Reviewby Casey Brienza, Dec 6th 2008
You're So Cool
Nan-Woo is a flat-chested high school freshman. She is also a major klutz with a major crush on Seung-Ha, her campus's resident Prince. Seung-Ha is perfect—gorgeous, poised, wealthy, and smart to boot. He might as well be a fairytale to “commoners” like Nan-Woo…until he agrees to be her boyfriend! Soon enough, she learns that her dream boy is actually a nightmare: Seung-Ha is actually a sadistic, chain-smoking punk who expects his girlfriend to live and breathe just for him. Of course, nobody believes it, and she also finds herself dealing with the envy of her classmates. Will the nice boy who secretly harbors a crush on Nan-Woo be able to rescue her from this modern-day monster? Or will she one day be able to soothe the proverbial savage beast?
Those with an eye for the mythic might be inclined to call YoungHee Lee's You're So Cool a modern day adaptation of the story of Beauty and the Beast. This sunjeong manhwa (shoujo manga) is, at its heart, about a monster of the male persuasion who is eventually tamed and brought back into the benevolent fold of humanity by a willing woman's feminine power—that of her grace and her compassion.
Unfortunately, while Seung-Ha is unquestionably a monster of horrific proportions, Nan-Woo is neither particularly graceful nor willing. Lee's artwork makes her look, for all intents and purposes, a lot like a boy and a bit like a monkey. In the context of the story, she is usually late to school, failing at school, or bumping into things. She is a loser at life, in short, and she even manages to lose the proverbial boyfriend lottery. One day, Nan-Woo overhears Seung-Ha reject the romantic advances of an upperclassman. Seung-Ha, in turn, knows that she is there, and in the ensuing conversation, she makes the mistake of telling him that she would love him “completely and without regrets,” both his good side and his greedy, selfish side. Naturally, the “Prince” takes her up on her offer, and the plot of this unfortunate excuse for a romantic comedy manhwa takes off.
For, as it turns out, Seung-Ha is veritably beastly. Much of volume one revolves around the myriad ways he thinks up to torture Nan-Woo, and if you think page after page after page of a girl being used and abused by a boy is a riot, then you will undoubtedly be laughing yourself breathless. Perhaps the best comic subplot in this vein, if “best” is the right word for it, is when the new couple end up going to an erotic-horror flick. A sequence of four panels depicting their respective reactions as the movie progresses is priceless. But otherwise, anyone with remotely feminist inclinations will be feeling outraged on Nan-Woo's behalf to find any of this particularly funny. She might as well be less than human, given how badly she is treated.
By the middle of volume two, we learn that there is a reason—though not, in this reviewer's opinion, an excuse—for his bad behavior. Apparently there is no love lost among his rich family, and the pressures of being the good son have 1) made him rebel and 2) detached him from his real self. He does not know who he really is anymore, and he is relying upon his relationship with the unabashedly genuine Nan-Woo to lead the way. Needless to say, all this begs questions regarding the efficacy of abusing her, and it should be obvious that this pitiable excuse for character depth is a creative failure on the part of the manhwaga. Also, it should be noted that the rival for Nan-Woo's affections is the good-hearted Chan-Gyu who, despite being a better boy in all respects than Seung-Ha, is going to be the inevitable loser in this love triangle. Jerks always win. It's enough to make you lose faith in the female half of the species.
Yaoi fans will be pleased to hear that there is also a well-developed homoerotic subplot in You're So Cool involving Nan-Woo's lovelorn male housekeeper Jay. Jay's sexuality is ambiguous, and in the last third of the first volume, he meets a long-haired hottie named Hyun-Ho. A burgeoning friendship develops between the men in volume two, and the book ends on a cliffhanger that quite unexpectedly unifies the Hyun-Ho x Jay subplot with the Seung-Ha x Nan-Woo main plot.
Lee's artwork is standard Korean sunjeong manhwa goodness, elegantly sequenced and chock-full of handsome, lanky characters. The Yen Press editions are faithful to their original source material; they have been published in the same trim size as the Korean originals, and the vibrant color art—including four pages of full-color pinups—is beautifully reproduced. The translation by Jackie Oh is also pleasing and natural, so at the very least this extremely irritating story is not further undermined by a clunky prose adaptation.
Overall : C
Story : C-
Art : B
+ Halfway decent artwork, a few good laughs, and excellent production and packaging courtesy of Yen Press.
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