Monday, June 20, 2011

And I'm the Mouse: Cheese in the Trap Manhwa Review

 
A promo for the Cheese in the Trap drama CD.

I discovered Soon Kki/순끼's manhwa Cheese in the Trap a while ago, and I have no idea how. All I know is that I had approximately 60 tabs open in my web browser, and that the first one featured Baka-Updates Manga's page on this webcomic.

Yep! A webcomic. It's a format that I think Cheese in the Trap utilizes well, which I'll go into in a little later.

But first, the story. Cheese in the Trap follows Sul, a college student who is returning to school after taking a year off. The circumstances of her leave aren't immediately clear, but they seem to have to do with an upperclassman, a handsome guy named Yoo Jung. Not only is he super cute, but he's apparently very polite, smart, and rich. Despite the fact that the ladies line up for this absolute heartthrob, Sul isn't so taken with him.

Now, doesn't that sound positively boring and cliche? A female protagonist who has a love/hate relationship with an impossibly perfect guy. Never seen that in EVERY SINGLE CHICK FLICK EVER MADE. But that's where the cliches stop.

At first Sul's reaction to Yoo Jung seems typical of a female protagonist in a romance comic. She's highly skeptical of him, and perhaps too immune to the charm that has managed to affect every single girl except her. It seems as though she'll end up learning to love him as his sudden, mysterious interest in her slowly wins her over. However, as the story progresses, partly through flashbacks woven throughout the present narrative, the reader discovers that Sul's disdain isn't so unfounded.

She first meets him through a group of friends at a restaurant, soon after she's returned to school. He arrives late, of course, allowing for that wonderful, full-panel entrance that every main male character deserves in a female-targeted manhwa. He's popular and loved by the other students, treating them all with apparent kindness. As the night wears on, everyone gets pretty crazy drunk, and Sul goes outside to get a breather. While she's there, she notices Yoo Jung speaking on his phone, telling to whomever he's speaking that they're all "indecent." In other words, his behavior with the group wasn't truthful at all.

Even that sounds a little familiar, no? I thought of Kare Kano, for instance, or any other number of "you must learn to show your true self!" manga/manhwa, but Cheese in the Trap makes Yoo Jung much more ambiguous, even unpredictable, as a character. As the story goes on, you realize that Sul isn't, in fact, an airheaded heroine, but rational with a reliable intuition. It's revealed, for example, that previously Yoo Jung had been cold to her; soon after they met, he seemed to actively ignore any of Sul's attempts to be friendly. You start to believe Sul, then, when she suspects that there's something fishy when Yoo Jung makes a total 180, asking her for study and dinner dates.

And it's when he gets friendly that things get weird for Sul. Their budding relationship, or at least Yoo Jung's interest in Sul, spreads rumors at school, especially among Yoo Jung's female admirers. When Sul tries to quell the jealousy of one girl, with Sul firmly stating that she has no interest in Yoo Jung, Yoo Jung happens to pop in, reigniting the girl's anger just as Sul was getting through to her. Situations like that should just seem coincidental on their own, but the issue is that they keep happening. And since Yoo Jung isn't really doing too much beyond popping in at suspiciously inopportune moments, Sul has no evidence that anything strange is truly going on. There are also her moments of pure intuition, the times when she feels that there's something really off about Yoo Jung, but that's not exactly what you'd call solid evidence either.

While there are hints of romance, or at least vague promises of it, my favorite aspect of Cheese in the Trap is the ambiguousness; the best way of describing it is to say that it's a slice-of-life style suspense manhwa. It isn't completely clear, for example, if Sul's suspicions are correct, or if she's just paranoid. But don't let my emphasis on the mystery element deter you: This manhwa is, for a lot of it, fun and lighthearted, but that's what makes the carefully scripted suspense all the more interesting, at times even thrilling.

My main qualm with the narrative has to do with the treatment of time, which is pretty important to the story. Even though I read all of the scanlations in pretty much one sitting, I still found the timelines kind of confusing. While there are clear present and past narratives, marked by white and black backgrounds respectively, both move in time at seemingly different rates, or don't follow a clear order. As the past narrative is necessarily fragmented to faciliate the mystery of the story, it's sometimes hard to know just when certain past events happened in relation to the present narrative, or even with each other. Perhaps this fragmented method is more effective if you're reading the comic from week to week, as opposed to the way I did, which was all at once. At the same time, Cheese in the Trap's use of two timelines is part of its appeal, even if it can be difficult to follow at times. And I admit that it might just have to do with my reading it badly.

Sul and Yoo Jung.
As for the art, it's actually what initially drew me to this webcomic. I love the clean yet sketchy linework and the flat, muted colors used in every strip. The characters are drawn simply but are extremely expressive, both in their faces and body language. And this might be a strange thing to note, but I really like the fact that they don't have weirdly colored hair; the "weirdest" is probably Sul's orange-ish dye, but most everyone else has black hair. It adds a sense that, yes, these characters are supposed to be representative of actual Koreans. Lastly, I like their clothes. They're hip without being hilariously improbable, unlike much of the clothing found in K dramas. Anyway, I'm a big fan of the art in general, and even find it a little inspiring in my own drawing.

Each chapter is formatted as a long vertical strip, which is perfect for an online comic. Not that clicking is cumbersome or anything, but scrolling is something you can't do on anything but a computer; Cheese in the Trap takes advantage of its medium. I also feel that this page layout lets things look uncluttered, but that's also thanks to the way Soon Kki has designed the comic. (Update 6.21.11: I've realized that it's more accurate to call this a webtoon, a particular, Korean form of online comics. See this post on iSeeToon for a little discussion on the difference between Korean webtoons and American webcomics.)

Currently there are 24 chapters translated online by Webtoonlive, but unfortunately the project is on hiatus; as the original Cheese in the Trap is hosted by Naver, the artist is uncomfortable with scanlations by an outside source. Webtoonlive is still trying to ask for permission, so hopefully Naver will grant it. Until then, the original Korean webcomic continues to be updated, and for those who can't read Korean, summaries are dutifully written by the scanlators on Webtoonlive's Cheese in the Trap forum.

For those of you learning Korean, maybe this'll be a good motivator to learn enough to read the untranslated comics! I'm actually using both the translated and original comics to work on my Korean, something I think is unique and useful about the online comics medium, in which both versions are free and available for everyone.

Korean webcomics are something I'm unfamiliar with, but Cheese in the Trap has made me a lot more enthusiastic for this particular form of the medium! There's something appealing about having both the raws and translations so easily available online, which isn't always possible with scanlations of more commercialized works. It's great for learning a language. See Webtoon Live's site for a whole list of other Korean webcomics they're translating.

Overall, I'd say Cheese in the Trap is appropriate for all audiences, though josei readers might find it the most satisfying. The comic is on hiatus for us native English speakers, but I still really encourage everyone to read it. It's suspenseful, romantic, and just plain original, but none of those adjectives convey the experience as well as reading it for yourself. So what are you still doing here?! Go read it now!


Links

Update 1.04.12: Cheese in the Trap scanlations are back (see comments below)! There's a bit of additional maneuvering required to read the translated text, but it's definitely doable. Head to the Odd Squad Scanlations site to get your continued, cheesy fix.

Cheese in the Trap on Mangafox: Best place to get the scanlations while Webtoon Live's site is down (see below).

Cheese in the Trap on Webtoon Live: This is currently down, as the scanlators are trying to get permission to continue scanlating. Regardless, this is the original site for English translations and should post the most up-to-date chapters, should this page return.

Cheese in the Trap on Naver: The original Korean comic, untranslated and I think still regularly updated by Soon Kki.

Webtoon Live's Cheese in the Trap Forum: Read the latest updates on the scanlation project's status, and also get summaries for the comics you can't read.


Blackbird.

5 comments:

  1. There's a scanlation team that got permission to translate. It's a slightly unconventional method and it might be a bit confusing to use but the original artist prefers it.

    here's the link : http://www.oddsquad.org/

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  2. Thanks for the link! I'm glad that there's a method that now suits everyone, including the artist.

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  3. have you watched the korean one (not the translation) of cheese in the trap? translation sometimes the word or the meaning fades a little. I have seen many mangas , and those that have romantic stories always have a ordinary girl who ends up with the popular, handsome prince boy. And sadly some manhwa does have that plot, but this cheese in the trap basically seems to be a romance story but not. I like how the author puts effort on relations between the characters.


    And Jung seems to abhor people who clings to him because of his money, looks... and others. He does not show his real feelings but he keep away people that seems unuseful for him(Jung).
    Sul was one of them (unuseful collegues) since he saw her in the first as drinking alcohols and picking up cigarette which he finds trashy and rubbish, and thought she was one of those other people who try to clong on him for his background but he keeps eye on her aFTER he heard from other collegue that shes the second in the whold class ( grade) and finds that she knows the true side of him ( the part she laughed and caught on his eye) after that their relations became worse and awkward.. and now totslly different.

    my english is not good, but i wanted to talk >.< ~
    This comic is very interesting and it has tension in it.

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    Replies
    1. did you know? Yu jung asked her out! after the incident with Sul's neighbor, their relationship got kind of awkward again, but they are still boyfriend, girlfriend!

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    2. I love this comic. And I got to agree with you, the meaning does fade a little when translated. I consider myself very lucky, as I'm fluent in both Korean and English. But you got to consider the fact that the author makes a living out of this,so she cannot have people distributing her comics. And Jung is very shrouded. However, I believe he genuinely likes sul.

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