Manhwa-ga: Lee Eun
Publisher: Yen Press
Rating: Teen (13+)
Release Date: November 2009
Synopsis: “When a mermaid princess’s hopes to marry her human prince are squashed by the domineering, morbidly obese ex-ballerina to whom the prince appears to be tied, she decides to return to the Han River. But she’s beaten to the punch by the prince…and then the ballerina! What grave secrets about these two does the murky water conceal… and will either of them make it out of the river alive?”
Bun-Nyuh can’t handle it anymore – she’s through with that cursed Antique Gift Shop, no matter what the deal she made with her shaman Grandmother was. Though she finds herself able to storm away from the shop, her memories of it are another thing, struggling over the loss of her best employee, the beautiful but enigmatic, Mr. Yang – the man who always seem to know what to say. Feeling humbled and abandoned, Bun-Nyuh takes to the rainy streets in this ninth volume of Antique Gift Shop, the book which also sees the end of the twisted ballerina take on the Little Mermaid.
I was a bit disappointed in the ending to the Mermaid tale however, though not for lack of a dramatic finale. Problem being, however, was I couldn’t really follow what said-dramatic finale was. The final scene was unclear to me – what really happened? Who really jumped into the river and who was pulled out? Two rereads wasn’t enough for me to feel like I’d grasped it, especially the final relevant panel where I couldn’t tell for sure whether we were witnessing a case of corpse-hugging or not.
But I suppose you always have to accept a certain level of unapologetic vagueness when dealing with series that balance the living and the dead as characters without batting an eye. You never really know who or what someone is and it’s becoming an integral part of the story in Bun-Nyuh’s quest for freedom, even if only readers are the only ones caring enough to left themselves ponder. Who is Mr. Yang really (aside from kind and gorgeous), and how does he connect to Bun-Nyuh’s seemingly predestined path? So many questions in this series but more often than not I’m eager to pursue their answers.
The main plot of Antique Gift Shop is the larger portion of this volume, having taken a side seat to the short stories in recent installments. Bun-Nyuh is desperately trying to escape her life as she regrets her decision to fire Mr. Yang and is feverishly trying to find him again in hopes of regaining the small piece of solidity she’s recently felt. Her motives are purely selfish however, and her self-absorbed attitude makes it hard to find her likeable. Fortunately for maintaining the attention span for following her escapades, her situation earns its fair share of sympathy. The desperation of her blind quest is well rendered in the story with her stress oozing off the rain-soaked pages. A gap in her childhood memories makes the return of an old friend agonizing while at the same time offering her an odd level of solace when she suddenly becomes wife and prisoner to a childishly mannered young man with a missing arm (for which Bun-Nyuh is to blame).
By the book’s end, Bun-Nyuh snaps, likely to reader’s cheer, and tears off determinately only to find disaster in the book’s final pages. Her Grandmother speaks ominously, but in context of a series where being dead doesn’t necessarily mean staying dead, there’s a million possibilities regarding what she could really mean.
Though Antique Gift Shop remains flawed with its sporadically coherent plot, the effectively emotive nature of the scenes and characters continue to make it an interesting read regardless. Still, a clearer idea of what’s going on would be nice, and if the return of Mr. Yang is what it takes, than all the better. After everything she’s ‘seen’, it’ll be a wonder if Bun-Nyuh can return to her life as an academically achieving medical student – but regardless of if she does or not, the next (and last) volume is working itself up to a likely unconventional, thus potentially memorable, conclusion.