appealing titles you will ever have the privilege to flip casually through…and one of the most appalling titles you will ever have the misfortune to actually read.
But let's be generous to the poor little Tokyopop license and start with the good, shall we? The manhwa, attributed to the pseudonymous “Yo Yo,” is actually a collaborative effort courtesy of the studio Dive to Dream Sea, founded by veteran manhwaga Myung-Jin Lee (Ragnarok, Lights Out). How much of this odd creation may be attributed directly to Lee is unknown—and there are definitely strong whiffs of his signature drawing style in the depictions of some of the characters—but it is otherwise quite a departure from his usual, mainstream fare.
Laya combines the edgy pop stylings and narrative pacing of an indie comic with the charismatic, big-eyed character designs of a Japanese anime. And although it borrows liberally from Tim Burton-esque horror kitsch and occasionally from Harry Potter-esque occidental wizardry (“owl mail,” anyone?), overall the series has an exuberant, fresh look to it, richly evocative of hip, hyper-modern South Korea. The panel layouts, which lack the cinematic sweep of mainstream manga and manhwa, are boxy, modest in size, and often deliberately haphazard in their outlines; many pages average ten or more. Yet they seem practically to burst at the seams with clothing, bookcases, and furnishings drawn in scrupulous detail.
It's this detail—and the accompanying stylistic evolution and refinement throughout the course of the series—that is sure to captivate any browsers flipping through a volume. It may even sell them on the series if they make the grievous mistake of not bothering to read a few pages before ponying up the cash. Because once you start reading the manhwa, you will quickly reach a horrifying realization: It has no story to speak of! Each chapter is only four pages long—and nothing of import ever seems to happen! Supporting characters flit in and out of Laya's life at random, utterly unchanged by the mutual encounter, and it isn't until the second volume that a subplot ever even extends past a two chapters! And the fifty-seven four-page “tales” (though it's hard to credit them as such) are, no other word for it, idiotic. For example, in one chapter, Snowy plants some beans in the front yard. The beans grow into an enormous beanstalk, which he and Niky proceed to try climbing. They get a nice view of the surrounding environs before Laya and Puss (in human form) chop the beanstalk down, sending them crashing to the ground along with it. The end. Is this supposed to be funny?! If it is, it seems likely that most readers aren't laughing.
All in all, the characters prove to be dim-witted, and the lackluster attempts at comedy even more so. The series has no narrative arc; the story never goes anywhere, and the characters never experience any stages of personal development. This manhwa seems captivated by the promise of its own pomposity, and one is left wondering when the punchline is supposed to be coming. Of course, the punchline never comes, and the reader is left with an assurance from Laya that she is going to become “a great witch, respected by everyone!” Yet we see nothing of her efforts to that effect anywhere in the series (quite the contrary, as she is, if anything, a perennial underachiever), which means that denouement of the final “tale” is no denouement at all—but rather a promise left permanently unfulfilled. Do not buy this series. Be wary even of accepting it as a gift. After all, what halfway decent person would want to foist this excretable example of sequential art on a friend? Unless you are interested in its artistic technique, you will probably find yourself Googling for Yo Yo's contact info, eager to demand those hours of your life spent reading Laya back.
Overall : D+
Story : D-
Art : A
+ Intriguing stylistic mashup of indie comics and anime.
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