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There’s Something About Sunyool Volume 1

There’s Something about Sunyool, Volume 1 by Youngran Lee

This is an exceptionally silly manhwa, which can be both good and bad. It will be highly amusing to people who enjoy Cinderella stories and arranged marriages, and potentially annoying for people with a low tolerance of such plot devices. Fortunately I am the type to embrace silly manhwa, so I enjoyed the first volume of this series. Sunyool manages to be the classic poor heroine and rich enough for a same marriage at the same time because she was brought up by a single mother, then found out that she was the daughter of an important political figure. After her mother died, she went to live with her father and stepmother, and they now want her to go on blind dates to meet eligible bachelors.

Sunyool agrees and promptly makes a mockery of the whole process. She shows up in traditional Korean costume and announces that she has to wear a wig due to partial baldness to her first potential husband, the handsome heir to a powerful company. She verbally picks apart her second date. But she decides to marry Sihyun, bachelor #1 after all and they begin a strange platonic courtship after the wedding. There’s plenty of humor in this manga, as Sunyool’s unusually forthright way of expressing herself causes issues with the high society she’s forced to live in. Sunyool and Sihyun eventually turn into the most sickeningly sweet couple I have ever seen, down to wearing matching outfits and calling each other darling and honey.

Of course, such perfect love is not going to last and as the volume ends Sunyool is shown embarking on a new chapter of her life. Wherever she goes, she seems to be surrounded by beautiful men. The art in There’s Something about Sunyool has that vaguely static feel that I see in a lot of manhwa. Some of the character poses look a little stiff, but there’s plenty of detail lavished on everyone’s eyelashes. Lee often shows the characters in chibi mode during episodes of physical comedy. This was a fun manhwa to read even though it was utterly lightweight and frivolous. Sunyool has a sassy and indefatigable personality that makes her an interesting heroine. I’ll be on the lookout for the next volume of this series.

Land of Silver Rain

Land of Silver Rain Volume 1 by Mira Lee

I’m trying to make a point of sampling more manhwa. Land of Silver Rain is about a human child raised in the land of the Dokebis – traditional spirits from Korean folktales. Misty-Rain was found by a witch in a cabbage patch when she was an infant. The ruler of the Dokebis, The Great King of Darkness decides to hide her human identity with a spell and she grows up among the Dokebis not imagining she is human. Universal appeal is a tricky thing for works aimed at younger readers to pull off. In the case of Land of Misty Rain the storyline quickly becomes tedious due to most of it focusing on Misty-Rain’s squabbling interactions with her Dokebi classmates. Thornpricker is a Dokebi girl who is the Jan Brady to Misty-Rain’s Marsha, as Thornpricker is jealous of all the attention that Misty-Rain receives and is suspicious that Misty-Rain might not be a Dokebi after all. Too many scenes of pre-teen bickering made this book a bit of a slog to read, despite the overly feminine art, where the girls are pretty and the men are even prettier.

Misty-Rain tries to be a good Dokebi, but she is often getting into trouble and having to endure punishments like being hung upside down by a rope for a couple days. The witch who serves as her adopted mother is concerned about Misty-Rain, and the Great King of Darkness’ interest in her is mysterious. There were a few flashes of humor in the book that I enjoyed. Misty-Rain’s Dokebi lessons at school about the proper ways for demons to behave are amusing. There was a hilarious panel where the witch tries to disguise her newly acquired infant by disguising her as a cabbage, and I enjoyed the depiction of the tearful Misty-Rain in cabbage form. If moments like this had been more plentiful in Land of Silver Rain, I think I’d be interested in reading the next volume. As it is, there was too much pointless pre-teen angst in this story for me. I can definitely see this series appealing to younger readers who enjoy stories with a fairy-tale atmosphere and lavish illustrations, but it has limited appeal for older readers.

Let Dai Volumes 1-3

Let Dai Volumes 1-3 by Sooyeon Won

Jaehee is a normal schoolboy in Korea. When he hears a girl calling for help he runs to see what’s wrong. He sees a girl being attacked by a gang, and throws himself in the middle of the crowd, telling her to run away. Jaehee’s sacrifice ends up not working, as the girl is captured by the gang leader and he’s beaten up. Some passers-by yell at the group of kids and Jaehee escapes. The gang leader is the legendary Dai and his followers are known as the Furies. Jaehee is overwhelmed by Dai’s presence.

It turns out that the girl Jaehee tried to save is Yooneun the older sister of Eunhyung, the girl Jaehee is dating. Yooneun and Jaehee are drawn together after their experience with Dai’s gang. When they meet again hey keep in contact with each other, making Eunhyung suspicious that her boyfriend is hanging out with her sister. Dai pops up in Jaehee’s life again with a chance encounter in a parking lot, a beating, and a bizarre ritual where he forces Jaehee to lick clean his self-inflicted wound. It turns out that Dai wants Jaehee to join his gang and despite his better impulses Jaehee agrees. Dai’s cruelty is the casual amorality of a child tormenting a bug with a stick. He’s indifferent to the needs and wants of other people, yet he is attracted to Jaehee as if the boy is his new toy. When Eunhyung tries to track down Jaehee at the gang hideout Dai does nothing to prevent her from being assaulted when he hears that she considers herself Jaehee’s girlfriend.

The second volume opens with a rift between Dai and Jaehee. Jaehee can’t forgive Dai for what happened to Eunhyung. She’s ignoring Jaehee and trying to deal with the psychological trauma of the assault all by herself, pushing Jaehee and her sister away. The reader gets a glimpse into Jaehee’s family life with his Mom. They have a pleasant, mock-bickering relationship. Jaehee moves and transfers schools. One of his new classmates is a true eccentric. Naru Hagi is a true eccentric who is very aware of his own attractiveness yet decides to roam around town wearing bizarre wigs and antagonizing bullies.

Jaehee gets caught up with gang rivalry yet again, as a group of tough guys decides to use him as bait to draw out Dai. When Dai appears he encourages the boys to beat up Jaehee as much as they want, even going so far as to suggest tying Jaehee to the nearby train tracks. While Let Dai is one of the more accomplished manhwa that I’ve read in terms of plot, character, and art there is no denying that the adaptation is somewhat clunky, especially in Jaehee’s internal monologues. On the other hand, I’m not sure how to make phrases like “What moved me more than the quenching of my longing was the fact that Dai hadn’t forgotten me. In Dai’s cold and violent eyes…I now am. That…reassured me” not seem overly emo. The art in Let Dai is attractive, with a glossy style that contrasts with the characters’ violent actions. Perhaps because the series started running in the 1990s, there is something about the characters’ eyes and mouths that reminds me a little bit of Ryoichi Ikegami.

In volume 3 we learn a little bit about Dai’s family life. I found him a little more interesting as a character when I thought he was just a pure force of chaotic evil, instead of a privileged teenager with daddy issues. The third volume focused more on the supporting cast, and I was more interested to see what was happening to them than I was in the developing relationship between Dai and Jaehee.

Eunhyung wants to become a different person. She starts hanging out with new friends, changes her clothes, and has her hair cut as short as possible. Naru Hagi and Jaehee spend more time together, and Naru’s breezy personality and open expressions are a nice contrast to the constant fights and angst going on between the main characters. Sooyeon Won builds the foundation for a soap opera filled with different connections between the characters as Dai’s older brother hits on Yooneun, Eunhyung faces down one of Jaehee’s bullies, and Naru Hagi stands up to Dai when he tries to take a horribly sick Jaehee away for treatment.

Let Dai creates a powerful blend of tawdry violence, emo naval-gazing, and unexpected connections between characters. I can see why this series would be really appealing to shonen ai fans. I enjoyed the three volumes that I read, but I think I’d be more inclined to finish up the series if it were shorter. If the series was just 5-7 volumes I think I would be following the story to its conclusion. Jaehee is getting beat up so much in every single volume I have a hard time believing that he’d survive for that much longer. I tend to have a threshold of quality want met for collecting longer series. I have to be really invested in the characters (Boys Over Flowers) or it has to be a classic (Vagabond). While the first three volumes were ok they didn’t pull me in enough to make me want to read a very long story. Knowing that Let Dai ran for 15 volumes and some people found the ending odd, I don’t think I’m going to invest the time or money to read the rest of the series.

Dokebi Bride

Dokebi Bride Volumes 1-4 by Marley (amazon)

Sunbi Shin’s mother is dead and she lives with her grandmother in a small village. Her grandmother is the village shaman, able to see spirits and demons called dokebis. Sunbi has inherited some of her grandmother’s powers, but her grandmother doesn’t want her to become a shaman. When Sunbi’s grandmother dies, she has to go to live in the city with her estranged father, stepmother, and stepsister. Sunbi is sullen, keeping to herself among her new classmates and avoiding interaction with her new family. Unfortunately Sunbi’s strong emotions only serve to draw demons towards her.
The stories where Sunbi interacts with traditional spirits are very interesting. I had no idea that there were spirits in charge of the well being of the bathroom, in addition to kitchen spirits. Since Sunbi was never formally trained by her grandmother, she has to figure out how to deal with demons and curses on her own, aided by some inherited shaman equipment. She makes a deal with a dokebi she names Gwangsoo, and her bargain may have some unforeseen consequences in the future. As Sunbi gets used to life in the city, she gradually starts to encounter people who may help her master her powers – a classmate, a monk, and a professor at a nearby university.
I had a couple quibbles with this manhwa. The dokebis in the book look very creepy and are intricately drawn, but the facial expressions of the human characters sometimes look mask-like. Also, a few times per book characters will go into lecture mode, where they will rattle off long unbroken paragraphs about a topic like spirit photography or psychic abilities. I usually found myself skimming over these pages, waiting to catch up to the next episode where Sunbi has to cope with a demon.