by Theron Martin,

Volcano High Prelude


Volcano High Origin (manga)
Volcano High is a school where all the students are martial artists. Students have more or less run the school for many years since the Purge of Teachers War, but the return of a former teacher as the new principal shakes things up. In addition to having mastered overwhelming flatulence, rumor has it that he possesses the Teacher's Memorandum, a mythical item which in the hands of a teacher is supposed to “set students ablaze with the inspiration and motivation to study” and in the hands of a student is supposed to bring peace to the world of martial arts academies and inspire loyalty, effectively making the possessor the most powerful martial artist. Several students vie for the position of Number One amongst the students in the hopes of gaining access to this item.

Meanwhile Gyung Soo Kim, a high school student who has transferred schools many times over the years, is just looking for a peaceful place where he can be a student, but he has been blessed (or cursed) with the power of Thunder and Lightning, so it isn't so easy. When he crosses paths with a corps of teachers from Mount Evil, who bear a grudge against him for his possession of the power, it looks like he's being set up to move on to another school. Where next? Volcano High!
Volcano High: Prelude is a manwha prequel to a blockbuster (by their standards) live-action Korean action-comedy movie of the same name. The movie was picked up by MTV, dubbed by some famous entertainers, and apparently aired on MTV at some point, which is probably the main reason why this graphic novel has turned up in the States. It is a collection of three chapters and some extras released by Media Blasters Press, which has opted to publish it in the standard left-right format used in Europe and North America. Whether it was originally published in this format in Korea, or in the right-left style typical of Japanese publications, I do not know.

Yes, the two storylines represented here (one covering the first two chapters, the other covering the third) are as ridiculous as the synopsis suggests, but it isn't a title meant to be taken seriously. Imagine every lame cliché about fighting school stories that you have ever run across in anime, manga, or live action series, mix them all together, and you more or less have Volcano High. The plot, such as it is, is entirely structured around setting up the story for the movie, so it does not stand well on its own. Oh, and did I mention that the teachers from Mount Evil aren't certified because they were expelled years earlier, and are part of some organization seeking to take over the world by instilling extremely strict educational practices, and they have attacks like Anti-Cigarette Blow and Mind-Erasing Blow to keep students in line? Not much of this comes up in the manwha, though, although the one with the ability to throw chalk like a bullet does get to ply his technique.

The dark, heavily shaded artwork shows a strong manga influence. It is very finely-detailed and drawn with great skill, creating some truly appealing character designs. . . when they are drawn at full size, that is. Unfortunately most of the story is done with cutesy SD versions of the characters, and even many of the full-size characters are heavily caricatured. Was this done to further the silliness of the title? If so, then it works for a while but eventually becomes annoying. This is a shame, because the artwork is otherwise really good. Most sound effects are left untranslated and in their original form, which does maintain artistic integrity but also means that readers may not understand some parts.

MB Press's production features excellent color cover artwork on an oversized format. It also includes numerous extras which concern the live-action movie, such as a synopsis, production notes, and cast of characters complete with the actors performing the role and brief bios for the actors. Also included is a profile of, and interview with, the movie's director, interviews with movie staff, and a glossary applicable both to the manwha and the movie. Perhaps the most interesting details to come out of this material are that Volcano High originated as a contest-entry screenplay and that this project was specifically made to allow Korean cinema to compete with high-end special effects-strewn martial arts movies like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and The Matrix.

If you like martial arts manga and don't mind quite a bit of silliness mixed in then Volcano High: Prelude may suit your tastes. It is also recommended for those who have seen (or intend to see) the movie since it provides additional background and story set-up. Unfortunately, though, its overuse of caricatures and superdeformed characters and generally nonsensical content will likely prevent it from holding much appeal to general audiences.
Story : C
Art : B+

+ Excellent artistic detail, movie-related extras included.
Overuse of certain stylistic elements.

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Volcano High Origin (Korean manga)

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