Kingdom of the Winds 3

June 30, 2009

If I haven’t mentioned it already, the art in this series is worth talking about.  It has an early 90s look to it, with soft, rounded character designs, and there is frequently a lot of care put into detailing the background and sometimes the clothing.  I also like the creature/spirit design, though they aren’t really the best you’ll find.  The place Kingdom of the Winds truly excels, however, is the composition of the panels, and the way composition and abstraction are used to generate mood in the volumes.  It’s fantastic, and there are very few other series that can get away with the dramatic stuff used for composition here.  I love it.

Of course, there’s the epic story, too.  I feel like I’ve got a pretty good grasp of all the characters and plot nuances as of this volume.  Since it is (I think) based on a historical novel, it’s got a lot of the same problems as Hoshin Engi.  Hoshin Engi makes up for the problems (ie too many characters with too many things going on to keep track of in a manga) with humor and originality, but this one makes up for it with mood and foreshadowing.  It’s harder to keep track of things in Kingdom of the Winds since the gigantic cast of characters all have different motivations and different stories and stakes in what’s going on, but I love the dark mood, and it’s not too difficult to keep the gist of things in mind.  Some of the smaller details (there are still a number of footnotes comparing the story to the Korean history book and giving additional details into what’s going on) I don’t think I’ll ever be able to fully get into, but it doesn’t seem that important.

This volume was mostly exposition.  Aside from some excitement at the beginning where the king’s sister Seryu falls prey to spirits in the mountains and King Muhyul slays a demon in the prince’s chamber, something that is apparently extremely unadvisable, most of everything else going on are third parties getting the spirits riled up in order to attack Muhyul or delay his progress in some way.  There’s also lots of foreshadowing and flashback with both Haemyung and Goeyu.  To give you an idea of their situations, Haemyung (the king’s elder brother) killed himself at his father’s request some years ago, and I believe his ghost still talks and advises Goeyu, though this could be flashbacks, too.  Goeyu’s bigger problem is his wife, who is a celestial being that descended to earth to be with him.  She’s up to some bad things… it’s not terribly clear what, but he wants free from her love.  They are currently living an isolated lifestyle in the mountains.

The problem with this series is that it seems like you need some background in ancient Korean history to enjoy it to its fullest.  Netcomics actually provides you with full context, and there are several excerpts about referenced historical events interjected periodically, but it took me a long time to get drawn into the flow of the story just because of the nature of the large families, the different large and small kingdoms and their political relationships, and the supernatural beings mixed in.

I do like it, though.  It’s kind of fun to include supernatural activity in a historical drama like this.  It’s sort of like the Merlin and King Arthur stuff, but way more melodramatic.  It made me try and imagine how this would work with American history.  It wouldn’t, because we’ve only had old men and never any young, potentially good-looking kings.  I was going to make something up about a random old president here, but I found myself horrified at my own joke and being forced to imagine it, so I’ll leave it at that.

The gist of the story in this volume is that crown prince Muhyul’s wife Yeon sacrifices her life to save her son.  Time moves on, but Muhyul’s heart remains broken by the death of his wife, so even after he becomes king, he remains unmarried.  As a king he’s something of a tactical genius, taking over a lot of small kingdoms and whatnot, so there’s a lot of political wheeling and dealing, especially among the members of his father’s old court.  Weirdly, his father’s favorite concubine is turning into some sort of demon and hates Muhyul quite a bit for not visiting her.

The supernatural elements are interesting.  There is a maiden of the heavens floating around with the last member of a special race that has yet to really enter the story, there are various spirits used to spy on people and demons that have a say in other kingdoms.  The volume opens with a battle between Yeon and a fiend, and she gets the power to defeat it from the spirit of her husband’s dead brother.  There are also companion spirits that people fight with.  These can be a number of things, but the main characters each have one based on the Turtle/Tiger/Dragon/Phoenix constellations (each have Korean names here, but they would be the equivalent to Genbu/Byakko/Seiryu/Suzaku).  Muhyul and Yeon’s son in particular is involved in a subplot about the new bond he’s formed with his spirit.

Once you grasp the flow of the story, there are a lot of plot details and characters to digest and think about as you read.  A single volume of this series has quite a bit more to offer than several volumes of most anything else, and the details are actually presented in a way that isn’t all that confusing if you take time to go over the background material and reference the character charts.  It’s probably best to read the volumes as close together as possible, though, just so that the information sticks.  I’m also glad to see that Netcomics has started updating the series again on their website, so I won’t be left hanging after volume 3, the last one that came out in paperback.

I like the idea of this series. A gigantic epic that fantasies-up Korean history. The downside is that I know nothing about Korean history, but Netcomics helps you out with some pretty detailed character explanations, a map, and several pages of supplementary material in the back of the volume. I like that a lot.

I didn’t realize until I bought this volume that it was drawn by the same person who did “The Starry Night,” which was probably my least favorite of the Manhwa Novella Collection volumes. I really didn’t like the art in that volume, and some of the very… well, Mitsuru Adachi-looking character designs carry over into this series, but this is much more epically drawn. I appreciate a lot of the sequences without actually liking the art that much, which is fine by me. Some of the character designs are initially a little confusing to tell apart at first as well, but she actually does a really good job of drawing the four or five main characters in really different ways.

The story was hard to follow. I don’t really want to say anything bad about it, because I also kind of liked it, but it was hard for me to figure out what was going on with the magical beings sometimes. By the end of the volume, I found that I could gloss over those parts for right now and still figure out what was going on for the most part, though. I like the plot so far, and I’m hoping the pace kind of slows and… well, more time is spent in flashbacks, explaining the deaths of all these family members that happened before the first volume started.  Really, the most important and intense part of the plot so far is that the story seems to mostly be about a crazy patriarch who seems to be fond of killing his own children. A modern Saturn, if you will.

The fantasy elements are confined to a couple characters who seem to be able to communicate with… spirits, or animal spirits of some kind. It’s not exactly clear to me if others can see them, or are supposed to see them, but I think they can. Only the main character and his sister can engage them and talk to them, and fight with them, it seems. This comes up a few times, but past the magical creatures, there’s also the spirits of dead family members that protect non-magical family members, which is pretty awesome.

It sets itself up to be a really deep, engaging story, and I’m willing to wait to see how it goes for a few more volumes. But again, I really want to like it. I’m not sure exactly why, but I do. I think most people might find this confusing, but if it gets itself straightened out and going, it could really be something amazing.