Saturday, April 23, 2016

Reader's Diary #1302 - Sang Eun-Lee: 13th Boy

So I wanted to explore manhwa, South Korean comics. Similar in style to manga, though traditionally left to right like western comics, they were something I only heard of recently through a comics and graphic novels course (i.e., the best course ever). What I didn't know at the time is that like manga, there are demographic versions of manga. Sunjung manhwa is the equivalent of shojo manga and aimed at adolescent girls. Sang Eun-Lee's 13th Boy is sunjung manhwa and, unfortunately, the only manhwa I could currently get my hands on.

Surprising then that at almost 40 year old white North American male wouldn't quite love this.

But, in my defense, I'm not even sure that Eun-Lee considers it a roaring success. At the end of the book she remarks on her main character, "I created Hee-So to be cute but rude and obstinate in love. But instead she just seems simple and stupid I don't know why."

On that note then, she's already identified my biggest issue with the book. The main character is a ditz, obsessed with a boy who doesn't love her in return and seems to care little about anything else. Hard not to think that adolescent girls wouldn't find that a little insulting.

Granted, beyond her, there were some interesting angles. At one point it looks like Won-Jon, Hee-So's obsession, is in love with another male. There's a little remark that such love is difficult because there are still those in society who are non-accepting, but other than that it's not presented as a big deal. It doesn't deter Hee-So at all which ordinarily might just confirm Hee-So's stupidity, but there's a chance he's just bisexual and so Hee-So might still have hope.

But there's also a chance that he's actually heterosexual and Hee-So has jumped to the wrong conclusion. A bit of mystery pervades the book and so it is easy to believe that some readers might be inclined to pursue the rest of the series. (What is not a mystery is who Hee-So will eventually end up with, so it is also easy to believe that many readers— such as myself— will bow out here.) 

The art, as I suggested above, is very manga-ish, though not particularly good manga. Typical of the rushed trade manga books it's not big on background details but big on traditional visual gags (for instance characters looked more childlike when throwing tantrums). A small plus in favour of the art is the reliance on textures and patterns to give a bit more shading and depth.

And so, while I'll give up on this series here, I haven't given up on manhwa altogether. And after that maybe I'll try to track down some manhua

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