Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The Color of Earth

By Kim Dong Hwa. Released in North America by First Second.

I admit I don't read a lot of Korean manwha. The decision is mostly financial; I spend far too much money on manga as it is, and wanted to draw a line somewhere. I also rarely review things I don't have a pre-opinion on, as I don't get reviewer's copies, so am relying on things I've gotten myself. If I didn't at least like the premise, I wouldn't have gotten it. But it's roundtable time, and so I picked up the first volume of Color of Earth, a series I'd seen at bookstores but never really paid attention to.

It's certainly a handsome and well-presented volume, and I've no issues with the translation. The art is gorgeous, and one of the main reasons to pick it up. As the entire book seems to be made up of similes comparing men and women (and their body parts) to various plants and flowers, it's appropriate that the backgrounds should be overflowing with blossoming and flowering trees, shrubs, and bushes. Our two heroines are also quite pretty, although I think that the artist overdoes Ehwa's 'demure blush' looks a bit.

Likewise, much of the dialogue is poetic, and it's worth reading aloud at times to get into the flowing lyricism of the words. Ehwa's mother in particular is fond of teaching Ehwa like this, almost via parable. This can also be frustrating - there are many times when I wish Ehwa's mom would simply set her down and be blunt, rather than another elliptical speech about gourds. Most of the time, though, it helps to add to the mood of the book, which is relaxed and nostalgic.

Perhaps a bit too relaxed. It took me forever to finish this volume, mostly as there was little sense of urgency to it. Even in the climax, which Ehwa running for the train and then being spotted by her unfortunate first crush, it's almost like we're seeing the whole thing through a filter of gauze. I have similar problems with Mushishi, which I noted in an earlier roundtable review. This manwha meanders, and while this too helps to evoke the mood, it can also put me to sleep when there's nothing going on but Ehwa mooning around and thinking about her loves.

I can't really go on about the sexual politics too much, of course, as this is meant to be a historical book, and this is pretty much what Korean women were supposed to be like at the time, I'm led to understand. I will note I was irritated at the character of Bongsoon, who seemed to be there merely to show how much more demure and maidenly our heroine is.

Lastly, an irritation that is not the author's fault. In famous works of the past - say, a collection of Little Orphan Annie cartoons, or an early Tezuka collection - I don't mind an afterward with someone else providing context and showing how influential the work is. However, the afterword here grated on me, as it seemed to be trying to convince me after I'd read the book that this manwha that came out only a few years ago was the greatest thing since sliced bread. I didn't really like it in Pluto either, although that one was less self-serving. But come on, I've already got the book and read it - don't sell it to me again. Let the work speak for itself.

This is a very pretty book, both in terms of its prose and its art. But its pacing didn't really grab me, and I don't think I care enough about what happens to Ehwa to get the other two. I'm guessing she ends up happily married in the end.

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