Manga-ka: GooGoo Gong
Publisher: Yen Press
Rating: Teen (13+)
Release Date: November 2009
Synopsis: “Thrust in the middle of a family feud, Jae-Gyu reluctantly accepts Whie-Hwan’s proposal. For the next month, she’s agreed to pose as his live-in girlfriend and obey his every command! It’s been less than a week since she moved to Seoul, and already she’s in way over her head! And small-town life has done little to prepare her for the dark deeds of city nightlife. When Jae-Gyu’s ignorance lands her in a roomful of eager playboys with money to burn, will it be her millionaire “boyfriend” or her rock star admirer who comes to the rescue?”
Taking the path of so many girls’ comics before it, Sugarholic presents us with yet more complicated shenanigans that lead to two characters faking a relationship. Does it manage to overcome it’s clichéd plot? Fortunately GooGoo Gong does manage to squeeze some originality into this work, a fairly standard Korean shojo comic.
Characterization differs greatly from manga with similar plotlines. Unlike the wimpy heroine and sketchy male lead of Hot Gimmick, Sugarholic’s primary couple have decidedly stable spines. Jae-Gyu is a dramatic deviation from the normal shy shojo heroine, boldly arguing with her would-be suitors, stomping about the pages with an unladylike demeanour and making her presence known to all. References to the Incredible Hulk by childhood sweetheart Hee-Do make for particularly fun bits about Jae-Gyu.
In terms of her suitors, Whie-Hwan’s reason for the charade emerges as his past relationship with a now engaged older woman surfaces. His scheming is rooted in more innocent reasons, and he now finds himself slowly falling for Jae-Gyu, with noble moments arising when he rescues Jae-Gyu from a sticky situation. This is a decidedly more likeable cast then you might expect given the concept, with much of the supporting cast being hard working students and Jae-Gyu and her brother coming from a poor family trying to make it in the city.
Tackling serious issues in Korean culture, one chapter highlights Jae-Gyu’s accidental trip to a “date” auction, essentially getting conned into a prostitution ring by her friend‘s dubious coworkers. While a more bold heroine than usual, she’s still fairly naïve, getting drunk and never realizing the real reason she was invited to the party until Whie-Han arrives to help her. GooGoo Gong handles the situation with a slightly humorous edge, especially when revealing the drastic plastic surgery of the auction’s pretty boy ringleader, poking fun at the male vanity often portrayed in shojo comics. This lighter approach keeps the story moving at a pleasant pace, while still delving into some fairly serious subject matter. Korean editorial standards keep things fairly PG (I find Yen‘s rating spot on), but GooGoo Gong manages to touch upon a number of taboo subjects in this volume.
The style the artists use is fairly standard in Korean shojo works, with tall and lean, angular characters, all with deep, solid black eyes and endless eyelashes akin to classic shojo, similar to the styles used in manwha such as Snow Drop and INVU. It‘s a look rooted in classic shojo manga, but divergent from current trends, giving shojo manhwa it’s distinctive look. With decent attention paid to anatomy, Gong creates characters with physical presence, and clothes that hang naturally. Cloth lingers with many folds and a sense of movement, appropriate for a genre that is fairly fashion oriented. Mild if serviceable attention is paid to backgrounds, and we’re given some sense of the bright yet occasionally troublesome city the characters inhabit.
Extras include a preview of the next volume, colour inserts and a short back up strip. The backup strip is fairly cute, and apparently GooGoo Goong is actually two woman, Yangah and Maria, who share an apartment with an assortment of overweight cats. An artist bio might of helped out a bit to explain the nature of the books creation, since the backup strip is the usual shojo manga artist shut-in blather variety [seen at it‘s most epic in Yuu Watase‘s “I‘m playing Final Fantasy!” margin notes]. Let’s face it, cartoonists don’t get out much. Yen’s presentation is fairly solid, with a slightly oversized trim akin to the earlier Ice Kunion works they absorbed, while gives the book a more flexible feel than their smaller Japanese trim books.
I’d recommend Sugarholic to fans of Korean shojo comics, who should get what they’d expect from it. Those looking for a heroine with more realistic reactions to the often troubling predicaments shojo heroines find themselves in will enjoy it also. Otherwise, it doesn’t vary much from the usual shojo school romance fare, and your enjoyment might depend on how much you like the art style and high school romances. Bonus points are awarded for the inclusion of sport manga aspects, as the creators include references to Thai Kickboxing, an unusual choice for this genre.