A few questions for the director of Occult Academy, Silver Spoon and of course, the smash hit series Sword Art Online.
RIGHT TURN ONLY!! Manwha Special
by Liann Cooper, Jul 12th 2004
While RTO normally deals with reviewing current manga titles, I felt the need to showcase the ever-growing collection of manwha titles that are appearing on bookstore shelves. Korean comics a.k.a. Manwha, are read like American books in the left-to-right format. They can usually be distinguished by their distinct and stylized artwork and three-part author names like Yeo Beop-Ryong or Lee Chi Hyong. There are far too many manwha titles out there to be able to review them all, and I had the hard task of choosing only ten titles. I decided that there was enough information to be found on the more popular manwha series such as Ragnarök or Chronicles of the Cursed Sword. By choosing newer, less prominent titles, I hope this week's column will be an informative look into the world of manwha!
Buy It Now!
Saint Marie Volume 1
Story & Art by Yang Yeo-Jin
Released by ADV Manga
I actually picked up Saint Marie by accident when I went on my weekly “bookstore manga hunt.” I was pleasantly surprised when I discovered that my “accident” was probably one of the best purchases I've made in a while. Saint Marie's story focuses around the students of Saint Marie – a private, co-educational Catholic school. Sounds boring enough, right? Well, these are not mere students and the school is not a normal Catholic school. It turns out that Saint Marie is actually the “chessboard of the Earth” and certain students are the “pieces.” A battle between good and evil, the “white pieces” and “black pieces” make strategic moves in order to give their side an advantage and ultimately gain possession of the powerful Philosopher's Stone. Given that chess contains16 pieces for each color, the cast of characters will undoubtedly be large – with just the first volume, we're already given quite a mouthful. While manga usually has easy to decipher, one-part names like “Tamahome” or “Vash,” manwha feels the need to use entire, multiple-part names which can make reading a bit of a chore. Trying to keep “Eun-Ji Sung” straight from “Jin-Suh Park” as well as inserting their “chess” names in the middle – “Eun-Ji ‘Monica’ Sung” and “Jin-Suh ‘Jude’ Park” – is more than a bit confusing. Yeo-Jin does a wonderful job of giving each character a distinct personality making the task of juggling faces and names much easier. There is also a detailed character guide at the back of the book for further assistance. Very rarely does manwha effectively combine artwork and story. A diamond in the rough; Saint Marie is as beautiful to look at as it is intriguing to read.
Sweet & Sensitive Volume 1
Story & Art by Park Eun-Ah
Released by ADV Manga
Love triangles are always the best and Ee-Ji is in the middle of a big one. Ee-Ji is a subservient girl, always putting herself before others no matter how much it may inconvenience her. However after a run-in with the resident (gorgeous) loudmouth Sae-Ryun Shin and the return of her childhood crush, Han-Kyul Kang, Ee-Ji finds herself the center of attention. Did I forget to mention Sae-Ryun and Han-Kyul are best friends? Sweet & Sensitive is your run-of-the-mill shoujo, and though not quite as plagued with the grotesque fluidity as other manwha, contains the typical style often associated with Korean comics. Making a love triangle can be tricky because they either seem too obvious or they try too hard to make drama that isn't there. This title not only made a successful love triangle, they made a love “rhombus.” Do-Kyung Moon, Ee-Ji's best friend, is an added element that makes the reader wonder if she's vying for Ei-Ji's affections or is just jealous that she's getting all of the male attention. Though a bit goofy at times, Sweet & Sensitive succeeds at balancing drama with just enough angst that will grab your attention and make you crave more.
Story & Art by Park Sung Woo
Released by ComicsOne
"Everybody was kung fu fighting... .those kids were fast as lighting... ”
Well, not everyone is kung fu fighting (some have swords), but they are fast as lightning. ComicsOne, notorious for their kung-fu comics, has released somewhat of a gem in their hit-or-miss collection. The legendary killing art of Sashinmu has been resurrected and the masses are doing their darndest to acquire its secrets. Thrown together by a weird twist of fate, a ditzy sword-wielding girl named RinYhun and protector of the Sashinmu, Bi-Ryu must journey to discover the true meaning of the Sashinmu and realize their destinies. Sounds exciting, doesn't it? It's a shame that NOW is such a low-flying title because the artwork, story, and characters are all solid; it contains the same flavor as favorites Samurai Deeper Kyo and fellow Korean title, Chronicles of the Cursed Sword. The humor is cute and not too over-the-top and really helps shape certain aspects of Rin's, Bi-Ryu's, and Cho Ryung's personalities. NOW is chock full of martial arts battles with mystical flair and with each volume I find myself inexplicably anticipating the next.
Story & Art by You Hyun
Released by Tokyopop
If someone were to take Ceres, mix in kooky humor, and turn it into a manwha, Faeries' Landing would be the end result. After a frenzied run-in with an odd, antlered creature named Goodfellow, Ryang Jegal soon finds himself living with a cute, yet spunky, Faerie named Fanta. But, misfortune is determined to get its hands on Ryang and before long he's cursed to encounter 108 evil affinities. Faeries' Landing has obvious appeal with very nice artwork, loveable characters, and lots of humor to boot. The only thing that could hinder its success would be the glaring “108 evil affinities” part. Four volumes are out and they're barely crawling through affinities; needless to say, things could begin to get a little redundant. Regardless, the character designs are nice and the chemistry is there... but, let's hope the overall premise picks up soon.
Story & Art by Choi Kyung-Ah
Released by Tokyopop
So-Na is a girl who finds solace by tending to the flowers in her greenhouse. Hae-Gi is a hot, rising star in the modeling world. When Hae-Gi discovers that So-Na's mother wrote the book “Snow Drop,” he's more determined than ever to get to know more about So-Na. Destiny works in mysterious ways, and when the two find that they attend the same high school, sparks fly. The back description describes Snow Drop as – “A Romeo and Juliet-style romance.” However, the only parallel between Snow Drop and Romeo and Juliet I've seen is that So-Na and Hae-Gi are from completely opposite ways of life. If this is the sole basis for comparison to the ill-fated lovers, than just about every shoujo manga would be a Romeo and Juliet romance. Artistically speaking, Choi Kyung-Ah's style could be most aptly classified as an acquired taste; limbs seems grossly disproportionate to the characters' bodies, hair seems to have a life of its own, and genders... well, boys and girls look the same. They look so much the same that even So-Na's best friend, Ha-Da just can't accept that the woman he's fallen in love with is actually a man. A mediocre read that's heavy on angst - this series is worth checking out, but I'd save my money for a less generic series.
Couple Volume 1
Story by Jae Sung Park & Art by Sung Jae Park
Released by CPM Manga
Young Ho is about to move into his new apartment and begin his junior year of college. Things immediately seem to take a downhill slide when he discovers the apartment building is a dump and a girl named Yu Mi has just made herself his new roommate. Yu Mi's history as to why she's homeless and is so adamant about living with Young Ho is something I hope future volumes include. Containing a style of sketchy artwork that I've never really seen in manwha, I found it refreshingly appealing. Young Ho and Yu Mi's relationship is not very creative, but their personalities are pleasant - even if a tad cookie cutter. Despite its nonexistant plot, Couple shows promise of being a charming story that I'll be keeping my eye on.
The Ruler of the Land Volume 1
Story by Jeon Keuk-Jin & Art by Yang Jae-Hyun
Released by ADV Manga
My first impression of Ruler of the Land was not a very good one. I found myself frustrated with the dimwitted main character, frustrated with the artwork, and frustrated with the overall story. But, upon reading it a second time, I warmed up to it a bit more and realized that if I were actually having emotion while reading the novel, then some aspect of it must be drawing me in. Ruler of the Land is a funny tale of an airhead hero named Bi-Kwan. Driven completely by his attraction to hot babes and luscious booty, he finds himself in the company of Hwa-Rin – a mysterious woman disguised as a man. Together they search for her grandfather, master of the Art of White Lightning. This series has a bottomless supply of humor, and combined with its “comic book” style of artwork it helps provide momentum to the storyline. Bi-Kwan's “blonde” moments are amusing, but you'll find yourself *twitching* with some of the conclusions he forms – he concludes Hwa-Rin is a hermaphrodite after treating her chest for injury and discovering she has breasts. ADV has done a good job of adding some unique titles to their collection and Ruler of the Land is no exception. If you're looking for humorous martial arts, Ruler of the Land is right up your alley.
Eternity Volume 1
Story by Park Jin-Ryong & Art by Shin Yong-Gwan
Released by Tokyopop
I'm always up for a good story dealing with reincarnated spirits and after seeing the pretty guys gracing the cover of Eternity, I was really looking forward to reading it. Unfortunately, I was disappointed with the lack of story, poor attempts at humor, and bland artwork it contained. Kwanoo, Jangbang (yup, that's really his name), and Yoobin posses the spirits of three war heros from 184 B.C. China. Aram Ko is a shaman priestess whose soul purpose in life is to find these three and reunite them. That's it. That's the story. It only takes until the middle of the book for the three to be reunited and the rest of the novel deals with them dealing with the fact they have these war heroes' spirits. Eternity tries very hard to create something that's not there; it tries to paint a dramatic supernatural story, gets to the pinnacle and then seems like it doesn't know where to go. Artwork is forgettable and humor is forced and haphazardly placed. In fact, it's unintentionally funny at times – the last page is a cliffhanger of circumstances when THE REINCARNATION OF JOJO surfaces. Definitely not one of the stronger Korean titles in Tokyopop's repertoire, Eternity is something to buy only if your money is burning a hole through your pocket. Even then I'd deal with second degree burns before plopping down the cash.
Fantasy Land Volume 1
Story & Art by Lee Si-Young
Released by ADV Manga
Fantasy Land is living in a fantasy land if it believes for one second that it's a title that can compete with the big boys of manwha. I really wish ADV Manga would include synopses on their titles so I could see what I was getting into before I threw away my money. Ji-Yoon is nineteen and has just been informed that she has an arranged marriage set to occur after she graduates. Thoroughly fed up with the idea, Ji-Yoon storms out of the house. While wandering the city streets her gaze lingers on a statue which she promptly buys. Well, this is a fantasy story after all, so the statue turns out to be magical and transports Ji-Yoon to a strange land where mankind's dreams and imaginings are born. In this land she's known as Princess Isdale, possessor of the Mirror of Moon, and she is the kingdom's last hope to defeat the evil Cardiff. Cue movie “The NeverEnding Story,” adapt it to manwha form – complete with very ugly artwork – and voila! - Fantasy Land. Sadly, no luck dragons or rock eaters will be found, but there is a guy named Chopi and a lady named Elvira. Surely, vast improvements await us in future volumes, because there's no way Fantasy Land could get more cliché in plot and artistically undesirable than it already is. I have hope for this title; though small in amount, at least it's there.
Recycle It... and Recycle It Some More
Evil's Return Volume 1
Story by Jong-Kyu Lee & Art by Hwan Shin
Released by Tokyopop
Being the inquisitive creature that I am, I often ponder things like, “Why is the sky blue? Why is grass green? How in the heck did something like Evil's Return even get published?!” Evil's Return had me crying out in shock because of how awful it was and just how funny that awfulness was. Let me try and convey just how bad Evil's Return is - it makes Battle Vixens look like a masterpiece. I mean, come on, read the back, “When the floodgates of Yumi's womanhood burst open, demons rush in...to make the senior the mother of evil itself.” Yes, that's right folks! Yumi gets her period in a glorious, gushing display which alert demons that she's ripe for demon impregnation. Upon her sexual maturation, it seems Yumi's clothing has also become highly susceptible to ripping off of her body; nice eye candy for the guys. Fellow classmates, Tae-Chail and Hyun, soon come to Yumi's aid and in manly supernatural displays of spiritual strength rescue her. Or do they? Because according to the synopsis of volume two, “Lurking in the halls is a lecherous teacher who seeks to plant the seed of Satan inside Yumi's womanhood.” I'm desperately trying to find something... ANYTHING good to say about Evil's Return, but I can't. It's like a bad attempt at a hentai put into manwha form. A busty girl, two guy bodyguards, possibility of sexual tension, and demons; where are the tentacles? I lost brain cells reading this, lost more brain cells writing this, and with my remaining brain cells all I can muster out is, “Save yourselves and don't get within ten feet of Evil's Return.” Get too close and the demons will try and PLANT THE SEED OF SATAN WITHIN YOUR WOMB! Ugh, Evil's Return should've been titled “Evil Waste of Paper.”