Time and Again 6 by JiUn Yun

From the back cover:
As war rips through the Tang Dynasty, leaving chaos and destruction in its wake, Baek-On and Ho-Yeon continue to eke out a living as traveling exorcists. While confronting vengeful grudges and putting to rest the lingering spirits of those long dead, Baek-On reflects on the tragic curse that led him to turn his back on the company of the living and follow in his father’s footsteps. While the world seems to crumble around him, Baek-On strives to keep moving forward, even if he must do so alone.

Follow Ho-Yeon and Baek-On as they journey on in the final volume of Time and Again.

I’m always a little wary of the final volume of a series I have really enjoyed. Will it disappoint? Or will it be exactly what I had hoped? Happily, volume six of Time and Again caps the series in a perfect way, which is to say “in a way that is simultaneously melancholy and hopeful.”

Baek-On has yet to recover from his crisis of self-doubt in the previous volume, in which his decision to force a man to see the truth about his inhuman wife had tragic consequences. He’s been holed up in his mother’s house for months, refusing all customers, but when a young woman arrives with a case that seems both simple and desperate, Ho-Yeon ushers her into Baek-On’s presence. Baek-On is rude at first, and it takes a threat of eviction before he actually begins to listen attentively to the girl, but he eventually goes to her home and deals compassionately with the ghost of a jilted girl who has been appearing there.

It’s clear that the words he uses when appeasing the spirit are what he would say himself to the girl in his own past—“I didn’t leave you. I’ve never left you.”—which leads to a gloriously long chapter that reveals the whole story of what happened with the girl (Wan) and why, and how it led to Baek-On being the person he is today. JiUn Yun handles this in a lovely way, because she doesn’t dwell on the pain of it all. Oh, it’s exceedingly painful for Baek-On, and awful and sad and all of those things that make for a great backstory, but it isn’t milked for melodrama. I shan’t spoil the details, but it’s this experience that motivates Baek-On to become an exorcist and to live and die alone.

The final chapter takes place after further time has elapsed. Baek-On and Ho-Yeon continue to travel together after a war has ravaged the country. Big things have happened, and yet they must continue on as usual, driving evil spirits out of children and chickens (really) and confronting the truth that animal spirits don’t seem to be all that innocent of the ways of humans. Baek-On realizes that his famous father was likely as uncertain as he is, which brings some peace, though he still intends to live his life alone and leave no descendants upon whom a spirit might inflict a grude. Ho-Yeon is also alone, having lost the last person he loved to the war, and the series ends with them pledging to carry on as they have been. Alone. And together.

Okay, yes, I totally spoiled that part, but it’s so absolutely perfect a conclusion for the series that I just had to wax rhapsodic about it. Time and Again has become one of my favorite manhwa series and, now that I know for what Baek-On has been seeking atonement all this time, I look forward to rereading it someday with the benefit of new insight.

Review copy provided by the publisher.

13th Boy 3-6 by SangEun Lee

After I read the first two volumes of SangEun Lee’s 13th Boy, in which a pertinacious girl named Hee-So Eun does everything in her power to win the love of the handsome Won-Jun Kang, I had high hopes for the quirky series but apparently not high enough because, starting with volume three, the story veers into unexpectedly (and awesomely) dark territory. That’s not to say that the sense of whimsy—best represented by Beatrice, a talking cactus—has disappeared. Indeed, volume six has several silly moments. But both the reader and Hee-So discover that things are more serious than expected, with the result being that she reveals some admirable qualities that she had not previously displayed.

The bulk of the drama revolves around three childhood friends: Won-Jun, Whie-Young, and Sae-Bom. The three of them have been stuck in a love triangle for years, with Won-Jun pining away for Sae-Bom, and Sae-Bom pining for Whie-Young. But so much time has passed, they begin to question what it is they actually feel for each other. Won-Jun, for example, is staying near Sae-Bom partly out of guilt born of an awful secret that in turn led to a serious accident. Sae-Bom is stunted because of these incidents, behaving like her seven-year-old self (though she is now fifteen) in an attempt to return things to how they used to be. And Whie-Young doesn’t want much to do with either of them.

Into their group comes Hee-So, and though she first appears obnoxious (I didn’t like her much in the first two volumes) her bright outlook and unfiltered expression of what she’s feeling make a big difference in their lives. At first, she merely turns the triangle into a square, with Whie-Young drawn to her while she chases after Won-Jun, but soon begins to make an impact on the others as well. Although Hee-So initially befriends Sae-Bom because it hurts to see Won-Jun caring for his damaged friend so solicitously and she figures he’ll have to do less of that if she helps out, she throws herself into the friendship with true commitment and eventually helps Sae-Bom relinquish her tight hold (literal and mental) on Toe-Toe, a stuffed rabbit who at one point had been given life by Whie-Young, who has magical powers.

You might not think that convincing a teenage girl to give up her stuffed animal would be riveting drama, but it really is. There’s a lot of emotional baggage concerning Toe-Toe, like who was responsible for his death and what that has subsequently meant for Sae-Bom’s emotional state. Simultaneously, Hee-So’s ability to rebound after being snubbed by Won-Jun makes him relax, because even if he should hurt her accidentally, it doesn’t affect how she feels about him. In time, he grows to feel a profound peace in her company and once Sae-Bom actually starts to look at him instead of Whie-Young, it may already be too late for her, because Hee-So has gotten her wish at last.

Starting in volume three, each volume is full of major progress in the story, to the point where I began to think “And there are twelve volumes of this series?! We’re not supposed to find this stuff out until the very end!” But SangEun Lee continues to come up with unforeseen avenues for the story to travel, with the most recent development being that Beatrice, the talking cactus, has realized that he is in love with Hee-So. Although this results in some amusingly absurd dialogue, like “Please don’t say that. It’s an unworthy thought. I am a cactus. I don’t have the right to love her…” it’s still treated fairly seriously, and Beatrice’s wish to become human (something he already manages each month on the full moon) has the potential to complicate the story still further.

And yet, while the romantic feelings of each character are definitely important and inform their motivations, this is not a story that can simply be settled by Hee-So and Won-Jun getting together and living happily ever after. There are too many secrets and too many deep bonds for matters to wrap up so neatly. Will Sae-Bom succeed in redirecting Won-Jun’s attention onto herself? Will Won-Jun, now that he has conquered the symbolic hurdle of “crossing the bridge” into Hee-So’s neighborhood, regress back into childhood obligations or continue on his own path, which ultimately might not include Hee-So? Will Whie-Young, who purports to be tough but yet frequently grants magical favors at the cost of his own health, really fail to live to the age of twenty? In many series, I would doubt that the death of a major character would be allowed to occur, but not 13th Boy.

If you read only the beginning of the series and dismissed it as a romantic comedy, I urge you to reconsider, because 13th Boy is surprising, complex, and well worth reading.

Review copies for volumes three, five, and six provided by the publisher.

Full House 1-4 by Sooyeon Won

There’s certainly plenty of precedent for romantic comedies in which a feisty, average girl exchanges snarky banter with a rich and handsome fellow (to whom she is often secretly attracted even while deeming him odious). It may just be a licensing fluke, but it seems that a large portion of the sunjeong manhwa that I’ve read (Very! Very! Sweet, Sugarholic, Goong: The Royal Palace, There’s Something About Sunyool) also follows this formula. Now, I can add Sooyeon Won’s Full House to that list.

Ellie Ji is a Korean living alone in the UK after the deaths of her parents. Although her family relocated while Ellie was in primary school, she still doesn’t feel quite at home in England, so the lovely house her architect father built and left to her is an important refuge. One morning, she is unceremoniously ousted by emissaries of Ryder Baye, a famous actor, who claim that he is now the owner of the home, known as Full House. Hot-tempered Ellie vows to get the house back, no matter what it takes, and when Ryder hits her with his car, the perfect opportunity arises.

Ellie demands Ryder hand over Full House as compensation for her injuries, but he’s not having that, and thus they embark upon the first of what will be many, many, many arguments. Finally, Ellie declares, “I’ll even marry you, if that’ll do the trick!!” Ryder is far from enthused (“How could you say such a thing, when the very idea of wedding you is so horrific?! It’s beyond absurd, and even more disgusting than vomit and foot odor!”) but his manager, Miranda, likes the idea because it’ll help quash some nasty rumors that Ryder is gay. Eventually, everyone ends up agreeing to the arrangement.

So, once Ellie is discharged from the hospital, she and Ryder officially announce their engagement and move into Full House, with Ryder occupying the first floor and Ellie the second. Whereupon they proceed to have the rest of those many, many, many arguments I mentioned earlier. Ellie can be hyper-defensive and obnoxious, while Ryder is somewhat more sympathetic but yet unable to say what needs to be said to defuse a hostile situation. Sometimes they almost seem to get along, then something happens to derail that. Seriously, I can’t even list all the things they find to get up in arms about, because it’s kind of ridiculous and, more importantly, absolutely wearing upon the reader. Probably the worst moment is when Ryder offers to introduce Ellie, an aspiring screenwriter, to a director and she scathingly retorts, “I’m so grateful I’m about to break into tears! Should I bow down and kiss your feet to show my appreciation?”

The characters do and say things that make one want to shake them, like Ellie’s reluctance to just tell Ryder that her dad built that house and that she’d been living in it. They’d also rather let misunderstandings and misconceptions of their motives persist than deign to provide an exonerating explanation for their behavior. Sometimes this kind of dynamic can work for me in a couple—I actually like all those series I mentioned above—but here, I just really found it maddening. They’re bound and determined to be nasty to each other, even though they both surely realize there’s something good about their influence on each other. For Ryder, Ellie serves as a “stimulant,” when compared with all the other docile fangirls who throw themselves upon him. For Ellie, Ryder’s insistence upon public appearances awakens her potential as a stunning beauty and helps the once uncouth girl develop genuine poise.

Beyond its aggravating central relationship, Full House has some other odd quirks. As demonstrated by the quotes above, the dialogue is often over-the-top and laughable. (Felix, Ellie’s former beau, on learning of her engagement: “I couldn’t fall asleep from being so overwhelmed and busy sobbing.”) There are some grammatical errors, as well. On the plus side, some effort is made to make the speech sound British, with a scattering of “bloke”s and “bloody wanker”s peppering the script. Plotting is also similarly melodramatic. For example, volume four concludes with the sudden revelation that Ryder has a brain tumor and only three to five months to live. Dun dun dun!

Despite my gripes, I actually don’t hate Full House at all. I do marvel, though, that there are sixteen volumes in this series, plus a five-volume sequel. Are they all like this? I positively long for these two to have a civil conversation, and perhaps they will do, if the events of the first chapter of volume five (the only portion of that volume currently available on the NETCOMICS website) are any indication.

And now I’ve just realized that my opinion toward this series—it drives me crazy, but I can’t seem to leave it alone—is exactly what’s going on between its two leads. So, perhaps what I really ought to be saying is “Well done, Miss Won?”

Full House was originally published in English by the now-defunct CPM, but only the first four volumes—out of a total of sixteen—were released. The series is being released on the NETCOMICS website with a new translation, though the last update (the first chapter of volume five) was just over three months ago. No print editions have yet been produced.

Review copies provided by the publisher.

Tidbits: Four from Yen Press

It’s time again for Tidbits, and the focus this time is on some recent and/or upcoming releases from Yen Press! First up is the second volume of Higurashi When They Cry: Beyond Midnight Arc, followed by the ninth and final volume of Moon Boy, the fourth installment of Time and Again, and the ninth volume of Yotsuba&!. Enjoy!

Higurashi When They Cry: Beyond Midnight Arc 2 by Ryukishi07 and Mimori: B-
I was so impressed by the spooky atmosphere in the first volume of the Beyond Midnight Arc that I went back and purchased the first two volumes of the Higurashi series, thinking that perhaps I had initially judged it unfairly. Unfortunately, while the second and concluding volume of the arc (volume ten in series numbering) doesn’t leave me questioning that decision, it is still not as good as the first.

The premise is that a group of five people has gathered in a “ghost village” called Hinamizawa. At the end of the first volume, someone’s cell phone mysteriously ends up broken, one of the five is found dead, and the name of another appears on a list of victims of the disaster that left Hinamizawa deserted in the first place. The first two mysteries are solved very early in the second volume, which seems rather abrupt, and then a bunch of yakuza arrive and completely derail the story for several chapters.

There’s also much unburdening of secrets, and character backstories full of debt, dissipation, and domestic violence monopolize a lot of pages. Perhaps I’m hard-hearted, but I found these tales—and the subsequent decisions to live life to the fullest and always try one’s hardest—pretty far from compelling. I’m here for the creepy, not the weepy!

In the end, the final mystery is resolved in a fairly satisfying manner and the survivors note that the pelting rain has finally ceased. While I nitpick the structure of this second volume, on the whole I did enjoy the arc—especially how the revelations sent me back to reread portions of the first volume in a new light—and still plan to go back to the beginning one of these days.

Moon Boy 9 by Lee YoungYou: C
It’s over!

As with all volumes of Moon Boy prior to this final one, it’s practically impossible to describe exactly what happens. Various people are after Yu-Da, the “Black Rabbit,” whose liver has the powers to free the fox queen, Hang-Ah, from thousands of years of torment. Various other people are determined not to let Yu-Da be sacrificed, and many battles ensue.

It had never really occurred to me before how much of the confusion I experience when reading this series is due to the art. LeeYoungYou’s work is fine for facial closeups, and many such panels—particularly when characters are emotionally distraught—are worthy of praise. Action scenes, though, prove an insurmountable challenge. At one point we get a two-page spread of a bunch of characters standing around when suddenly something goes “Kapow!” What was it? I have absolutely no idea. Then a fight breaks out, accompanied by innumerable speed lines and still more sound effects, but for the life of me I could not tell you what weapon (if any) anybody is wielding.

There are some good emotional moments sprinkled throughout. I am especially fond of an encounter between Jin-Soo, one of the foxes formerly assigned to guard Yu-Da, and the villain who now inhabits the body of the boy she loves. When told that said boy’s soul is long gone, she replies, “Then I will take back his body if his body is all I can have.” It’s too bad none of these characters was really developed over the course of the series, but it’s still a cool scene anyway.

It’s moments like those that kept me reading Moon Boy, despite its many problems, and while I am honestly relieved that it’s over I still think there’s a good story in there somewhere.

Time and Again 4 by JiUn Yun: A
The most compelling aspect of Time and Again is the bond between its main characters. Part of what connects Baek-On and Ho-Yeon—an exorcist and his bodyguard, respectively—is that each is attempting to atone for something in his past. After several volumes of hints, volume four is almost wholly devoted to revealing the tragic details of Ho-Yeon’s background. Rather than present the story in a linear fashion, however, manhwa-ga JiUn Yun introduces a client, a reputedly kind and honest man who is nonetheless capable of being motivated by greed, and uses his case to segue into Ho-Yeon’s flashback.

Before his execution for false charges, Ho-Yeon’s father tasked him with looking out for his mother and sister. Because of his father’s disgrace, however, Ho-Yeon is unable to get a government post and can only bring in a meager living through transcription work. Eventually, he rides out with a military unit, discovers a “cruel talent” for killing, and is offered a promotion. “I am not doing this because I want to make a fortune and have authority over other people,” he thinks. “I just want enough money to provide for my mother and little sister. Who could ever say that’s too much to ask?”

Alas, while his return home is delayed, his mother and sister are killed and Ho-Yeon feels that he, through his greed, was responsible. It’s a classic case of our tortured hero being too hard on himself—he had to find a way to support them somehow, but he knew it was wrong to use his ability to kill as a means to obtain wealth, and did it anyway. While he’s at his lowest point, he meets Baek-On, and so we finally see exactly how they meet.

It’s a sad, affecting tale and one that offers a lot of insight as to why Ho-Yeon is willing to fight to protect Baek-On, who has saved him in more ways than one. I must admit, though, that I’m even more interested in Baek-On’s backstory, and hope for evidence that Ho-Yeon has saved him, too.

Yotsuba&! 9 by Kiyohiko Azuma: A
A new volume of Yotsuba&! can always be counted on to provide a smile, and the ninth installment offers plenty as Yotsuba gets her first teddy bear, proves unable to successfully carry a cup of coffee next door, enjoys some yakiniku, and joins in on a group trip to see some hot air balloons. As usual, Yotsuba greets everything with enthusiasm and even weathers tumbles with a laugh.

One of the things I enjoy most about this series is catching a glimpse of the unique and creative way Yotsuba thinks. Here, she cleverly invents jobs for a bunch of scattered acorns and evaluates teddy bears for their “ease of hugging.” At the same time, Azuma is careful not to idealize her too much. She can be selfish, like any child her age, and has to be reminded to say “thank you” when given a gift as well as scolded for fibbing to her dad. She hasn’t yet realized that the world doesn’t revolve around her, as demonstrated by a particularly awesome moment during the trip to see the hot air balloons. A section of the field is roped off with “keep out” tape and Yotsuba, fully prepared to go right on in, is stunned to learn, “Even I can’t go in there?”

I also continue to absolutely, positively love Azuma’s skill in nonverbal storytelling. There are many panels in which Yotsuba’s thoughts or state of mind is completely clear from just the art. Additionally, backgrounds are wonderfully detailed and I especially liked the beautiful depiction of the expanding vista as the balloon in which Yotsuba and her companions are riding gradually ascends above the field.

In both craft and subject matter, Yotsuba&! simply excels.

Review copies provided by the publisher.

Sugarholic 1-5 by Gong GooGoo: B

Jae-Gyu Sin is a lazy and listless twenty-year-old living with her mother and grandmother. When a mudslide destroys their house, her grandmother ships Jae-Gyu off to Seoul with very little money and instructions to stay with her brother, a university student, for a while. On her way there, she manages to tear the shirt being worn by a random hottie then spots her childhood bullying victim Hee-Do on TV, where he is performing as part of a popular boy band. (Incidentally, I wonder just how many manhwa feature a spunky girl who gets into a relationship with an impossibly beautiful boy due to the accidental destruction of his property. It happens in There’s Something About Sunyool, it happens (sort of) in the K-drama Coffee Prince…)

After some setup, in which Jae-Gyu reconnects with her former classmate Hyun-Ah, accidentally pantses the hottie (Whie-Hwan), runs into Hee-Do, and ends up accompanying some of Hyun-Ah’s coworkers to a sort of prostitution gig, Whie-Hwan makes a proposition. His grandfather, head of a crime family, keeps hassling him about his ex-girlfriend, so he wants Jae-Gyu to live with him and pose as his new love interest for a month. When she sees the amount of money he’s offering, Jae-Gyu agrees.

Whie-Hwan, not surprisingly, has the angst. He was weak as a kid growing up in Thailand, so his grandfather had him study Muay Thai, not realizing that Whie-Hwan would grow incredibly attached to his teacher, Athit. Grandpa eventually forced Whie-Hwan to quit, under threat of physical injury to Athit, and Whie-Hwan has been miserable ever since. This begins to change as he spends more time around Jae-Gyu. Though she’s kind of obnoxious and aggressively immature, she is quite lively, and her presence helps Whie-Hwan wake up to the world around him.

In time, and after a few timely rescues of Jae-Gyu from a sleazy rich guy who’s taken a liking to her, Whie-Hwan realizes that he’s begun to have genuine feelings for her. Jae-Gyu, too, is experiencing the same thing, and it’s here where we begin to understand that her off-putting behavior is really just a defense mechanism. When she was a child, her father abandoned his wife and children, and in order to avoid attracting anyone’s pity or sympathy, young Jae-Gyu acted as bratty and rambunctious as possible. This attitude persists even now, with Jae-Gyu denying her feelings expression because “I know well enough that if I show any weakness, I lose.” I found Jae-Gyu grating in the first two volumes, but after this insight in volume three, I began to like her (and the series as a whole) much more.

Here begins the truly charming phase of the series, in which Whie-Hwan and Jae-Gyu decide to become a real couple and attempt to do couple-ish things, although neither has been in a real relationship before. Whie-Hwan’s idea of an ideal first date is to whisk Jae-Gyu off to Thailand so that she can get to know him better by experiencing the Muay Thai he loves and so he can also show her off to Athit. Over-the-top Evil Grandpa doesn’t take well to this, however, preventing the long-awaited reunion with Athit and and shipping Whie-Hwan off to the US for a few months.

When he returns, free of his grandfather at last, Whie-Hwan is much more clear-eyed and open about what he wants: a future in which both Muay Thai and Jae-Gyu figure prominently. I really enjoyed seeing the two of them finally begin to lower some of their barriers and communicate in earnest, though it will take until near the end of volume five for Jae-Gyu to be able to plainly say, “I like you” without expecting Whie-Hwan to read her mind and discover what she really means versus what she’s actually saying. I also liked that Jae-Gyu has to deal with some jealous pangs arising from the knowledge that no matter how much Whie-Hwan cares about her, Muay Thai and Athit will be as important to him, if not more so. She eventually realizes that, if she really loves him, she will encourage him to pursue what makes him happy while seeking to find something similar for herself. In a way, this outcome reminds me of Paradise Kiss, though the ultimate conclusion is much more happy and conventional here.

I’ve been able to write this entire review so far without making more than passing references to Hee-Do, which is a good indication of how entirely unnecessary I found him to be. Petulant and self-pitying, the smitten Hee-Do continually attempts to get through to Jae-Gyu how he feels about her. He thinks it’s a failure to understand on her part, but in reality, she’s aware of his feelings but doesn’t know how to deal with them. Rather than hurt him, since she eventually comes to value his friendship, she feigns obliviousness. Hee-Do is really the clueless one here, unable to see that his advances are making Jae-Gyu uncomfortable. I found his vacillation between glomping and moping annoying.

The art in Sugarholic also has its problems. It’s appropriate for Jae-Gyu to look plain and coltish, and I’m used to the pouty male leads in manhwa looking like they’re wearing mascara, but practically everyone has this random little scribble on their lower lip that makes them look like they either got punched or are in desperate need of some healing lip balm action. It’s very distracting. Some of the dark-haired female characters look similar, too. I did like that the panels are large and not laden with dialogue, though; I’m sometimes a slow reader, but devouring this series was a breeze.

If you’re considering picking up Sugarholic, be prepared to endure two volumes that aren’t so great before things pick up in volume three. I liked it a good bit in the end, so I’m glad I continued with it, but I might not have done so if I hadn’t had all five volumes at hand already.

Sugarholic is published in English by Yen Press. All five volumes have now been released.

Review copies provided by the publisher.

There’s Something About Sunyool 2-3 by Youngran Lee: B+

Sunyool Lee’s life is full of disreputable accomplishments. If only she had something to show for them!

Volume two picks up four years after the dissolution of Sunyool’s six-month marriage to Sihyun Park, a wonderful guy with whom she was perfectly compatible. After a two-year stay in Paris, where she attempted to forget her pain and honed her pastry chef skills, she returned to Korea. A one-year stint running her own bakery ended in failure and now she works as an assistant at a bakery owned by a foul-tempered but gorgeous (aren’t they all?) novelist named Kangjae Lee.

When Kangjae first meets Sunyool, he’s willing to overlook the fact that she has just destroyed his laptop because she’s totally his type. Once he puts his contacts in, however, his illusions are shattered and they begin an adversarial relationship. Kangjae has the dubious talent of being able to enrage anyone within five seconds of meeting them, but Sunyool is able to hold her own against him, even while she’s working off her debt by working as his housekeeper. Most of the second volume consists of Kangjae acting like a spoiled child—“He’s a toddler who has no regard for anyone else’s feelings,” Sunyool decrees at one point—and Sunyool learning about his crappy childhood from his assistant/cousin, Byungman.

Things pick up a great deal in volume three with the return of Sihyun. In a nutshell: he still loves Sunyool and wants to be with her. Sunyool’s pride is stung because he didn’t stand up for their marriage four years ago and she knows that nothing has changed as far as his disapproving family is concerned. Various family members/wannabe fiancées show up to accuse Sunyool of ruining Sihyun’s life, and this is where she really shines as a character.

Although she, and members of the supporting cast, comment often on the storyline’s resemblance to a violent soap opera, Sunyool counters the over-the-top bitchiness of her accusers with a profound level-headedness that’s extremely satisfying. She has no expectations of a happy reunion with Sihyun, and makes that clear time and time again. Seeing a woman depicted as both in love and sensible is truly a lovely thing to behold, and though some of these twists are silly (though I did love the scene where she snaps and assaults someone) they also serve to show what makes her such a unique and interesting character.

Complicating matters is Kangjae. He begins hanging around the bakery more and more, getting antsy when Sunyool is not there and feeling jealous of Sihyun when he shows up. According to his cousin, Kangjae (whose real name also happens to be Sunyool Lee) was neglected by his parents in favor of his talented brother, so to see Sunyool all hung up on Sihyun when she could be basking in his hotness instead really bothers him. Initially, I was sort of annoyed that I was supposed to take the horrible Kangjae seriously as a love interest, but maybe this will shape up to be a Boys Over Flowers kind of scenario where the tough-as-nails commoner girl is able to help the immature rich guy become a better person.

In the end, There’s Something About Sunyool offers a lot of crackalicious drama that is extremely fun to read. Volume two is a bit slow, as all of the bickering grows tiresome, but don’t let that dissuade you from continuing on to volume three, which is much better and ends on quite a cliffhanger. That’s a little worrisome, since there haven’t been any new updates on the NETCOMICS site lately, but I choose to believe we’ll get more of this story in the future.

Volumes two and three of There’s Something About Sunyool are currently available only at NETCOMICS.com, though a print version for volume two is scheduled for a September release. No cover image is currently available.

Review copies provided by the publisher.

Time and Again 1-3 by JiUn Yun: A-

It’s China during the Tang Dynasty. Exorcist Baek-On Ju travels with his bodyguard, Ho-Yeon Won, dealing with ghosts, crafting talismans for his customers, and advising on various mysterious phenomena. The series is primarily episodic but is nonetheless affecting, owing to the quality of the stories and the painful memories that unite Baek-On and Ho-Yeon in self-incriminating suffering.

Many of the stories are based on folk tales, and Yun’s useful end notes are careful to note their origins, if applicable. Most are dark and full of surprising, sinister twists that make them exciting to read, even if the protagonists of the series are largely absent. Sometimes, too, we are able to care about these guest characters a great deal in even a short amount of time—the best example is the final chapter in volume one, in which a guard valiantly defends the concubine he has come to love, sight unseen, against an invading horde.

I initially wondered whether Baek-On, who is seen consulting with a governor’s minion on ways to “get rid” of concubines, was somehow responsible for the outcome of that story, but in later volumes, his obsession with karma and his conviction that he will have to pay for certain of his actions in his next life leads me to believe that he would never want to add to his karmic burden in this way. Karma plays a large role in this series, not just for Baek-On, but for his customers, who are urged to consider how their present actions will affect them in their next life or who are doomed to repeat a tragic cycle of events because they are not willing to listen to his advice.

Baek-On’s refusal to forget tragic events for which he feels responsible is the reason Ho-Yeon, a skilled warrior weary of killing people, feels comfortable with him. At this point, it’s unclear exactly what happened, but it appears that Ho-Yeon left his younger sister unprotected and that, while he was away, she was killed. He wanted to die too, that day, but forces himself to keep living, never forgiving himself for what happened. No longer willing to fight the living, he instead fights spiritual foes at Baek-On’s side.

Both characters are complex—Baek-On enjoys playing the lighthearted fool, though his moments of desperate emotion expose the lie, and Ho-Yeon seems to be the quiet, thoughtful one but has endured more dark times than one would suppose—and their relationship is quite fascinating. Even though Ho-Yeon would seem to be in an employee’s role, it’s clear that Baek-On likes and needs him a great deal. The real depth of their friendship is not apparent in volume one, but by the third volume it’s been fleshed out quite nicely.

There are a few things that bug me about the series. It seems that Yun was still fine-tuning some ideas after the first few chapters were written, which causes some inconsistencies down the line. In volume three, for example, Baek-On will not allow a ghost to have her revenge. This is a little odd because, in the very first chapter, that’s exactly what he does, and takes his client’s money for arranging the situation, to boot. Does abetting a ghostly murder not damage one’s karma? Too, many of the female characters in the book look incredibly similar, and the position of Ho-Yeon’s neck and face in a color illustration in volume two seems anatomically impossible.

Sometimes with an episodic series, I continue to read it because I like the characters. I certainly do like these characters and want to read more about them, but Time and Again is a welcome rarity in which the stories themselves are also a major draw. I’m sad that I have to wait until November for volume four!

Time and Again is published in English by Yen Press; three volumes have been released so far. The series is complete in Korea with a total of six volumes.

Review copies for volumes one and three provided by the publisher.

The Color of Heaven by Kim Dong Hwa: C+

From the front flap:
Ehwa, now a confident young woman, finds herself in the same maddening situation as her mother: waiting for a man. Her mother hopes for the return of her roaming lover, and Ehwa, in turn, gazes up at the same moon as her fiancé Duksam, a farmer who has gone to sea to seek his fortune so that he can marry her.

I do honestly want to like The Color Trilogy. I like the idea of a mother and her daughter living together in a rural village in turn-of-the-century Korea. I like learning about food and traditions that are new to me. I like the detailed drawings of the landscape and, especially, the family kitchen. The problem is there’s just so much about the series that annoys me that I simply can’t like it.

The central plot of this volume is that Ehwa’s love, Duksam, has left town to attempt to make a living as a fisherman, and so she is left to wait around until he returns to marry her. Her mother is also waiting for her traveling salesman lover to stop by, so they proceed to have many, many conversations about men and how it’s the lot of women to wait for them. I’m not sure they ever talk about anything but men, actually.

I know that the limited scope of life for a woman in this time and place is historically accurate, and that for a mother to say, “There is nothing better in life than getting married” reflects a period where marriage provided the ultimate in protection for a woman. But still, I can’t help but get fired up by speeches like this:

After waiting and waiting, you begin to lose track of whether it’s the moon or the sun in the sky, and that’s when he comes in with a smile on his face. As soon as you see that face, all is forgotten and you begin chasing after his footsteps once again. That is the heart of a woman.

To be honest, I think a large part of my ire is due to the fact that The Color Trilogy is written by a man. If a woman wrote these things, I’d still be annoyed, but coming from a male author I can’t help but read such statements as downright condescending. Try as I might to view these attitudes through a historical lens, I’m simply unable to get over my knee-jerk reaction.

It isn’t only Ehwa and her mother who are obsessed with discussing men and women. Everyone in town gets into the metaphor that women are flowers waiting for butterflies (men) to alight upon them, and almost all of them talk in language that’s incredibly, ridiculously poetic. In an early example, Duksam says, “I’m going to head for the sea. The sea that’s as wet and salty as your tears, and as bold and clear as your eyes.” Now, I admit that I have little appreciation for poetry, but this sounds to me like something one would come up with as a parody of purple prose.

Every now and then someone speaks plainly, like when Duksam frankly discusses his fear of leaving Ehwa behind, which had me wishing for more of the same. All of the imagery and metaphor might appeal to some readers, but to me, I would’ve enjoyed The Color Trilogy a lot more had it been more straightforward.

I reviewed The Color of Heaven for this month’s Manga Manhwa Moveable Feast. More reviews and discussion of this trilogy can be found here.

Raiders 2 by JinJun Park: C+

From the back cover:
Now that the terror of their first meeting has subsided, Irel begins to wonder if his fear of Lamia is unfounded. Despite her troubling diet, she doesn’t seem to relish the experience of gnawing Irel’s flesh any more than he does. Both share a common goal: to uncover the mysteries surrounding the blood of Christ. If they work together, they might be able to find the answers they seek. But traveling as a pair might only serve to make them a bigger target for even greater terrors…

Oh, Raiders. What am I going to do with you?

Volume two picks up where volume one left off, namely with the gathering of a bunch of people whose names, thanks to the regrettable lack of a Story So Far, I had completely forgotten. Part of what follows is cool, since it takes place on London streets and involves a double decker bus chase, but part is extremely confusing, since Park’s action scenes border on the incomprehensible. I had to stare at one particular two-page spread for several minutes before I could even hazard a guess as to what was taking place.

The end result of all this action is that Irel, our hero, decides to stay with Lamia, a zombie who’s looking for a cure (Christ’s blood is the prevailing theory). They’re joined by Clarion, a young zombie girl and former enemy, whose master doesn’t take kindly to this betrayal. A new direction for the story seems to be shaping up here, as the trio sets off together in search of more of the precious blood; meanwhile, a couple of other characters seem to be teaming up, too, as British security agents begin nosing around.

What’s frustrating about Raiders is its execution. Glimpses of a fun action story are definitely there to be discovered, but the artwork and occasionally slapdash narrative reduce the amount of enjoyment one should be able to experience. It’s intriguing enough that I’ll continue reading, but probably never without the sense that it could’ve been so much better.

Lastly, I leave you with this quote from Irel, citing his reasons for joining up with Lamia:

I want to understand what is truly inside a cannibal demon.

Other demons, one presumes.

Review copy provided by the publisher.

There’s Something About Sunyool 1 by Youngran Lee: B

Sunyool Lee first met her father, a powerful politician, six months after her mother’s death. He’d been unable to have children with his wife, and so acknowledged Sunyool as his daughter. The arrangement gave Sunyool access to the finer things in life, but also required a number of sacrifices, including giving up the freedom to choose her own spouse. For her part, though, Sunyool is practical about the necessities of an arranged marriage, and is more than willing to check out the candidates her father has chosen. In the end, she chooses a gentlemanly young man named Sihyun Park and the two are married.

At first, one is led to believe that There’s Something About Sunyool will be a romantic comedy in which the two leads marry as strangers but learn to love each other—akin to something like Goong: The Royal Palace—but in actuality, they quickly discover that they are highly compatible, and that a happy future is not only possible but likely. Of course, such perfect bliss cannot last for long and—through no fault or desire of the newlyweds—the marriage is ultimately short-lived. The story picks up four years later with Sunyool living in another town and poised to embark on entirely new adventures.

It’s not until one reaches the final chapter that one realizes that this change of direction is coming and that the first volume is really serving as a prologue to a story that has hardly begun. These events establish Sunyool’s character and will presumably set up an overarching plot for the series, but the story cuts off at such a random point in her new life that it’s difficult to see how the events have changed her, if at all, and without any substantive hints about the story’s direction from here, it’s a pretty abrupt and lackluster conclusion.

Gripes about plot structure aside, though, this is still an engaging read, largely because of the strong and quirky protagonist. Sunyool faces life honestly and without pretension, which enables her to accept the idea of an arranged marriage without difficulty, saying, “Well, it’s not like I have some lofty dreams for the future… It might be nice to marry whoever (sic) Assemblyman Lee says to and live a life of comfort. I’ve been at the bottom and it was not pretty.” Too, her father gives her some advice—“Be brave and confident in any circumstance”—that she takes to heart and uses to get her through the tough times resulting in the dissolution of her marriage. While some guys are intimidated (or simply turned off) by her lack of feminine mystique, her fearlessness is largely responsible for Sihyun growing to love her so swiftly, and suggests she’ll land on her feet no matter what happens.

Lee’s art is attractive, featuring the pointed chins and pouty lips that would enable those familiar with manhwa to recognize its origins pretty immediately. Her style here is a little more cute than in Click, an earlier series from this creator also published by NETCOMICS, but not as frantically sparkly as it could’ve been. Unfortunately, there are a couple of errors in the script—mostly in the form of the wrong word being chosen rather than typos or general awkwardness—that I hope will be corrected for the print edition. There aren’t so many as to ruin the reading experience, but they’re distracting nonetheless.

Ultimately, I am very intrigued by There’s Something About Sunyool and eager to see where the story goes from this point. Happily, the series updates regularly at the NETCOMICS site, with several chapters of volume two already available.

There’s Something About Sunyool is being simultaneously released in the US and Korea, with new chapters appearing regularly at the NETCOMICS site. Amazon also lists a print edition of the first volume, due in June.

Review copy provided by the publisher. Review originally published at Manga Recon.