Thursday, December 27, 2007

Hanami: International Love Story, vol. 1

Story by PLUS with Art by Sung-Jae Park
Released in the US by Dark Horse

Slugline: Is this story just about being stuck between two girls or stuck between Korea and Japan?

Joonho has finally had the courage to confess his love to Sae-un, the girl he has been attracted to in his Korean high school in and for once in these stories she actually reciprocates right there rather than refusing or running off. Unfortunately, as soon as he gets home from having his confession accepted, he find outs his family is moving Seoul that day. Once he complete the move he begins a long distance (well, medium distance) relationship with Sae-un, but his Japanese neighbor Hanami keeps on intruding on his thoughts and she keeps on finding herself thinking of him. But both of their lives in Seoul are complicated by cast of ludicrous characters.

I do find that there is an interesting subtext in the title. To say that there is an apathy between Japan and Korea on the cultural and historical level is to understate the case. Koreans who were relocated to Japan in World War 2, their grandchildren who remain in Japan are still not citizens. And let's not even bring up the issue of the comfort women (If you don't know what I am talking about, well, the wiki entry is here, and it is not pleasant.) So the fact that Hanami's grandfather actually married his Korean wife and then moved to Korea, well, just from that you can tell this is a manwha because the whole Korean issue is still very unspoken in Japan. That whole issue is something I hope that gets touched upon more seriously in later volumes.

Despite the cheese, cliche and chibi aspects of the story, the fundamental conflict that is driving Joonho and the story is handled well. Joonho is torn between Sae-un who he has been attracted to for a while before moving and the friendship and possibly something more he could have with Hanami. Sae-un is someone that he understands, liked for a while, but he is also separated from her, not by a great deal but still a distance. Meanwhile Hanami is right there, foreign and so exotic, yet needing him. But Joonho is right to wonder if she likes him on his own merits or because he is a substitute for the love she had previously lost. And while the issue of language/miscommunication is first played up for laughs it is then is played a little more straight. Joonho's sense of detachment and discomfort at the Japanese language study group feels right, and I think Hanami is purposely misunderstanding Joonho's explanation of his relationship with Sae-un. I wish that the early chibi /cliche aspects could just be forgotten, but if they continue to treat the love triangle as a real dilemma rather than an excuse for broad comedy, the series can only strengthen. If the story could perhaps begin to deal with Japanese/Korean issues, this could be an exceptional series.

Hanami: International Love Story, vol. 1 is also available from Right Stuf, Intl., an online retailer specializing in anime and manga.

- Ferdinand

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