Manhwa-ga: Ryu Ryang
Publisher: Yen Press
Rating: Teen (13+)
Release Date: July 2009
Synopsis: “High schooler Ji-Hae is desperately in love with her classmate Seung-Hyu. She has done all she can think of to win his affection, but to no avail. When her latest scheme crosses the line, Seung-Hyu decides he’s had enough… and inadvertently pushes her down a staircase! Ji-Hae awakens in the world beyond, only to learn that it’s not her time to die. But why go back when the love of her life hates her to death? Touched by her passion, the keepers send Ji-Hae to her past life to mend the rift between her former self and Seung-Hyu. But can Ji-Hae keep up the act long enough to find Seung-Hyu and set things right?”
Ever wondered what it was like from the other end of the stalker stare? Ever considered what it was like for the obsessive teenage girl with the one-sided passion for an uninterested party? Well say hello to Ji-Hae, a young girl who is madly in love with fellow student, Seung-Hya. Unfortunately he wants nothing to do with her and has been trying to ignore her in hopes she’ll go away. But refusing to be deterred, Ji-Hae tries yet another ploy to get his attention… only to find herself half way to heaven.
After another plan gone wrong, Ji-Hae founds herself in a place between Earth and the afterlife. How she got there is entirely her own fault, and the sympathy she garners from those she meets there left me feeling more than a little perturbed. Most of all, though little more than a pretty-boy scowly-face love interest in this first volume, I felt bad for Seung-Hya. By most means of sanity, he’s done a very patient job trying to get Ji-Hae to understand he’s not interested, only to have the story try to twists thing around and garner sympathy for Ji-Hae. Sorry Sarasah, I’m not biting.
At least I can admit that having a loud, selfish, obsessive and ignorant lead character offers its own brand of individuality. But that said I’m not entirely sure that’s a good thing. Ji-Hae is so blinded by her own fixation on a boy she doesn’t even really know, that there’s little else about her even known. When she’s suddenly spiralled back in time for a Disney-esque task, to bloom the rose in her heart with each time she’s loved, she takes it with such a thoughtless grain of salt that it’s really hard to relate to her in any fashion. If ignorance truly is bliss than she’s on cloud nine and sailing.
Still, it is pretty amusing watching her throw herself into this new timeline with reckless abandon. It’s a time travel story that doesn’t take any care to deal with the usual pitfalls. You know, altering the future, accidentally preventing yourself from being born, causing rifts in the very fabric of space and time…the regular stuff. Ji-Hae sees only Seung-Hya and she’ll do anything she needs to find him and make him fall in love with her, so who cares about the timeline, its customs and its relevance. She does what she needs to maintain the freedom to search and that’s that.
Suffice to say, my opinion of the lead character is pretty low and yet like any guilty-pleasure story I have to lay down my conflicts in near-defeat for a moment to admit that, for all my animosity, I still found some entertainment to be had here in Sarasah. It comes mostly in that I look forward to watching the arbitrarily-placed plot devices of the story crumble around it, not necessarily at fault of the story but at least in context of it. Take for example how Ji-Hae manages to put on some Korean pyjamas and suddenly everyone believes she’s a boy without question. Sure, the boys in this mahnwa are ridiculously pretty by the artist’s standards, so mistaking a girl for a boy doesn’t seem that out there. But still, it’s absurd to read it without question and I have to assume that the characters’ who make such false assumptions are doing it purely based on their beliefs that a girl would never dress like that.
Art-wise, Ryu Ryang has a nice, very distinctly mahnwa, style that’s littered with overly effeminate male characters and an ease with mood transitions. Abrupt physical humour plays a big role in the amusement factor and I did get a few good laughs at Ji-Hae’s stunned faces when things take a rougher turn. When I first began reading the story, I got a particular feel that the artist couldn’t wait to get the present-day portion out of the way and leap into the looser more ornate clothing and locale of far-past Korea. In support of this, the whole book looks much cleaner and more polished once this second portion of the story begins. Ryu Ryang’s use of colours, both on the cover and some interior full colour pages, kept intact thanks to Yen Press, are soft but at the same time vibrant, bolstered by attractive watercolour media. On that note, I also have to point out how much I love the cover. It would be a definite eye-catcher for on any bookshelf. That said, I do find the logo less than suiting to the art and the ‘rose button’ that carries the title creates a sharp pull-away from the artwork itself, which is a bit on the disappointing side.
To Yen Press’s defence however, the book brings together a solid combination of fluid translation and tidy lettering that makes reading through this unique mesh of intentional-ignorance and cultural-inspiration an at the very least smooth experience. The back of the book also includes a nice glossary section of translation notes that allow further explanation of foreign terms and history without cluttering up the paneled pages.
Ultimatley, I found Ji-Hae an odd fit for a main character with little or no reason presented for me to feel much for her, but at the same time I realize just how far it means she could go in terms of evolution. It also remains to be seen if Seung-Hya will develop any further as well, and with a plethora of history and locale to explore, there’s plenty of material brought together here in volume one for the story to work with. Now it’s up to volume two to give more shape to this newly laid foundation and see where things take us from there.