Sunday, April 19, 2009

Korean Manhwa Returns: A Counterposition

A few posts ago, Polecat argued that Manhwa was cliche and repetitive. Well, that's one side of the story. This post reflects a long standing internal argument at Manga Meditation. Manhwa is one of my favorites. Polecat can't stand it. So while Polecat might have some valid points in the earlier post, I'm not convinced that her viewpoint is unbiased. In the interest of balanced debate, here comes the smackdown-- Polecat vs. Starfish.

All of the issues Polecat raised about Manhwa have equivalents in Japanese Manga. Recycled plot, standard character designs, and exaggerated stylistic choices are old standbys. Where would we be without blackmail based relationships, half-siblings in love, the perky naive heroine, or the brooding secret-ridden rich male lead? This list represents a small handful of the cliches that build Manga's foundation. The broken record has a larger context than just Manhwa. Japanese manga also repeats themes... also repeats them... also repeats... also... also...

Ahem, excuse me. Anyway, Polecat's next issue is the uber-exaggerated artistic style of Manhwa. Visually, what makes manga recognizable as manga is unrealistically stylized cartoon depictions of life. Looking at Chibi and Bishonen styles as the two extremes of the illustrated spectrum, I think we can make room for starry eyes, especially when the background is a floral screentone. Oh, don't forget that big hands mean big... well I'm sure you get the idea.

As Polecat noticed, Manhwa seems to have a higher percentage of spunky heroines than Japanese manga. Unlike Polecat, I always find myself cheering for the tough girl. I get annoyed with whiny, weepy antics of the common clingy Shojou heroine. A girl who can stand her own or at least gets a few snappy lines once in a while is much preferred. In addition to the Manhwa Polecat listed, other manga with plucky women include Gokusen, Miriam, Bleach, Akuma de Junai, Nana, and Rose of Versailles. I'll give some ultra-quick summaries anticipating longer reviews later. Gokusen is about a high school teacher with a Yakusa family background. Miriam is about a young orphan who resolves to save the world. Bleach's supporting character, Rukia, is not a girly girl. In Akuma de Junai, Aki has a split personality one of which kicks ass. Nana has one weak lead and one strong lead, and finally, Oscar from Rose of Versailles is famous for her strong personality. I haven't actually read Rose of Versailles, but it's on my to-do list. These are just a few off the top of my head. I'd be interested in expanding the list. Send me your recommendations!

Back to the Manhwa issue. I've only read the tip of the iceberg. As I read more Manhwa, I'll keep Polecat's complaints, make that criticisms, in mind, but to extend her metaphor, despite Zoolander's limited repertoire, he's still one of the hottest models around. 


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