“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.