Sarasah 2-3 by Ryu Ryang: B-

Sarasah, which starts off as the story of Ji-Hae and the romantic obsession for an aloof and decidedly disinterested classmate that compels her to travel back in time to put right a misstep from their past lives (while disguised as a boy, naturally), widens its scope in these two volumes to include hidden motivations and political agendas.

The incorporation of these elements into the story is a vast improvement, as it gives Ja-Yun (the past life equivalent of Ji-Hae’s modern love) more of a personality, fleshes out the character of Bub-Min (a nobleman who knows Ji-Hae’s true gender), and gives Ji-Hae something to think about besides boys. Both Ja-Yun and Bub-Min are using her for their own purposes, and therefore take some of the focus away from Ji-Hae, whom I still can’t like, despite some improvement in her behavior.

Ryu Ryang’s art continues to be attractive, and the introduction of Misa-Heul, leader of the hwa-rang group to which Ja-Yun belongs, adds another bishounen to the cast. And even though spindly boys with bee-stung lips are not my personal preference, I can’t deny that the cover of this volume, which features Ja-Yun in all his aqua-haired glory, beguiles me with its prettiness.

After reading the first volume, I didn’t have much interest in continuing with this series. Now, though, I am at least marginally intrigued about where this story could be headed.

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

Moon Boy 7 by Lee YoungYou: C+

moonboy7Myung-Ee and her childhood friend, Yu-Da, are “earth rabbits,” and must be on guard against the members of the fox tribe who want to eat them. Yu-Da is particularly special—as the rare “black rabbit,” his liver has the potential to restore the foxes’ queen. For that purpose, he was kidnapped by the foxes as a child and magically kept docile while they wait for his liver to mature.

Volume seven picks up just after Yu-Da reveals that he broke the spell placed on him some time ago and has just been playing along. Sa-Eun, the fox assigned to guard Yu-Da, feels betrayed since he genuinely felt friendship for his charge. They have an angsty fight until Myung-Ee intervenes with a powerful blast of energy that sends Yu-Da reeling. The rest of the volume is devoted to Sa-Eun confessing his feelings to Myung-Ee, introducing the sleepy leader of the foxes, and Myung-Ee’s attempts to get Yu-Da to come back to the rabbits’ side.

My problem with Moon Boy has always been that it’s inconsistent. Moments of head-scratching “Huh?!” are present in this seventh volume, like when Yu-Da, who’s been a pretty snarky badass for most of the volume, suddenly breaks into tears at the idea that Myung-Ee might really like him. (Causing Myung-Ee to realize that perhaps someone who’s been kidnapped and mind-wiped and held prisoner for many years might have trouble trusting people.) Later, Ha-Eun, a powerful figure with a mysterious agenda, bursts into tears after randomly taking Yu-Da to see a skeletal guy in a dungeon. I get that the creator wants the characters to be multi-layered, but these moments just come out of nowhere.

Despite my complaints, Moon Boy is a quick read and it has certainly improved over earlier volumes now that the story’s gotten more serious. Plus, there are only two volumes left, so I can’t really stop now!

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

Raiders 1 by JinJun Park: B-

raiders1From the back cover:
Irel Clark is a professor’s assistant whose latest find is the “Holy Grail” for members of his profession—literally! But when it turns out that some decidedly unholy individuals are also after the blood of Christ, Irel must drink from the chrism bottle he’s recovered to save his own life. Immortality leaves something to be desired, though, when undead cannibals walk the earth in constant need of human flesh, and Irel’s newly immortal body is nothing short of an all-you-can-eat buffet!

It hadn’t occurred to me, before reading Raiders, that all or nearly all of the manhwa I have read has been geared for a female audience. Anyone have recommendations for good manly manhwa?

I wasn’t sure what to expect from Raiders, but an appealing cover and a positive review from Eva Volin compelled me to check it out. Essentially, it’s all about the blood of Jesus. Irel Clark, a young man working for a professor who’s an expert in biblical relics, infiltrates a church in Glastonbury where the Holy Grail is rumored to be located. Instead of the grail, Irel finds a chrism bottle, one of five legendary vessels containing the blood of Christ and, after a shootout with some soldiers, he and the professor proceed towards London by train with the bottle in tow.

Others want the chrism bottles for themselves. The most violent of these is Lamia, a surprisingly sympathetic zombie who hates having to kill to survive and was going to use the blood in order to restore her humanity. Unfortunately, she goes about this by killing the professor in a gruesome manner and threatening Irel to the extent that he drinks the blood himself, which grants him the power of perpetual regeneration. Since he prevented her from obtaining a cure, Lamia keeps him chained up and gnaws on him instead of eating other people.

What we get in this first volume is really just a scrap of story; it’s fast-paced and intriguing, but events do not progress much beyond the initial setup. Instead, lots of new characters are introduced. Irel and Lamia get the most attention, which is good since they’re the most interesting, but there’s also some unnamed fellow who sends his teen servant (possibly a former zombie) and her giant partner/minion after the chrism bottle, yet another unnamed fellow in cahoots with the first one (this one can morph into a bat!), a cop who is excited by the cannibalistic shenanigans aboard the train to London, and the professor’s daughter. Quite a few of these characters converge on the final page of the volume, promising chaos for volume two.

The art is in a style I typically think of as “high contrast,” meaning it’s primarily white and black without much screentone. I found the action sequences to be confusing sometimes—Lamia loses an arm at one point by some unseen means—but overall the art is pretty good, dark and gritty as befits a gory story about zombies.

Ultimately, Raiders is a lot better than I thought it would be. Perhaps my expectations for a zombie action title are lower than they would be for something else, but I enjoyed it and plan to read volume two when it comes out in February 2010.

Review copy provided by the publisher.

Angel Diary 10 by Lee YunHee and Kara: C+

angeldiary10It’s been two years since the Princess of Heaven fled an arranged marriage with the King of Hell to live in disguise as a human schoolboy called Dong-Young. In the meantime, four Guardians have assembled themselves around her and Dong-Young has fallen in love with her classmate, Bi-Wal, who, you guessed it, just so happens to be the King of Hell.

Volume ten begins with one of the guardians killing a demon who threatens Dong-Young, which, in turn, prompts the demon’s extraordinarily powerful friend, Ryung, to seek vengeance. Ryung is Bi-Wal’s older brother, and the majority of the volume focuses on the two siblings as they attempt to work out their childhood issues of mistrust and misunderstanding while exchanging magical attacks and sword blows.

The end result of airing all of this angst is a confrontation that’s somewhat silly and yet somehow kind of appealing. The idea of a villain whose actions are inspired by pain is nothing new, and the story skates along so swiftly that an opportunity to make this conversation truly poignant is missed. Kara’s lovely art, which tends to focus on the characters’ expressive eyes, helps greatly in this regard, however.

In the end, although I’ve got no desire to catch up on this series from the beginning, I find that I’m actually rather interested in what will happen next.

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

Very! Very! Sweet 5 by JiSang Shin and Geo: B+

veryverysweet5Be-Ri thought she’d been doing a good job hiding the fact that she is in love with her sister’s boyfriend, San-Ne. After he humiliates her by revealing he’s known all along, she seeks out a relationship where she won’t get hurt and agrees to date her ardent admirer, Mi-Hyuk, for whom she feels nothing. Japanese transplant Tsuyoshi, who has formed a friendship with Be-Ri, is unexpectedly bothered to see her with another guy and tries various ways to convince her to break it off, short of actually confessing his own feelings.

Very! Very! Sweet is a really interesting series. There are always parts of each volume that I’m not too fond of—usually these involve the clingy Mi-Hyuk or Erica, Tsuyoshi’s ex-girlfriend who will not accept that things are over between them—but there are many great scenes and surprisingly complex conversations throughout, as well. I once described the romantic entanglements in this series as a “love polygon,” and that still holds true, but lately an emphasis on the fleeting nature of human feelings has introduced a melancholy element to the series that I like very much.

I’m also impressed by how much character development the leads have received. Tsuyoshi was initially a spoiled brat, but has embraced the move to Korea as an opportunity for change and has almost entirely left his old persona behind. Be-Ri, meanwhile, has begun to question whether she liked San-Ne for the right reasons and, though her earnest attempt to develop feelings for Mi-Hyuk is bound to end in failure, she is at least attempting to move on from unrequited infatuation.

All in all, Very! Very! Sweet is a series that has improved as it has progressed. I definitely recommend it.

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

Very! Very! Sweet 4 by JiSang Shin and Geo: B

veryverysweet4From the back cover:
Tsuyoshi and Be-Ri’s charade has Grandfather convinced, but it’s just a bit too convincing for Erica and Mu-Hyuk. Forming a coalition of their own, the pair is determined to prevent Tsuyoshi and Be-Ri from becoming anything more than business partners. Meanwhile, Gyu-Ri and San-Ne are on the rocks as Gyu-Ri’s unfaithfulness becomes increasingly apparent. Be-Ri watches their relationship crumble before her eyes, her heart filled with concern for the suffering San-Ne. It could be an opportunity to make her move, but as much as she cares for him, does she really want her true feelings out in the open at a time like this?

In order to appease Tsuyoshi’s visiting grandfather, Tsuyoshi is pretending that he’s found a nice Korean girlfriend in Be-Ri. The two parties concerned see this as a business partnership (he’s promised her a swanky cat tower for her cooperation), but their respective stalkers (Erica and Mu-Hyuk) are determined not to allow them any alone time together. Their plan backfires, however, because Tsuyoshi and Be-Ri happen to be neighbors and when Tsuyoshi’s beloved cat accidentally eats a hanging decoration and must be rushed to the vet, it’s Be-Ri that he turns to for help. Later, amidst some family drama concerning Be-Ri’s sister and her boyfriend, the two run into each other again while taking out the trash and Tsuyoshi refuses to leave her alone to cry.

The moments between the two leads are my favorites in this volume, and are good enough that I nearly forget how much I dislike Erica. Thankfully, Tsuyoshi seems to agree with me, because he tells her they should end things for good. If only I could believe she’d just give up and go home. Some of the subplots that have been percolating near the surface also get a lot of attention in this volume. Be-Ri’s sister, Gyu-Ri, has been attracted to Tsuyoshi’s uncle, Ito, ever since his arrival. Lately, she’s been hanging out with him and making cryptic remarks to her boyfriend, San-Ne, about how one’s feelings can change imperceptibly. Their conversations are fascinating, and after Gyu-Ri consoles a drunken Ito, who has just learned some (unfortunately confusing) family secrets, Be-Ri encounters a drunken San-Ne, who is heartbroken and tries to put the moves on her, admitting that he’s known about her feelings for him all along and making her feel like a fool. All of this makes for a lot of awesome drama!

If only Erica were gone, the family secrets made more sense, and Be-Ri’s argumentative grandmother hadn’t shown up, I would’ve given this volume a higher grade. I really like the chemistry between Be-Ri and Tsuyoshi, especially how they’re forming a friendship before anything else. Too, this story stands out because of its portrayal of the perils of cat ownership. Previously feline leukemia has been discussed and we’ve seen Be-Ri scooping the litter box. This time it’s about kitty’s inability to resist the temptation of tasty-looking inanimate objects. As someone who once rushed a cat to the vet for eating a wad of tape, this situation definitely rings true. Plus, how could I dislike a boy who cries when his beloved pet is in pain? It’s impossible, I tell you.

Small-Minded Schoolgirls 1-2 by toma: A-

small-minded1What do you get when you combine some admittedly funky art with excellent characterization and a slice-of-life story about the romantic woes of a pair of professional women? Small-Minded Schoolgirls, the josei-ish, online-exclusive manhwa from NETCOMICS.

The series focuses on two women: Miru Na, a successful novelist, and Somi Han, a thwarted writer whose job is to secure talent for a literary magazine. Miru, 30, is prickly and fussy, and I honestly could probably go on for three paragraphs about her various quirks and flaws. She was popular with guys in her twenties, and always wearied of their attention and wished they’d leave her alone until one day, they did. Somi is younger and aloof, adept at hiding her real feelings, and unsure about what she really wants. She has a boyfriend, whom she claims to adore, but gets caught up in illicit flirtations with a married coworker.

The two women are acquainted, since Miru is going to be writing something for the magazine Somi works for, and though they interact occasionally (and, awesomely, do not like each other at all), the narrative mostly switches back and forth between them as they go to work, ponder existential questions, and deal with the men in their lives. Miru starts off looking for a passionate love, the kind where her mere presence is something very precious to another person, but loneliness compels her to entertain the advances of a former classmate, Dongsoon. His long-term adoration of her is flattering at first, but soon turns creepy. Somi, meanwhile, eventually realizes that she’s actually a pretty crappy girlfriend and is incapable of truly supporting her boyfriend’s dream of becoming an animator. Though declaring her eye would never rove again after the first coworker incident, the pattern’s already begun to repeat itself.

Of increasing importance is Miru’s brother, Migook, who is a resolutely apathetic slacker. He left his job over a misunderstanding he couldn’t be bothered to explain, and spends most of his time loafing around the house, reading tons of manhwa and maintaining a review blog (hee!). Slowly, we learn more details about the incident at work, and he gains more confidence about dealing with it and life in general. After long feeling like a man with nothing to offer, effectively threatening his sister’s stalker seems somehow to empower him and by the end of the second volume, he’s seeing someone and actually considering going back to work.

There are a few more characters who show up from time to time—the most important of these is Jingwan, Migook’s friend, who is looking like the perfect match for Miru—but they’re significant only in the way they impact our lead characters. Small-Minded Schoolgirls is definitely a character-centric tale that hinges more on the subtleties of interaction and personal foibles than big dramatic moments. The one time it goes there—when Dongsoon briefly kidnaps Miru—it feels wrong somehow. The series is full of keen observations on human nature and achieves poignancy and humor in equal measure. One storytelling aspect I particularly adore is the way toma uses boxes of omniscient narration to comment on what’s going on in a panel or to provide further insight into a character’s state of mind at that moment. My favorite occurs when Migook has just told Miru about his girlfriend. Before she can be truly happy for him, she unconsciously begins dialing the phone to call the new man she’s begun seeing. The narration in this panel reads, “Note: People are only able to congratulate others when they have their own peace of mind.”

While I recommend the series without reservation, the one area where it could prove a disappointment to some is in the art. The most obvious deviation from traditional manhwa is the fact that it’s in color. There’s no shading in the illustrations and backgrounds are apt to be solid fields of color, almost as if they were filled in using the bucket tool in Microsoft Paint. The drawing style itself takes some getting used to, as well. At first, I was reminded of the heta uma (bad, but good) style employed by Yusaku Hanakuma in Tokyo Zombie (Last Gasp). Eventually, though, I came to appreciate toma’s skill in depicting body language, and though close-ups are few and the scribbled black eyes inexpressive, the strength of the storytelling ensures that emotions are communicated without incident.

I’d be sad if the eccentric art kept anyone from giving Small-Minded Schoolgirls a try. After a while, it honestly becomes hard to imagine the series drawn in any other way and really, can josei lovers afford to be picky?

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

The Antique Gift Shop 9 by Lee Eun: B-

antiquegift9Bun-Nyuh never wanted to be the proprietor of an antique shop, but made a bet with her grandmother that if she managed to sell all of the mystical merchandise she’d be allowed to pursue her goal of attending university instead of following family tradition and becoming a shaman. The bulk of the series has focused on episodic tales of the items Bun-Nyuh and her enigmatic employee, Mr. Yang, have sold to their customers as well as the results of those transactions.

That pattern ends in the ninth and penultimate volume, as Bun-Nyuh, desperate to be rid of the shop, decides to close it and abandon everything by running away. Despite her attempts to flee, her journey brings her to her hometown where a childhood friend she doesn’t remember claims her as his bride. Remaining by his side offers solace from things she’d rather forget, but dreams of Mr. Yang remind her there are some memories she’d like to keep. Just as she resolves not to let her memories of their time together disappear, her life is suddenly in jeopardy.

This was my first time reading The Antique Gift Shop and boy, was I confused at first. The volume begins with the conclusion to a story from volume eight, and I was completely lost. The tale of Bun-Nyuh and her friend really won me over, though, with its moody and oppressive atmosphere brought on by Bun-Nyuh’s fear of the incessant rain. Mr. Yang, though scarcely glimpsed in this volume, looks to be a very intriguing character, too, and I find that I’m both interested to learn what happens next as well as what’s gone before.

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

Comic 7 by Ha SiHyun: B

comic7The series that began with a heroine determined to learn more about the art of creating manhwa has now completed its transformation into a high school romance drama. Rather than reference Alice Song’s career goals in any way, this volume is full of sports festivals and love confessions.

On the heels of a particularly nasty fight, Alice and Patrick, the boy she loves, are fuming as the sports festival begins and end up partnered to different people for the three-legged race. Alice, determined not to let Patrick see how upset she is, is all smiles in the company of her smitten partner, Neil, and inspires him to risk his health in order to win the race. Patrick angsts a good deal about how happy they look together, and though he makes efforts to better get to know the scheming girl who’s been relentlessly pursuing him, he still can’t give up on Alice. Nor can she give up on Patrick, despite the fact that Neil has confessed his feelings to her. The volume ends with both of them out on the streets on a rainy night, trying and failing to connect.

“Trying and failing to connect” is the story of Alice and Patrick’s relationship in a nutshell, and one of the most interesting things about this volume is seeing how different Alice is in each boy’s company. Neil and Alice seem to mesh easily; with him, she shows a calm and gentle side that Patrick has not been privileged to see. When Alice and Patrick are together, on the other hand, quarrels are frequent and emotions intense. As far as love triangles go, this is definitely a compelling one; it keeps me invested in reading the series even though it’s strayed from its original concept.

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

Comic 1-6 by Ha SiHyun: B

comic1When a friend of amateur manhwa-ga Alice Song enters Alice’s story in a contest, she ends up taking third prize. Upon meeting with the publisher, she runs into an old student teacher (now working as an editor) who takes her to meet one of her favorite creators, Saturn Kang. Saturn turns out to be a rather arrogant high school boy who wants none of Alice’s help, even though he’s cutting it close for his deadline. They butt heads a lot, and this relationship extends into the high school realm because, of course, Saturn (whose real name is Patrick) is the studliest guy at his all-male school and all the girls at Alice’s neighboring all-female school are crazy for him.

comic2Alice has talent, but her work is unrefined, and after realizing just how much she doesn’t know, she decides to formally apply to be Patrick’s assistant. He’s reluctant at first, but her passion and willingness to perform menial chores wins him over and he begins teaching her in earnest. When the corporation funding Alice’s school goes bankrupt, the two schools merge and Alice and Patrick begin to see each other more often. With the merger, Patrick also comes to the attention of Daria, a scheming frenemy of Alice’s, who soon resolves to make him hers and generally causes a lot of strife for our protagonists. Though Patrick has been nursing feelings for Alice for a while, it’s the situation with Daria that prompts Alice to finally realize that she likes him, too. They both resolve to confess their feelings at Daria’s upcoming birthday party.

comic3Matters come to a head in volume five which, despite employing a pretty massive misunderstanding plot, is still the best of the series so far. Both leads have been duped by Daria in different ways, but seem to’ve finally made their feelings for each other clear, only for Daria’s scheming to intrude again. By the end of volume six, each is stubbornly sticking to his/her guns, with Alice demanding an apology for something she witnessed and Patrick demanding that, just this once, she actually believe him that he hasn’t done anything wrong. Meanwhile, Patrick’s best friend, Neil, returns from a long convalescence and develops an interest in Alice without knowing she’s the girl Patrick likes. There’s a great scene where each boy describes her in completely different ways, and swear that no girl could ever come between them.

comic5Comic is an entertainingly addictive series, but I stop short of calling it a truly good one. It begins well, with Alice declaring that she doesn’t want a normal life and with some fascinating excursions to manhwa specialty stores and details on the craft of comic-making. There are signs, though, that reader desires might’ve nudged the series in another direction. The character of Mr. Hwang, for example, Alice’s old student teacher and original love interest, is suddenly shipped off to Taiwan with very little fanfare. Then when the school merger occurs, the cast of students expands to include attractive obstacles in the path of Alice and Patrick’s relationship. Gradually, manhwa is mentioned less and less frequently until volume six, where it doesn’t come up at all. The series seems to’ve completed its metamorphosis into your standard angsty high school romance drama. Not that there’s anything inherently wrong with that, but one wonders where all of Alice’s passion and drive went.

comic6Though I grumble a little about the evolution of the series, it nonetheless provides some good moments and memorable characters. Early on, Patrick shows a surprisingly sensitive side when he doesn’t let on how abysmal Alice’s “help” has been and listens when she expresses her sorrow that her old school building, site of so many memories, will likely be condemned. And while Alice has a tendency to be hot-headed and run away from arguments, I like that there’s sometimes no clear right and wrong in their fights. Their conflict in volume six is a great example, as each has a valid point that they won’t back away from. Unfortunately, it seems much could be solved if they would only communicate better; a story that relies so much on misunderstandings is always a frustrating reading experience for me.

Ultimately, Comic is a fun and quick read that would be perfect for a romance fix. As long as you don’t go into it expecting the insights about manhwa to last, it should be a sufficiently enjoyable experience.

Review copies for volumes four and five provided by the publisher.