Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Stand By Youth, v. 1

Story by Young-Bin Kim with Art by Juder
Released in the U.S. by TokyoPop

Slugline: What if your SATs really did determine what you did for the rest of your life?

Sometimes it is easy to forget that the differences between the US and Japan are more than just cosmetic, that there are some deep differences aside from just wearing school uniforms. And those differences are even bigger once you add Korean manwha to the picture. In Stand By Youth, we are talking about tests that define what schools you get into to a much greater degree than the US's SATs do. If you do not do well enough, you go to cram school for a year in order to take the test again and repeat the process as often as need be. Stand By Youth is about one of these students, Hyungmo, who usually does well in school but manages to choke big time in the exams and places dismally in them. He has to go to one of the cram schools to prepare for the test again and due to his scores he ends up in a class filled with juvenile delinquents. Once there he meets Sora, a fellow student who has to study for the test. After consoling Sora because her alcoholic father has shown up at the school threatening to withdraw her, they start, or at least Hyungmo thinks they have, dating. But she has a secret and whether or not they are really are dating in anyplace but in Hyungmo's mind is a question that has yet to be answered.

This is an interesting title, especially given that it gives us a view of the cram school environment (though they are not exactly cram schools by the Japanese definition) in Korea. There are some cliches wandering around and I think I see some story elements coming, but neither is this title a complete cookie cutter. The guy is spineless, but he's not clueless. He can see through the front that others are putting up to encourage him, though it does take a little effort on his part. It is also a snapshot of that point between high school and college, where people whom you've known all your life leave you behind -- literally in the case of Hyungmo -- and you have to figure out what you are going to do next and how you will shoulder the new responsibilities that come out of that time. Hyungmo does still have his parents around to rely on, but he now sees his relationship with them differently, as he has to prove to them that their faith in him is justified. But then those annoying cliches masquerading as characters wander back in, so while it has something worthwhile story-wise, there is a lot of other stuff obscuring those elements.

Stand By Youth, vol. 1 is also available from Right Stuf, Intl., an online retailer specializing in anime and manga.

- Ferdinand

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