Manga-ka: GooGoo Gong
Publisher: Yen Press
Rating: Teen (13+)
Release Date: February 2010
Synopsis: “Jae-Gyu and Whie-Hwan’s romantic charade is put to the test at President Ko’s engagement party. Jae-Gyu slips away while Whie-Hwan falters before his former girlfriend, Hae-Mee, who seems eager to reignite the flame despite her engagement. But what does Whie-Hwan want? If it’s Jae-Gyu, he’d better hurry. Accosted by Sung-Jun from the slave auction, Jae-Gyu’s put in a frantic call to Hee-Do, and the rock star is already on his way to snatch her out of danger…and out of Whie-Hwan’s life as well!”
After the previous volumes’ shenanigans of pretend relationships, unwanted drunken encounters and mandatory love triangles, it seems volume three brings us more of the same, including a return of the previously introduced scuzzy antagonist. A fluffy, light read with occasionally surprising silliness and some mild dark moments, Sugarholic is a manwha that floats between shojo and josei with it’s older yet naïve 20 year old lead, Jae-Gyu. For a book that could be an outright mess given it’s subject matter, Sugarholic somehow finds a way to entertain its readers and rise above its cliché subject matter. That said, this volume doesn’t fare as well as it could.
Jae-Gyu’s unladylike behaviour gives her a charm not normally found in most shojo leads. Straightforward, and outspoken, JaeGyu is less subtle then your average main character. She does things like get into a drinking contest with one of her would-be suitors as he attempts to draw information out of her. Still, being trapped in a shojo manga, Jae-Gyu has to put up with some rather stupid events. I was a little unsettled that the creepy antagonist from the previous volume pops up again, and attempts to assault Jae-Gyu for a second, sober time. Gong handles the situation well and Jae-Gyu does end up taking care of things herself, but it felt a little repetitive. Jae-Gyu isn’t a character to sit around and accept this kind of treatment, and while Gong does work it into the plot through a connection with Whie-Hawn’s ex-girlfriend, it was a bit tacky to repeat it again so soon.
The love triangle continues to develop with the aforementioned drinking contest with Hee-Do, whom Jae-Gyu doesn’t quite know what to make of – a childhood acquaintance who is now a celebrity (something she experiences cognitive dissonance over). While Whie-Hwan gained less points on the good-choice meter this volume, Sugarholic shows that love works in odd ways, as he slowly acknowledges to himself and Jae-Gyu that his feelings for her aren’t just a charade. While the writing in this volume is somewhat uneven, Gong continues to weave an entertaining yarn despite, and the honest feelings of the characters shine through. Things don’t happen comfortably, characters aren’t optimistic role models, and feelings change and waver.
After resolving his somewhat questionable relationship with his previous girlfriend (his former tutor), Whie-Han whisks Jae-Gyu off to Thailand. This normally cheesy tactic, also seen in the similarly overdramatic Boys Over Flowers wherein the cast is whisked off to Canada, is offset by the strange choice in setting, as this is a romantic getaway tinged with the danger of assorted gangsters who Whie-Hwan is apparently involved with. This adds a somewhat unpredictable note as the manga closes, giving me hope the next volume will offer more of the spirited fare I enjoyed from the series initially, rather then a repeat of creepy would-be rapist guy. Gangsters and a dangerous yet stylish international setting always help when weepy romances get to be too much. On a personally amusing not, thanks to Rose of Versailles, all shojo manga artists will forever identify “Andre” as a cool forieigners name, so I was amused when a hotel worker had my name on his nametag. Clearly, Yen Press is part of this global conspiracy.
GooGoo Gong’s art continues to be fairly solid, with decently detailed background work slightly above basic shojo fare, and angular figure work popular in shojo manwha. It’s also complete with what some of my friends call “scary eyelashes“, those deep black eyes popular in 70‘s shojo manga that evidently had a big influence on future Korean artists. It makes for a style separate from current shojo manga trends in Japan and among domestic manga artists, giving the series a visual appeal outside of other works.
Gong’s art is solid overall, as are their continued super deformed, cat-oriented commentary comics, and Yen Press’s less formal translation and production values make for a smooth read. Yen Press also continues to include colour inserts, and I appreciate the oversized trim similar to the old Ice Kunion imprint they absorbed. The oversized trim works well with the amount of detail put into it, allowing layouts to feel spread out, making for a pleasant reading experience.
While I didn’t like the repetition of the previous volumes more lurid events, the closing chapters gave me a good feel for future volumes, and I can still recommend the series if you don’t mind a slight overdose of silly melodrama. Sugarholic continues to walk a fine line with it’s shojo manga tropes and an unladylike heroine whose crudeness and outspoken nature is a positive character trait.