A few weeks ago, we found a large box from Yen Press waiting on our doorstep. We were super-excited—Yen Press is the manga/manhwa publishing group that has taken over the English publication of several of our favorite titles, including Goong, Angel Diary, and (last but definitely not least) Yotsuba&!. Unfortunately, we were only familiar with a few of the 11 titles they had chosen to send us, and some of the volumes were from late in their respective series, so reviewing these stories has taken an insane amount of time. But now, at long last, we're all caught up, so here's part one of our Yen Press mini-marathon:
Very! Very! Sweet: Vol. 5, by JiSang Shin and Geo
Very! Very! Sweet is the story of a rich and spoiled 15-year-old boy named Tsuyoshi, whose domineering grandfather ships him off to Korea to connect with his family's Korean heritage—or die trying. Naturally, Tsuyoshi moves in next door to an exuberant Korean girl named Be-Ri, whose strict family life and far more modest circumstances result in an over-the-top culture clash.
Most of the humor in Very! Very! Sweet comes from the differences between Japanese and Korean culture... which means you need to know something about Japanese and Korean cultures to catch the jokes. Also, the hero communicates with the heroine in broken Korean, which—no matter how cute it's supposed to be—distracts from the story's more dramatic moments. These are minor quibbles, however, and don't seriously detract from this series' ability to pull the conventional "snotty rich boy + poor-but-lively girl" formula in some fun new directions.
Goong: Vol. 7, by Park So-Hee
And speaking of rich, snotty boys and poor, lively girls... Park So-Hee's Goong is a twisted take on the Cinderella story, with a hopelessly goofy heroine (Chae-Gyung) who is coerced into marriage with Crown Prince Shin, the cold-hearted heir to the Korean monarchy. While the romantic aspects of this story (not to mention its hugely popular K-drama adaptation) have attracted zillions of starry-eyed readers, it also offers a fascinating alternate-universe version of a unified Korea led by a modern monarchy.
Cat Paradise: Vol. 2, by Yuji Iwahara
When new student Yumi Hayakawa enters Matabi Academy, she discovers that the school's cat-friendly dormitories actually serve an otherworldly purpose—defending the world from the terrifying demon sealed beneath the school's library. Yumi's favorite hobby to date has been knitting frilly dresses for her beloved (male) cat Kansuke, so she's even more shocked to find that they, too, are destined to be become part of the school's student-council-member-plus-cat fighting force.
Cat Paradise is a surprisingly appealing take on a totally ridiculous premise. Nearly everything about it is better than it seems at first glance—the artwork more nuanced, the characters more appealing, the bad guys creepier, the storyline funnier and more exciting. We wouldn't recommend this series to a total manga newbie (the premise is just too far out there), but fans of Rumiko Takahashi should love it.
Sarasah: Vol. 2, by Ryu Ryang
It's a good thing that the first volume of Ryu Ryang's manhwa Sarasah is so pretty, because it takes a lot of lovely pictures to make up for her heroine's personality. The story centers around a Korean girl named Ji-Hae, whose crush on her handsome classmate Seung-Hyu is more than a little crazy. When Seung-Hyu literally pushes her away, Ji-Hae falls down a flight of stairs and dies. However, the spirits of the afterlife take pity on her, and send her back in time to mend her relationship with Seung-Hyu in one of her past lives.
By the second volume, however, things start looking up: Ji-Hae's crazy stalker solo act turns into a love triangle (or at least the beginning of one), which means that the storyline is no longer a painful distraction from the gorgeousness of the artwork. Her affections still haven't quite made it across the line from “obsessive” to “adorably persistent”, but here's hoping. We're looking forward to reading the future books in this series—particularly if the author continues to tone down Ji-Hae's antics.
Sugarholic: Vol. 2, by Gong GooGoo
The artwork in Gong GooGoo's Sugarholic manhwa takes a lot of getting used to, particularly for readers more familiar with Japanese manga. (The first glimpse we catch of the series' hero is particularly startling: think "female televangelist as drawn by the people who made Aeon Flux".) Still, the storyline is fun, if predictable: a klutzy, clueless country girl moves to Seoul, meets an irritable young millionaire, and finds herself torn between said millionaire and the long-lost rock star she tortured as a child. We were more than a little uncomfortable with the amount of violence in this story—both of the male characters seem awfully trigger-happy when it comes to smacking people around—but the non-doormat heroine goes a long way towards making up for their shortcomings.
Part Two comes tomorrow—wish us luck!
[Review copies provided by Yen Press.]