July 8th, 2007 by Katherine Dacey-Tsuei Bookmark this post
Though this week’s shipping list is short, there are a few sweet offerings for anyone who survived last week’s manga blitzkrieg. Topping my list of recommendations is Run, Bong-Gu, Run!, a slender, full-color book published by NBM/ComicsLit. The story is a bit precious, but the gorgeous watercolor images will convince even the toughest critics of Korean comics that there’s more to manwha than romantic comedies. Also new on shelves this week are two series from CMX: I Hate You More Than Anyone, a shojo comedy about a cute tomboy coping with her first crush, and Samurai Commando: Mission 1549, a seinen series about time-traveling soldiers in feudal Japan. Go!Comi offers the second installment of Black Sun Silver Moon, an entertaining zomedy about a mysterious priest, his feisty assistant, and their ridiculously cute dog—who just so happens to be a zombie. Last but certainly not least, Viz gives Naoki Urasawa fans a reason to celebrate with the release of the ninth volume of Monster. Will the saintly Dr. Tenma cross over to the Dark Side and actually harm someone… stay tuned for a (largely) spoiler-free review!
REVIEWED THIS WEEK:
SHIPPING THIS WEEK:
Hanami: International Love Story, Vol. 1
Story by Plus, Art by Sung-Jae Park
Hanami: International Love Story begins with Joonhoo Suk plucking up the courage to ask out classmate Sae-un, his longtime crush. When she confesses that she has a crush on him as well, he’s over the moon—that is, until his father announces that the family will be relocating to Seoul immediately. (And I’m not kidding when I say immediately: the Suk clan moves the following day.) While sulking about the sudden turn of events, Joonhoo crosses paths with Hanami, a pretty Japanese exchange student who just so happens to live in his building and attend the same school. Though Joonhoo and Sae-un pledged to continue their relationship, Joonhoo finds himself drawn to the charismatic Hanami. You can imagine what follows: hijinks, misunderstandings, panty shots, and an accidental groping or two. (This is, after all, a romantic comedy told from a teenage male perspective.) Yes, we’ve seen all of this before, but Plus keeps the story humming along with plenty of good-natured jokes at Joonhoo’s expense, a lively cast of supporting players, and a third-act revelation about Hanami that promises enough complications to sustain our interest for several more volumes. Sung-Jae Park’s bold, simple character designs and minimalist backgrounds suit Hanami’s broad comedic tone, and add considerable appeal to a cute, if formulaic, story.
Volume one of Hanami: International Love Story is available now; volume two will be released in September. Click here to read a short excerpt from volume one.
Naoki Urasawa’s Monster, Vol. 9
By Naoki Urasawa
Monster confirms something I’ve suspected for years: the East German government used to crank out spies and assassins with the same efficacy as they once produced Olympic heptathletes and swimmers. The series’ villain is Johan Liebert, a cold-blooded serial killer who grew up in a Stasi-run orphanage. When we first meet him, Johan appears to be the victim of a brutal attack. Dr. Kenzo Tenma, a highly skilled Japanese surgeon, rescues the boy from the brink of death, only to receive a grisly present in return: Johan murders several of Tenma’s colleagues to ensure the good doc’s promotion to Chief of Surgery. The police blame Tenma, forcing him to hit the road in search of the real culprit. As Tenma pursues Johan across Germany, a motley crew of friends and foes are hot on Tenma’s heels: Eva, a bitter, hard-drinking daddy’s girl who was once Tenma’s fiancée; Inspector Runge, a fidgety detective who’s convinced of Tenma’s guilt; and Nina, Johan’s beautiful twin sister who’s yin to Johan’s yang: moral, caring, and convinced of Tenma’s innocence.
At the beginning of volume 9, Tenma has tracked Johan to Munich, where Johan and his Neo-Nazi followers have been cooking up a scheme to bilk a billionaire of his estate. But can Tenma actually kill Johann—as he has vowed to do—or will his saintly impulses prevent him from pulling the trigger? You can probably guess the answer, given that volume 9 is only the midway point of this 18-volume series. If the outcome of the Tenma-Johan standoff isn’t in doubt, however, there are still plenty of plot twists and memorable scenes to reward the patient reader, as well as a tantalizing clue about Johan and Nina’s biological parents. Can volume 10 arrive soon enough to satisfy my curiousity? Nein!
Run, Bong-Gu, Run!
By Byun Byung-Jun
Run, Bong-Gu, Run! tells a simple story: Bong-Gu and his mother leave their rural village to find Bong-Gu’s father, who has gone to Seoul in search of work. As they retrace his steps through the capital, a chance encounter with a beggar yields an important clue to the father’s whereabouts, offering hope that the family will be reunited. The author never explicitly states what prompted the father to leave, how long he’s been away, or why Bong-Gu’s mother waited so long to track him down. In leaving these characters’ personal histories mysterious, Byun Byung-Jun comes dangerously close to romanticizing them: Bongu-Gu’s parents and the old beggar often register as poor but dignified archetypes rather than flesh-and-blood people. But Byun’s spare, restrained artwork mitigates against the story’s sentimentality, offering readers a haunting cityscape that’s as much a character as Bong-Gu or his mother. Rendered in rough, energetic brushstrokes and muted watercolors, Byun’s street scenes are among the most beautiful images I’ve seen in any graphic novel this year, making this slim volume well worth the $16 cover price.
XS Hybrid, Vol. 1
By Song Ji-Hyung
In the afterword to volume one, Song Ji-Hyung attributes the inspiration for XS Hybrid to a variety of sources: extreme sports, cyberpunk novels, The X-Files. Song might have fashioned these elements into an entertaining conspiracy thriller along the lines of last summer’s District B-13. But he never manages to synthesize these elements into a coherent story, instead creating a disjointed, confusing parable about an emerging species of humans with… well, I’m not sure how to describe their powers. The few scenes in which these “hybrids” strut their stuff are obscured in an avalanche of speed lines, making it difficult to ascertain what exactly they do: kill with a thought? move with super-human speed? bend spoons? The dialogue is maddeningly vague, making oblique references to “symbiants” and various secret government agencies without ever clarifying any of the series’ basic premises. If the characters were well rounded, such narrative deficiencies might be overlooked; after all, a considerable part of The X-Files’ appeal stemmed from Mulder and Scully’s slightly acid, slightly flirtatious repartee. Song’s characters, however, are automatons capable only of expressing anger and surprise, leaving precious little for the reader to grasp onto save a few beautiful illustrations.
The redeeming feature of volume one is a spectacular chase involving a motorcycle, a police cruiser, a big rig, and baddies in a black sedan. It’s one of the best car chases I’ve ever seen on paper, comparable in intensity to the infamous speeding-under-the-el sequence in The French Connection. So if your chief critique of The X-Files was “too much chatter, not enough car chases,” XS Hybrid might be the manwha for you.
Volume one of XS Hybrid is available now; volume two will be released in September. Click here to read a short excerpt from volume one.