Sugarholic 5

December 15, 2010

Gong GooGoo – Yen Press – 2010 – 5 volumes

And another end to another five-volume series. I had more love for this cute romance than I did for Breath. Maybe it was because I took too long a break between volume 4 and 5, but this ending was a little disappointing to me as well. Even though it was exactly what you would have expected and everything it should have been.

Maybe I didn’t like it because it came down, simply, to the fact that… well, as cute as this series was, and as much as I enjoyed it, it came down to two guys fighting over one girl. Jae-Gyu is the beloved of her estranged Whie-Hwan and her childhood friend Hee-Do. To be fair, it’s a little classier than this type of conflict usually is, but that really is all it boils down to.

Jae-Gyu’s reunion with Whie-Hwan was postponed because of Hee-Do showing up at an inopportune time (a habit both boys seem to have, showing up coincidentally in the same place in the big city of Seoul). Interestingly, the conflict then becomes one of whether or not Hee-Do will ever admit his feelings. I’m not sure if we’re supposed to think he has a chance or not, but he clearly doesn’t. Jae-Gyu only thinks of him as a friend, and I suppose the reason he’s put off his confession is precisely because he will certainly be rejected. The conflict between Jae-Gyu and Whie-Hwan then becomes one of whether or not they are good for each other. Jae-Gyu doesn’t want to go with Whie-Hwan as “baggage” if he decides to pursue his career in Thailand, and both want to grow into their own person. What a great message in a girls’ comic.

In the end, Hee-Do has more of a chance than I think, since Jae-Gyu is torn for her love of Whie-Hwan and the fact he needs to go to Thailand to do what he loves. Hee-Do is a sad character all around, since being his girlfriend would be tough due to his celebrity status (something else that was driven home here).

In the end, I didn’t favor either boy over the other, and surprisingly, the ending was rather un-ambiguous about who Jae-Gyu ended up with. The only thing I thought it was missing was a little background about what Jae-Gyu wanted to do with her life, what kept her in Seoul rather than go with Whie-Hwan to Thailand (or maybe it did, in an earlier volume, and I forgot… but she was working at a burger place here, so I don’t know). Being a romance comic, I suppose it’s not that important, and I still love that she didn’t get swept up and held her ground when offered the chance to go to a foreign country.

It’s still pretty great, even if the ending didn’t give me any new experiences. I loved the cute love story offered in the other four volumes, and who am I to hold it against a comic for giving us a stronger heroine than the norm? It’s definitely worth checking out for shoujo fans. Add it to your list, along with You’re So Cool.

Sugarholic 4

July 31, 2010

Gong GooGoo – Yen Press – 2010 – 5 volumes

This took place entirely in Thailand, and was… mmm, a wild ride, but not completely unexpected.

It’s clear that Whie-Hwan is a conflicted rich guy, and that he grew up in Thailand and wants to see his mentor more than anything. It’s also clear that he’s slipped whoever it is that’s supposed to be watching him, so of course a crazy trip ensues where Whie-Hwan and Jae-Gyu wind up walking 150 miles on foot to the place where the mentor is supposed to be. And of course lots of bonding and soul-bearing happens along the way. That’s just how these things work.

That doesn’t mean this wasn’t great, though. Jae-Gyu’s silliness is still somehow acceptable, and it brings really great vibes to the story. It allows itself some drama here, but it doesn’t get too dark, which is important in a silly romance like this. I also like that the stoic Whie-Hwan isn’t as much a jerk as he could be, and isn’t prone to bouts of straight-man silliness that sometimes happens in these Korean comics. They work well together, and their relationship is pretty adorable and sincere, which is why a volume like this works.

Then it pulls a Let Dai and Jae-Gyu is left alone by herself in Seoul, wondering what happened to the terrific Whie-Hwan. This leaves the story the perfect opportunity to develop Hee-Do into boyfriend material. Hee-Do dotes on Jae-Gyu, and it’s clear that they live well together, but Jae-Gyu isn’t feeling it, which makes me wonder why Hee-Do isn’t there. He was never a very serious contender for her affections. But this is him in his best form, and the smooth lines and smooth moves are nice, especially since none of it is stuff that Whie-Hwan is inclined towards.

Just in case you were wondering, this is still ridiculously addictive. It just gets better as it goes along, and I’m very excited to read the conclusion next volume. Admittedly, you could swap it out with several other Yen Press titles, but they’re all good, so that’s not something I’m really keeping track of.

Sugarholic 3

July 28, 2010

Gong GooGoo – Yen Press – 2010 – 5 volumes

There’s not really any surprises here, but I still think this series is highly enjoyable as a Cutie Korean Comic.

One thing that is a little different is that Jae-Gyu seems to be leaning towards Whie-Hwan rather than Hee-Do, the lost love from childhood. Admittedly, it isn’t even pretending that Hee-Do is in the running, but all the same, when was the last time the lost love didn’t get the girl?

Hee-Do is in this volume more than the previous ones, when he shows up to save Jae-Gyu from a rich creep and finds himself in a confrontation with Whie-Hwan. He has a heart-to-heart drunk conversation with Jae-Gyu, who is still under the impression that he hates her. Jae-Gyu doesn’t really have any feelings for him, but she is beginning to warm up to Whie-Hwan, and vice versa. She’s still not all that likable, and it’s hard when someone as useless as her is fought over by three men, but I think it’s a testament to how addictive this is that I didn’t give that a second thought when it came up in the story here. It helps that this has all the things that make Korean comics interesting, like characters that unintentionally needle one another, a lack of timidity all around, a fast pace, and a snappy contemporary mood. Couples in these series aren’t usually harboring shy crushes, but are generally drawn together after not getting along at first. I like that approach a lot.

A couple major and really cool things happen. Whie-Hwan brings Jae-Gyu out in public for the first time, but nobody is fooled and Jae-Gyu is kidnapped and attacked by the same creep that tried to buy her at the auction last volume. Hee-Do shows up and saves her, then takes her from Whie-Hwan and the relationship is developed on all sides, with a near-admission from Hee-Do and Whie-Hwan missing Jae-Gyu like crazy with her gone. Later, Jae-Gyu and Whie-Hwan go on a date, which is rather contrary to the usual rich boy date in that everything goes wrong in a tremendously embarrassing way, with just enough realism so that you feel bad for the characters (ie the characters aren’t run over by an ice cream cart or something equally ridiculous, but are in a couple fender benders, are stranded in a strange place, get caught in the rain, et cetera). Later, Whie-Hwan begins to open up, but I think most of that will happen next volume.

The characters still aren’t all that sympathetic or terribly deep, but again, this type of Korean girls’ comic is definitely a weakness of mine. I think I just prefer the character types to their Japanese counterparts (like the heroines being strong-willed and not shy doormats, or the sarcastic banter that seems to go on between couples, or the characters that antagonize one another and keep things interesting). They’re still light reads and relatively… trashy, I suppose, but I could inhale a countless number of these and never get bored. I don’t know what it is, but Yen Press really chooses good titles. I really hope these types of series are doing well for them.

Sugarholic 2

July 24, 2010

Gong GooGoo – Yen Press – 2009 – 5 volumes

My backlog is getting ridiculously large as of late, and my Yen Press series have been suffering the most. This series has the best name, so I decided to start here. I probably should have just waited until next week, when the last volume comes out, and marathoned the whole thing, but I’ve never been the best at planning ahead.

This is pretty standard fare for Korean girls’ comics, but I still love it to death. Jae-Gyu’s bad decisions and selfish ways still have not caught up with her as she angrily sponges off Whie-Hwan for all her day-to-day living needs. At one point, some sinister women get Jae-Gyu drunk and take her to a… “slave auction” where rich men buy women and pay them as much money as it takes to get them to do whatever they want. She is saved by Whie-Hwan, but is neither grateful nor really aware of what he’s done for her. Meanwhile, her best friend is worried about her (for good reason), her brother is about to be thrown out of school for financial troubles, and the rich rock star she used to bully in elementary school is still floating around like a stalker.

Two rich guys vying for the attentions of an unlikable heroine is not a story I would expect to get into, and yet here I am, writing this so that I can move onto the next volume. It’s so hard to be sympathetic to Jae-Gyu, who is too strong-willed for her own good. She’s not at all boy-crazy, which is a point in her favor, and to be fair it’s hard to find a manga with heroines who are this… sharp, but she’s got a different set of negative qualities. She’s just really, really selfish and gives no thought to those around her. An excuse for her behavior might be that she’s supposed to be a country bumpkin, but she fits in with the city dwellers far too well for that excuse to really hold water.

So far, the biggest draw for me is Whie-Hwan, who fits nicely into the handsome and arrogant rich-boy stereotype, but is interesting enough to keep me reading. A connection to an old love affair with a former tutor is revealed, although the reason why he needs Jae-Gyu to be his fake girlfriend is still not clear (or perhaps I’ve forgotten, it’s likely a family issue), and I’m still curious where the Thai boxing angle will eventually go.

The series’ sense of humor is also a big draw. It’s not nearly as slapstick-y as a lot of shoujo manga I’ve read, and has more to do with Jae-Gyu embarrassing herself in front of others with absolutely no shame or reflection on what she’s done. She’s strong enough to do it without needing pity, which is key.

There are a bunch of side characters that are easy to keep straight and are responsible for keeping things interesting. The creepy rock star is developed a bit more here, although he’s still not playing a huge role in the story as of yet. And the forward momentum of the plot is also not clear, other than getting Jae-Gyu to eventually land on her feet.

With a few fun characters and a nice sense of humor, it’s good enough for me to be hooked, but then again, I’m a huge shoujo fan. Others might need a little more to sink their teeth into at this point, but I have high hopes the plot and characters will shape up into something wonderful in the next couple volumes.

Sugarholic 1

July 3, 2009

This is one of those cutey Korean comics I like so much.  You know the kind I’m talking about.  They all have a remarkably similar art style, and are usually comedic and somehow non-dramatic romances with strong characters in relatively realistic situations.  I’ve read several of these, and have yet to be disappointed by any of them.

I thought this one might break the mold a little since it featured an older heroine (she’s 20, not a high school student), but a lot of the same plot devices are in play.  Jae-Gyu is kicked out of her house by her grandma for being a lazy, unemployed slob, and is sent to live with her brother in Seoul to find work and a general joie de vivre.  The only other person she knows in Seoul is her best friend Hyun-Ah, who moved there with her family just before graduating from high school.  Because this is a girly story, immediately upon entering the city, she has a run-in with an incredibly good-looking man and makes a quick enemy of him.  Also, a former childhood friend she hasn’t seen in years is now a singing sensation and also has a crush on her.  The good-looking man (Whie-Hwan) winds up coercing Jae-Gyu into a cohabitation situation by the end of the volume.  Despite the fact it sounds like this runs along a tight formula, the story is actually very enjoyable, and I loved all the little twists and jokes even as I saw them coming.

The childhood friend situation is a few levels more advanced than it usually is in this type of story.  The singer has been holding a torch for Jae-Gyu all these years and just doesn’t know how to tell her, where normally this type of relationship goes from animosity to friendship to awkward admiration to love.  Jae-Gyu is, of course, clueless.

Whie-Hwan’s situation is the most interesting element in the story so far.  He was apparently trained in a type of Thai martial art and has a deep connection to the man that taught him, who was also a world-famous fighter.  His family background is mysterious and kind of scary.  His father seems to have the power to send a squad of suits after him when he does things like go out with the wrong girl or refuse to stop seeing his teacher.  I do want to see where that goes.

Whie-Hwan is a huge jerk at the moment, so I’m not all that excited about the forced relationship between he and Jae-Gyu at the end of the book.  I suppose that’s what Jae-Gyu’s childhood friend is for, though, so I have that to look forward to.  And since I’ve come clean about Whie-Hwan… I don’t like Jae-Gyu that much either, since she’s so lazy and kind of bland, but I like generic female characters in Korean comics a bit better than the typical shoujo heroine since they tend to stand up for themselves and refuse to be doormats.

So far, I like it.  I like it a lot.  It’s sticking close to common shoujo plot devices, but I still enjoyed the first volume quite a bit, and hopefully the plot devices are just serving as a base to build an awesome story on.  Even if they aren’t, I wouldn’t mind seeing more of the same type of stuff in future volumes, honestly.  I can’t help it, I have a soft spot for cutie Korean comics.  Like I said, they’ve yet to let me down.

This was a review copy provided by Yen Press