by Rebecca Silverman,

Milkyway Hitchhiking

GN 1

Milkyway Hitchhiking GN 1
Milkyway is a beautiful cat with as many white spots on her fur as there are stars in the galaxy. She travels through time and space, stopping here to meet a robotic cat and there to see a pair of reluctant lovers in ancient Korea while bumping into the Little Prince in the desert along the way. Come and join her on her journeys as she meets new people and teaches everyone what it means to love a cat.

Even though this is pretty much a “cat book,” those who aren't crazy cat ladies or gentlemen should not shy away from picking it up. Sirial's second English-language release from Yen Press (the first, One Fine Day, was serialized in Yen Plus magazine's print edition) is an exquisitely illustrated book following the adventures of the world's prettiest cat, Milkyway. She is vaguely Siamese in appearance, with speckles on her dark brown fur that resemble the stars in the Milky Way Galaxy. Rather than calling one place home, she travels through time, space, and, in some case, fictional realities, meeting new people and seeing the sights. While the book is from a cat's perspective and features quite a few felines, it is more an exploration of artistic expression than a tribute to cats, and anyone who is interested to see what can be done with manhwa as a medium is likely to enjoy this book.

The first thing worth noting is that the volume is in full color on glossy paper. This does not, however, make it look like a western comic book. Sirial very rarely uses panels, and when they are present, they are sort of nebulous and don't necessarily make the page's reading order more obvious. (In fact, the more intuitive pages are those without any panels whatsoever.) The artwork appears to be done in a combination of traditional and digital mediums, with the most likely scenario being that inks or watercolors were originally used and then touched up using an art program. The colors are deeply saturated for some chapters, giving a vibrant, otherworldly feel to most of the fantasy settings, while other chapters use muted browns, greens, and creams to show the ordinariness of the everyday world. It makes for a striking difference between chapters as well as a clue to how “real” each one's world is, offering us clues to where Milkyway is journeying. How she gets from Place to Place is only addressed once, in the second-to-last chapter, when we see her flying in a cardboard box á la Calvin and Hobbes. This is likely not a throwaway reference, given that in the second chapter she meets the Fox and Prince from Antoine Saint-Exupéry's The Little Prince.

There are distinct similarities between that classic work and this, but the overall tenor of Milkyway Hitchhiking is much less poignant. This does feel like a bit of a letdown given the beauty of the artwork and the basic premise of the story, both of which would seem to lend themselves to a more emotionally rendered tale. The Little Prince chapter is the most disappointing in that respect, but other sections do much better. The strongest in terms of emotional resonance is chapter seven, broken into four parts. It tells Milkyway's adventures in a medieval European kingdom where a young albino prince is left in the forest to die because his mother feared his looks. When the prince's brother, now king, learns that he is somehow still alive, he orders his knight to hunt the “creature” (with whom the cat is living) down. The knight instead saves the boy, with dire consequences for the king. Milkyway is strictly an observer in this story, which is unusual, and Sirial's epilogue to it is very bittersweet. While others come close to being as strong, such as the chapters about the robotic cat, this section is by far the most well done in the volume.

Yen Press' translation is for the most part very nice, but there are a couple of quirks in Milkyway's language that perhaps did not translate smoothly from the original Korean. While I do not know for certain if the Korean language shares the tendency of Japanese to have certain characters end their speech with various sounds, such as “nya” for cats, that would seem to be behind some of the language here. Milkyway says “mew” instead of “you” and “meowy” instead of “my,” which can be both grating and occasionally confusing, especially with that last one. English translations next to Korean handwritten notes in the text can be hard to see as well, in part because of the font size and in part because the binding on this book is particularly stiff, making it difficult to fully open the book and impossible to do so without cracking the spine. Given that this book has an MSRP of US$30, that's definitely an issue.

On the whole, Milkyway Hitchhiking's first English volume, an omnibus of Korean volumes one and two, is a beautiful book. Each story is varied and there are very few repeated concepts, making it an interesting read even if you are not a cat person. Milkyway herself is more a guide than a main character, taking us through different worlds and times with her, offering us glimpses into other people's lives. It isn't as cute and sweet as One Fine Day, but it is gorgeously drawn and inventively written. If you're looking for something artistic and off the beaten path, you ought to try taking a trip with this particular cat as she journeys through the galaxy.

Overall : B
Story : B-
Art : A

+ Exquisitely drawn and printed, each story is unique. Some interesting plotlines set in different times and places.
Binding is quite stiff, can get a little too prosaic at times. Some translation choices make for a bit of difficulty.

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