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Reviewing the Review…

In many ways the work of a critic is easy.  We risk little, yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and their selves to our judgement.  We thrive on negative criticism, which is fun to write and to read.

“But, the bitter truth we critics face is that, in the grand scheme of things… the average piece of junk is probably more meaningful than our criticism designating it so.” — Anton Ego, The Grim Eater (Ratatouille © 2007 Disney/Pixar)

As the year draws to a close, manga reviewers the web over are compiling their annual “Best of/Worst of” lists.  Like every other manga publisher out there, we review these lists with a mixture of hopefulness and trepidation.  When we see our titles gracing the “Best of” categories, we cheer and eagerly send the news along to the creators of the work in question so they can share our glee.  When our titles have the misfortune of appearing in the “Worst of” categories, we’re gloomy and silently take our lumps – warranted or unwarranted as they may be from our perspective.  We welcome feedback on our titles, the good and the bad, which is why we send out a healthy supply of review copies each month and will continue to do so.  These copies are sent out with no strings attached, no insistence that books be given favorable reviews – just a request that the reviewer give his or her honest opinion of the work in question.

Recently, one of the aforementioned “Worst of” lists appeared at The Manga Critic citing its “2009 Manga Hall of Shame Inductees” which you can find here.  One of Yen’s titles, Pig Bride, appeared on this list, which frankly surprised me.  I’m a huge fan of the series and consider it to be a wonderful title.  It’s actually one of the books that I look most forward to reading when the latest pages cross my desk each month for inclusion in Yen Plus.  One of the most interesting things about the list to me, though, was an invitation from the author of the article which states, “so I encourage you to share…your reactions to this year’s dishonorees.”  Interesting.  It’s not something I’ve ever done before, responding to a review, but as I do have a very different take on the book, why not?  At the very least, it strikes me as an interesting exercise – to review the review!

And you can read my review of the review after the cut…

When I was a student (in one of those rare instances when I actually managed to get to class rather than playing Tekken), one of the lessons I most took to heart when studying literary analysis was that one should never draw parallels too closely between an author and his or her work.  This doesn’t just pertain to the events of the story but to the themes being expressed.  While it might be wholly acceptable to put forth that an underlying Oedipal theme runs through a work of fiction (provided one can back up that position) for example, it is something quite different to suggest that the author personally suffered from an Oedipal complex.  I believe this is a line that is crossed in The Manga Critic’s review of Pig Bride when it states, “The author’s contempt for women is palpable.”  Now I have never met KookHwa Huh, the author of this delightful series, so I can’t claim for certain that she doesn’t have a palpable contempt for women.  I highly suspect that’s not the case – but it’s simply not a conclusion one can reach one way or the other by reading her works of fiction.  As it reads, the statement strikes me as an unfair aspersion on the author’s character.

The Manga Critic’s review of Pig Bride offers as evidence of this purported palpable contempt for women the female characters of the book, casting them as either hysterics (Mu-Yeon, the titular character whom the article erroneously refers to as Mu-Jeon throughout) or ice queens (Doe-Doe, the lead character’s other romantic interest).  Frankly, though, I don’t find evidence of these characterizations of either of these young women in the work.  Far from hysterical, Mu-Yeon is insightful and strong – if a bit awkward in the ways of the modern world given her sheltered upbringing – as she takes on the role of Si-Joon’s protector from supernatural forces out to destroy him.  I found Michelle Smith’s description of “Mu-Yeon’s calm competency” in her review of the first volume of the series at Soliloquy in Blue to be a wonderfully apt depiction of the girl.  Neither can I comprehend the label “ice queen” as it is applied to Doe-Doe given the fawningly false persona she adopts to lure the wealthy Si-Joon into her greedy clutches.  Siren maybe…but ice queen?  And even Doe-Doe’s rather shallow character begins to find new depth as she is humbled and forced to reexamine herself as the story progresses.  This blanket condemnation of the women of Pig Bride also ignores the enigmatic presence of Mu-Hwa, Mu-Yeon’s sister, whose mute but winning personality completely defies either of these categorizations.  As she blushingly offers a bit of spit-roasted lizard to one of the male leads, she can be regarded as neither frantic nor cold.

As for The Manga Critic’s complaints about SuJin Kim’s art, I respectfully disagree and find myself in alignment instead with the perspective of Julie at Manga Maniac Cafe who writes of the second volume:  ”The art alone makes this title worthy of a read, with its fine lines, elegant details, and overall attractiveness…the vision revealed inside this book is gorgeous.  Dramatic and comedic scenes are played out with equal effectiveness, making the visuals a joy to behold.”  Unable to put it better, I’ll let Julie’s words and the art itself stand as my response.  I also vehemently disagree with The Manga Critic’s assertion that “Pig Bride isn’t doing much for the cause of Korean comics in translation.”  I would contend that Pig Bride is a brilliantly executed example of just a taste of what Korean manhwa has to offer, and that tradition — or any comics tradition — should be proud to have this title counted among its ranks.

Of course these are just my own opinions, and the reader’s mileage my vary as they say.  I highly recommend this series, though, and would go so far as to put it on one of the “Best of” lists for shojo in 2009, but I highly recommend that everyone give it a read and draw his or her own conclusions.

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23 Responses to “Reviewing the Review…”

  1. Thanks for taking the time to respond to my post, Kurt. It’s great to see a publisher feel so passionate about his product. I stand by my assessment of the book, however; it’s perfectly possible for a female author to be contemptuous of her female characters, as is suggested by some of my other nominees for Worst Manga of 2009.

  2. Hi, Katherine. Thanks for the invitation to submit feedback. This was actually a rather fun little exercise for me.

    I wholly agree that it is perfectly possible for a female author to be contemptuous of her female characters. I wouldn’t argue the point and don’t think I did in my response. I would, however, contend that it isn’t really possible to know an author’s particular frame of mind based solely on his or her work. One may argue that a work reflects a certain attitude or perspective, but it is a very different thing to contend that an author shares or endorses that perspective personally.

    I also don’t agree that this particular title conveys that contemptuous attitude towards women, and I think it would be difficult to defend such a claim drawing from examples within the book.

  3. “I would, however, contend that it isn’t really possible to know an author’s particular frame of mind based solely on his or her work. One may argue that a work reflects a certain attitude or perspective, but it is a very different thing to contend that an author shares or endorses that perspective personally.”

    I agree, and am sorry that my comments conflated the two; as someone who’s devoted her graduate studies to Dmitri Shostakovich’s music, I appreciate the hazards of ascribing intent to an artist. Thanks for the gentle prodding on that front.

    If anything comes of our discussion, I hope that your comments inspire readers to explore Yen’s manhwa catalog. While I wouldn’t recommend Pig Bride, I would point shojo fans to great titles like Forest of Gray City and Goong: The Royal Palace, both of which are beautifully crafted and very engaging.

    Thanks for a stimulating discussion!

  4. I am super picky with which books & series I read.
    But I think Pig Bride is a typical Korean drama.
    That I love so much!
    I watch the dramas with subtitles all the time.
    For they are very dramatic with movements like Pig Bride.
    But talking bout reviews, I really dislike Pandora Hearts.
    It’s not that great, neither was Gossip Girl.
    I read it and I was super excited.
    But when I got to the end, I was super disappointed.
    It was just blah and plain. .
    But I love Yen Press, the Korean&American&Chinese side is amazing.
    Soul Eater rocks my socks off too!

  5. I would just like to say as a “fan/consumer”, I love the Pig Bride. Maybe, I’m reading a different manwha, but I didn’t find contempt for the female characters or any of the other points brought up in the ‘review/list”. That could just be me, but I don’t look for anything more than entertainment. But, if I cry, laugh, learn something I didn’t know, envelope myself in someone elses imagainary world, then the manga/manhwa has done it’s job. It’s enriched my world and that’s all I ask.

  6. [...] Dacey inducts some works into her Manga Hall of Shame. This leads Kurt (Yen Press) Hassler to mount a forceful but cordial defense of one of Yen’s [...]

  7. [...] readers to submit their own suggestions. Then Yen Press director Kurt Hassler turns the tables and critiques Kate’s critique of the Yen book Pig Bride. Good times! At Precocious Curmudgeon, David Welsh waves farewell to the [...]

  8. Kurt,

    I find the quote at the top of the page to be distasteful at best. I have no problem with you disagreeing with someone’s critical assessment of a Yen Press title, however such an opening salvo against all forms of criticism is beyond the pale. In essence, “What you do is worthless, but don’t take that personally.” (Although, I always wondered how long before a publisher quoted that bit of narrative.)

    That being said, let me applaud the dialogue between you and Kate. You both handled this in a professional and mature manner. I like that you quoted other critics in your response. The manga critics community is far from monolithic and your post shows that superbly.

    As a fellow reviewer, I know I long for serious dialogue about the books I review. So it’s encouraging to this style of exchange happening.

    So drop the quote and this would be a perfect blog post.

  9. [...] posted an eloquent and thoughtful rebuttal to my assessment of Pig Bride, which you can read by clicking here. His comments prompted me to revise my review to make it clear that I’m not accusing the [...]

  10. [...] readers to submit their own suggestions. Then Yen Press director Kurt Hassler turns the tables and critiques Kate’s critique of the Yen book Pig Bride. Good times! At Precocious Curmudgeon, David Welsh waves farewell to the [...]

  11. I love Pig Bride it is currently my favorite manhwa. :) I really don’t see how any elements of pig bride are malicious to women. I see those elements in shojo all the time.

  12. Thanks for speaking up, Kurt– I know it’s sometimes scary to companies to want to respond to things directly, and it’s great to see Yen take a more friendly (but still very courteous) stance :)

    On the topic at hand: while I can’t speak to Pig Bride, having only read a couple of chapters myself, I have noticed how very, very often shoujo and/or female-created manga really DO revolve around tormenting their heroines and/or pigeonholing characters. How often do we see a plucky, cheery female lead who goes around every day being, to put it generally, *bothered* by the male lead? Of course, it always turns out to be because they’re mutually in love, but the men stalk, insult, manipulate, and sometimes even physically harass their female counterparts. And this is in manga that’s FOR women!

    At risk of taking this into territory no one wants to: we must also consider that yaoi manga, created by and for women, so frequently features varying degrees of molestation, coersion, and/or rape. And women eat it up, in a very, very general sense. I won’t go into a lengthy treatise on the reasons why this might be, but it’s clear with virtually every shoujo series that gets popular– Ouran Host Club, Fruits Basket, Vampire Knight, etc –that manga readers like heroines who are given lots of grief. (And some heroes, too, although their problems are usually more about upcoming battle and less about multi-layered interpersonal drama: Bleach’s Ichigo, Naruto, etc. But I doubt very much that Alucard sits around wondering whether Integra likes him *that way* in the last chapters of Hellsing, while Integra mischievously flirts and then insults.)

    Hm. Well. Merry Christmas: have some lengthy blather! ;)

  13. While I do not like Pig Bride personally, I read the other worse of 09 list and I was surprised that lucky star was on it. That is the one advantage of publications like YEN with the several stories in one vol there is a chance you will like 1 or 2 stories to justify the purchase. When I look at a review site I look for something I LOVE and see how they reviewed it so see if we are of the same mind.

  14. Well then I’m afraid you are going to need to do helps of reviews like this, because looking through alot of the worst lists, a few of your titles are on them.

    You got Zombie-Loan, Nabari No Ou, Sundome, Alice on Deadlines, Suzunari and tons of others.

    Just because one person said “This sucks”, doesn’t mean you need to get up in arms about it. Looking through other lists, Pig Bride got on top tens.

    While you may, or may not, say a good point. The issue is that you really felt the need to say how much this one series is so good. While I don’t mind that, the thing is that you have posted this rant on an official publishing website. I mean how am I going to take you seriously now after hearing this?

    Or maybe because it is such a big website, you felt you need to cover your company?

    What else am I meant to think with quotes of several reviewing sites?

    Ahh … I’m sounding too harsh. While I like the fact that you stood up for yourself, maybe it wasn’t very appropriate that you posted it on here. That is all.

    (By the way… I, too, dislike Pig Bride. And while your rant may be justified, I still do not like it.)

  15. [...] on it was Pig Bride, a Korean title published by Yen Press.  Kurt Hassler, head of Yen Press wrote a rebuttal to Kate’s review, questioning some of her interpretations.  A conversation in the comments [...]

  16. Just wanted to say that Pig Bride is one of my favorite Yen Press titles. Volume 3 was one of my Christmas presents! :)

  17. I don’t mind reviews in general, but it’s important not get swept up in the rhetoric- like in the case of the Chris Ofili’s “The Holy Virgin Mary.” It’s better to judge for yourself, after all. :D

    I don’t like the attack on yon-koma comics. >.>

  18. [...] Pig Bride in her 2009 Manga Hall of Shame. In an unusual move, Kurt responded with an impassioned post at the Yen Press blog, defending the series against accusations of misogyny and [...]

  19. Pig Bride… Never cared for the series. But Nabari No Ou? On anyone’s worst lists?

    BLASPHEMY.

  20. Wow such a high intellectual level in this comment section. It makes me feel bad for what I’m about to do.

    >implying that a publisher of translated manga has any right to feel emotional attachment to what they publish

  21. Meh, dunno how Black God didn’t end up on those lists tbh, although I guess it is only natural that a shoujo which is also a manwha is on it instead.

    Yen press has a few good series (Higurashi, arugably Zombie Loan although thats a bit of a love it or hate it thing)

    But when they got so much shoujo and manwha it’s hardly suprising some yen-press stuff ends up on worst of lists.

  22. I discovered Pig Bride through Yen Press, and I was absolutely delighted when I found the first volume in my local book store. I bought it immediately. I absolutely love Pig Bride (and as someone who does not normally read Korean manwha). I found it to be a wonderful read. I enjoyed the complicated relationship between the Bride and Si-Joon. As for the issue with female characters, I found them to be very realistic depictions: honestly, who doesn’t know a “mean girl” in their school like Doe-Doe who plays nice in public? I can’t wait to get the rest of the series, thank you, Yen Plus!

  23. Yen Press, thanks so much for localizing Pig Bride! It’s one of my all time favourites (and I tend to read more manga than manhwa, so that’s saying a lot). I just finished rereading all five of my volumes today.

    I am shocked that anyone could find fault in such beautiful art…I mean, if you want to see some terrible manhwa art along with a horrible, convoluted, nonsensical excuse for a plot, hey, just go pick up anything by Hwang Mi Ri (apart from Cutie Boy, that was mostly good until the end) or Han Yu-rang…but that’s just my opinion; those authors have plenty of fans. A lot of my time reading Pig Bride was spent lingering over a page, simply taking in the gorgeous art.

    As for comedy, the series if fricking hilarious, laugh out loud funny! ALSO, THE RACCOON. If that raccoon got his own spin-off, I would rush out and buy it.

    Also, it was just fine the way the female characters were portrayed. A major part of writing realistic, believable, characters is giving them personality flaws. Does the reviewer, Katherine Dacey, wish for females to only ever be depicted as perfect, flawless beings? As you quite rightly point out, Doe Doe is more siren than ice queen (makes you wonder if the reviewer even read the manwha, when she got such a basic, and obvious, thing wrong). And as Megan points out in the comment above mine, there are girls like Doe Doe in real life. I went to school with girls just like her. Normally this kind of character is depicted in a shallow way, but Pig Bride’s author broke with tradition and actually gave Doe Doe some character development.

    And, um, when exactly was Mu Yeon hysterical?! The books are still fresh in my mind since I read them all again just today, and I can’t recall a single instance when she behaved in a hysterical fashion. On the contrary, I thought Mu Yeon was a great heroine. She was likable, flawed, always tried her best, recognized when she did wrong…in a word: human. Her sister was adorable, too.

    And what about Si Joon’s mother? She is instantly lovable. Even though she is only a minor character, his mother’s assistant too, is likable and is given some moments where she gets to shine.

    So, to sum up, I didn’t find a single thing to hate about how ANY of the female characters was depicted. To draw the conclusion that “the author’s contempt for women is palpable” is completely false. In fact, I would say the reviewer’s contempt for the author is palpable, since she didn’t bother reading the work properly yet still went ahead and wrote a negative review which was full of false points (e.g. Mu Yeon hysterical, Doe Doe and ice queen, etc).

    Don’t get me wrong, it’s fine to write a negative review, by all means say why you dislike something, not everyone has the same taste, but when a review is full of such blatant inaccuracies that, as a fan, you begin to question whether the reviewer even read the work she’s critiquing, it does make her less credible and make you unlikely to take her words seriously.

    Honestly, it seems as Ms Dacey flipped through volume 1, got a rough idea of what the story was about through reading a few panels of dialogue, grabbed a few names out of it than cobbled together her review.

    Pig Bride is a wonderful, delightful manhwa that I can’t recommend highly enough. It completely charmed me, and if you give it a chance, it may well do the same to you, too.

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