One Thousand and One Nights at The Hooded Utilitarian

When Noah Berlatsky of The Hooded Utilitarian invited Melinda Beasi and me to contribute one of our conversation-style posts to his site, I knew immediately which series we should talk about. “One Thousand and One Nights!” I cried. It’s one of Melinda’s favorites, for one thing, and something I’d been meaning to read for ages, for another. Additionally, I thought it might be nice to focus on manhwa instead of manga, since it’s rather unsung and all that.

You can find the resulting post here. Thanks again to Noah for the opportunity!

Review copies for volumes eight, ten, and eleven provided by the publisher.

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.

Moon Boy 3 by Lee YoungYou: C+

From the back cover:
For the first time, Myung-Ee falls into a real fight against the Fox Tribe. She is determined to do whatever she can to protect Yu-Da from all the hungry foxes, but instead she encounters the “Black” Yu-Da! How can this be? Is Yu-Da’s memory back, or was he just faking?!

Review:
The phrase “hungry foxes” conjures to mind the Festrunk brothers from SNL’s early days, who were always on the prowl to meet some “swinging American foxes.”

What a mixed bag this volume is. While I used to kind of like Ya-ho, the pet cat of Ho-Rang (the young-looking kendo captain/elite rabbit warrior) who can turn into a girl with poor language skills, she really got on my nerves in this volume. Absolutely none of the attempts at comedy succeeded in amusing me. This includes Mok-hee, a pervy fellow who up ’til now has been imprisoned in a mystical cigarette or something, but now gets set free to work his surveillance mojo and report on Myung-Ee, since she basically announced to the fox-filled Student Council that she’s one of their prey in the previous volume. All of his antics are excruciatingly boring.

Also seemingly worse is the art. There’s one action scene where I cannot tell at all what’s going on. There’s a streak of movement and a “SHUKK!” sound effect followed by spectator reactions, so obviously something happened, but I couldn’t tell what. Also, somewhere towards the end of the last volume, Myung-Ee seems to’ve grown one of those stupid moe plumes atop her head.

And yet, out of this jumble emerges a couple of chapters that are actually pretty good. Mok-hee summons a bunch of lower-level foxes to attack Myung-Ee just at the same moment that Yu-Da has gone to inquire about the Kendo Club’s festival plans. Myung-Ee witnesses Yu-Da go into “black” mode and essentially cause all of his opponents’ chests to explode. When Yu-Da later tries to erase her memory, he’s unsuccessful.

In the next chapter, after the aforementioned confusing combat scene, there’s a rather nifty bit where a wounded guy is thinking about how much he loves Myung-Ee but won’t tell her until he’s more of a man, and meanwhile the crying Myung-Ee is thinking how horrible she is for being more concerned about Yu-Da than the guy who got hurt on her behalf.

It’s these scattered moments of almost goodness that keep this series from being intolerably dull.

Moon Boy 2 by Lee YoungYou: C+

From the back cover:
Myung-Ee decides to rescue Yu-Da from the fox tribe! She begins by journeying to Junghyun mountain to join the Soon-La army. But first she must pass a test of pain and endurance. Meanwhile, more secrets are revealed about the “kind and gentle” Yu-Dai…

Review:
This volume is pretty boring overall, but had just enough stuff going on that I have some interest in continuing. Partly, I have this wish that all the stupid “comedy” bits will be dispensed with at some point as the story grows more serious, but that’s probably futile.

Anyways, more is explained about the Soon-La army, then Myung-Ee heads to the training academy. As an “earth rabbit,” more like a human that other rabbits, her long ears do not sprout when she gets there, but she still manages to be super awesome and conjure a sword in a matter of minutes where other students have taken a year to do the same. That part is standard fantasy fare, so it’s okay, but the instructor is a crossdresser, so that had to be milked for all that it was worth and then some.

The other big plot revolves around the mystery fox girl (Seo-Wha) from the last volume, who has an obsessive love for one of the foxes guarding Yu-Da. She’s a pain in the ass to everyone the entire volume, yet the only worthwhile thing she actually does is cause Yu-Da to show that there’s some other, powerful, personality sharing his body that Yu-Da is probably not aware of.

Moon Boy is a quick read, but I’d like it better if the story itself were more streamlined. None of the characters are well-developed, yet more are still being added. Plus, the art is not my cup of tea. Still, it sometimes surprises me, as with one very nice panel of Myung-Ee and Seo-Wha as black silhouettes against the lights of a city at night. Overall, I don’t hate this series, but neither would I particularly recommend it.

Moon Boy 1 by Lee YoungYou: C+

From the back cover:
Apart from the fact that her eyes turn red when the moon rises, Myung-Ee is your average, albeit boy crazy, 5th grader. After picking a fight with her classmate Yu-Da Lee, she discovers a startling secret: the two of them are “earth rabbits” being hunted by the “fox tribe” of the moon!

Five years pass and Myung-Ee transfers to a new school in search of pretty boys. There, she unexpectedly reunited with Yu-Da. The problem is, he mysteriously doesn’t remember a thing about her or their shared past at all!

Review:
The back cover blurb actually says, “Apart from the fact the color of her eyes turn red when moon rises…” This does not bode well.

Actually, though, I thought I would dislike this, but I don’t. It has problems, but it’s better than I expected. Aside from its grammatical errors, the back cover blurb covers the initial story pretty well. Myung-Ee is an “earth rabbit,” as was her childhood classmate Yu-Da before he vanished and everybody but Myung-Ee forgot he ever existed. After she runs into him at her new school, various people impart the rest of the story to her: Yu-Da is actually a “black rabbit,” whose liver (oh yes, the foxes eat the rabbits’ livers) can grant immortality. His memory has been wiped and he’s guarded by a Student Council full of fox tribe folks who are just waiting for him to achieve adulthood.

Meanwhile, the Kendo Club is helmed by some guy who claims to be a warrior in an army that wants to protect Yu-Da. He’s in 12th grade, but he looks about nine, collects Yu-Gi-Oh cards, and is prone to weeping. Wacky, eh? Anyway, they need one more member or their club will be shut down by the Student Council. Guess who volunteers? Oh, and Myung-Ee gets bullied by some girls, too. And her new friend is really a cat.

And there’s where Moon Boy loses me some. The basic plot is out there, but it makes enough internal sense that it doesn’t annoy me. But the art is problematic—people who’re supposedly short not looking short, astoundingly improbable hairstyles, jarringly unattractive “comedic” moments—and the cast, while manageable at first, bloats rather rapidly in the last couple of chapters. All of a sudden there’s some fox queen on the moon and some random chick making cryptic remarks in the shadows. I kind of don’t want to have to think this much and remember this many plot threads for the likes of Moon Boy.

Lastly, I end with a quote. I have a certain fondness for noting combinations of words that’ve probably never been written or spoken before, and Moon Boy comes up with a doozy. Enjoy!

Never mind all that earth rabbit stuff right now. I have to get my panties!

Hissing 3 by Kang EunYoung: B-

From the back cover:
Despite the fact that Ha-Ra seemed to look a lot like Da-Eh, Sun-Nam is now getting sick and tired of her. And all he can think about is Da-Eh. Meanwhile, Ta-Jun cannot stop picking on Da-Eh, which seems to be the only way to forget his forbidden feelings for his own cousin. Confused? Wait until the family history slowly reveals itself!!

Review:
For the past two volumes, giraffes (perhaps toy ones) have appeared on the covers. I was thinking that perhaps somebody’s name means giraffe, but then Da-Eh and Sun-Nam (the main characters) coincidentally started talking about the meaning of their names, which shot that theory out of the window. Now I have no idea why they’re there.

I’m starting to like this series, even though it has some flaws. I don’t really know what the character of Ta-Jun brings to the story, for example. He likes to taunt and torment Da-Eh, and moons about over his cousin, whom he seems to have feelings for. He says angsty things and is kind of a jerk and… that’s it. I’m also not too keen on the girl that Sun-Nam had been dating, and the fact that she’s probably going to exact revenge on Da-Eh in some fashion because she and Sun-Nam start going out in this volume.

I do like Da-Eh and Sun-Nam, though. And I’m interested in the fallout from the revelation that Da-Hwa is half brother to Sun-Nam and Da-Eh. Poor Da-Hwa puts on a brave face when told of his parentage and agrees to meet his half-brothers, but secretly wishes the man he’s known as his father had told him not to go. He’s only in this volume for, like, eight pages, and still Da-Hwa’s plight is what resonates most strongly with me.

Hissing 2 by Kang EunYoung: B-

From the back cover:
Sun-Nam doesn’t really know what this feeling is, but he just simply cannot get Da-Eh out of his mind. But she doesn’t seem to be interested. So instead, he starts going out with a girl he thought looked a lot like Da-Eh; but who knew she was such a wench? Meanwhile, Da-Eh meets Ta-Jun, who seems like nothing but trouble. Will these two both manage to survive their complicated relationships?! Read this second volume of the series and find out!

Review:
I really should start a hall of shame for inaccurate back cover blurbs. This one ignores the fact that Da-Eh met Ta-Jun on multiple occasions in the first volume. Oopsies.

This volume is a lot better than the first one. After introducing Sun-Nam’s annoying brothers last time, they are barely present here, allowing the story to focus on the main characters instead. I’ve also reconciled myself to the fact that all the boys look similar. Similar, but not indistinguishable, and that’s what really counts. The translation is also much better, with only one glaring error. (“Reoccurring” is not a word, folks.)

Some of the flaws from the first volume are still present, though, like the propensity of characters to make random angsty comments (“If I’m laughing, it might be to mask the tears.”) and the hyperactive nature of the narrative, as it spends only a few pages on each scene before jumping to another one.

Thinks I did like include the continued focus on Da-Eh’s dream of becoming a manhwa artist. Not only do we see her working on storyboards and things, she’s also so fixated on it that when other girls in class are gossiping about the antics of a popular boy, Da-Eh is completely oblivious. Later, when said popular boy, Ta-Jun, drags her off to hang out with him, it kind of reminds me of Boys Over Flowers. Popular (presumably rich) boy picks the feisty girl who wants nothing to do with him rather than all the other sycophantic beauties he could be wooing.

There’s also development on the plot concerning Da-Eh’s younger brother, Da-Hwa. (Who, by the way, is completely adorable. He has fangirls at his elementary school and everything. I want to kick Da-Eh for treating him so crappily, though.) It seems that Da-Eh’s mother and Sun-Nam’s father had an affair and the result was Da-Hwa. Sun-Nam has encountered the kid a few times, but so far Da-Eh is in the dark. I find that I am actually looking forward to seeing how this story plays out, which surprises me considering I had such an adverse reaction to volume one.

Hissing 1 by Kang EunYoung: C-

From the back cover:
Da-Eh, an aspiring manhwa artist who lives with her father and her little brother, comes across Sun-Nam, a softie whose ultimate goal is simply to become a “tough guy.” Whenever these two meet, trouble follows. Meanwhile, Ta-Jun, the hottest guy in town, finds himself drawn to the one girl that his killer smile does not work on—Da-Eh. With their complicated family history hanging on their shoulders, watch how these three teenagers find their way out into the world!

Review:
I was hoping to like Hissing, since I’m on tap to review later volumes for Manga Recon and procured the earlier ones so I could write an informed review, but I really just don’t. There are so many things wrong with it and only one thing that is even kind of done right.

1. 75% of the guys look like they are from some alien planet where all males are blond and have voluminous lashes, naturally tinted eyelids, and luscious lips. This includes a kid who is about ten or so.

2. Too many characters are introduced too quickly. Just Da-Eh, her friend, her family, and the two supposed love interests are enough to begin with, and then suddenly one of the love interests develops two really annoying brothers who serve no real purpose but to torment him and us with their presence.

3. The storytelling is very disjointed. There’ll be two pages of something, then it’ll suddenly switch to something else, then something else again. For two-thirds of the book there’s no plot, just Da-Eh randomly encountering the same couple of guys over and over, until one of them suddenly realizes, “Hey, didn’t I use to have another sibling or something? I wonder where that kid went.” Thankfully, this area shows at least a little potential by the end of the volume.

4. The characters are fond of making random cryptic remarks, like, “I might get punished by God” and “I thought this might be the second.” I have absolutely no idea what that second quote means.

5. Nobody on the production team understands the difference between “then” and “than.” They also spell “jeez” like “gees,” which conjures images of large migratory waterfowl.

The only facet that’s actually marginally interesting is Da-Eh’s ambition to be a manhwa artist, a dream she shares with her childhood friend (see #1 above for a physical description). Their trip to a manhwa goods shop to buy screentone is the highlight of the book.

The first three volumes of Hissing were published by Ice Kunion but the license was then acquired by Yen Press, who has released the fourth and fifth volumes so far. The sixth and final volume will be available on March 24, 2009.