Manhwa can come up with some doozies to throw couples together and that is part of its charm. My recent purchase of the three-volume That Guy was Splendid manhwa (after Honey Mustard and Be My Sweet Darling precedents) only proved that even after actively resisting shiny Oooh! Bishounen! lures that resistance is futile.
Am I pleased about it?
Was That Guy really that splendid, that cool, that wicked?
He was Splendid, He was Cool: What more do you want?
Based on online novelist phenomenon Guiyeoni's Internet novel (also adapted into film as He Was Cool AKA 놈은 멋있었다 Geunomeun meoshiteotda in 2004), the manhwa That Guy was Splendid follows the romantic travails of Ji EunSung and Han YeWon, both 18-year-old high school students.
The story opens in media res, with YeWon and her best girlfriend KyongWon scrambling to escape from something. Or someone. We immediately find out that YeWon is running away from Ji EunSung's gang. Why?—we are not yet told. A convenient brick wall presents itself and the pair rush towards it. As YeWon clambers up and triumphantly leaps down (this is a service shot; the "camera" is placed at a low angle), her inner monologue hints at the state of things to come: «This would be the biggest mistake of my life.»
Of course, bleached guy is none other than Ji EunSung.
After a flashback that explains the none-too-cordial meeting of the two (they first traded cheap shots over an internet forum and finally faced off while YeWon was in a salon getting her hair straightened), we return to the present action. As that was EunSung's first kiss, he is now demanding that YeWon take responsibility and marry him.
Will she? The manhwa coyly stops short of explicitly answering this question.
My Thoughts: The Korean Hanadan Wannabe
NOTE: I worship Hanadan and am not feeling particularly generous. If you're an avid fan of That Guy Was Splendid, skip this.
The novelty of a teenaged guy's insistence on marriage or bust aside, the manhwa illustrated by Kim JeaEun zooms off hyperdrive fast after that first kiss. Other reviewers have also observed this. The whiplash pace felt as if Guiyeoni, mindful of her teenaged fanbase, couldn't wait to haul out the trite heavy artillery in her tropes arsenal and shortcut a way to popular success. This is not bad per se; in fact, I would have ignored it, had not the almost non-stop cramming of everything plus the kitchen sink in the first six chapters shrieked of impatience so loudly nor been so obtrusive.
In other words, the plot development was classic forcing the issue; coercing something to grow with unnatural haste. If this hurried superficiality is a trademark, it may explain criticism of Guiyeoni's plots in particular and the internet novelist in general.
But getting on the soapbox to pontificate about instant gratification is equally tired and not at all my main point about TGWS. What struck me more as I strafing-run-read this story was its unsettling similarity to Kamio Yoko-sensei's Hana Yori Dango.
Without any warning, EunSung and YeWon transformed into Tsukasa x Tsukushi wannabe's, albeit without the yama-san of money the Doumyouji scion possesses. Like Tsukasa, EunSung is the leader of a school gang (the (F)4 Heavenly Kings of Sang High School). Like Tsukasa, EunSung's first love is YeWon. At the outset, YeWon like Makino Tsukushi is targeted by this gang headed by the love interest and again, similar to the Hanadan heroine, YeWon initially favors another Heavenly King,
Hanazawa Rui Kim HyunSung but ends up falling for EunSung anyway. So much so that (like Tsukushi), she tries to stop a rival gang bent on beating him up. Those are just the obvious correspondences. The physical comedy, even YeWon and EunSung's bickering have that Hanadan/TxT flavor.
One key difference is provided by Kim JeaEun's art. Tsukasa, Tsukushi, and Rui never looked this good, even on Kamio Yoko-sensei's best day (sorry, Sensei ^^;). But then pretty art is one of manhwa's strongest points so it's understandable. And in Hanadan's defense, the comeliness (or lack of it) is ultimately irrelevant to the story and Kamio Yoko-sensei's character designs could never be described as vapid, even on her worst day.
That I'm ambivalent about TGWS should be overdone by now. Guiyeoni succeeded in getting me to read, but as with the case of junk food, there was no cerebral sustenance to be had. You may argue that if I wanted an intellectual orgasm so much, I shouldn't be turning to graphic novels but I don't believe the genre should be satisfied with its perceived (correctly or not) lowest common denominator status. I think Guiyeoni was attempting to do exactly this with a clumsy attempt at working AIDS into the TGWS story.
As for that similitude with Hanadan, I can only say that Hanadan, at least, achieved surprising depths. TGWS remained boilerplate. Successful, yes. Inventive no.
Would there be an alternate reality in which I would choose not to read That Guy was Splendid? Probably not.
To reflect both my gratitude and ambivalence, I rate That Guy was Splendid:
5 of 10 accidental kisses
~nik AKA 花木兰03 who prepares to duck the rotten fruit that might be lobbed in her direction
That Guy was Splendid is © 2004, 2005, 2006 Kim JeaEun & Guiyeoni. First published in South Korea by Hwangmae Publishers Co. Indonesian translated edition published by arrangements through Shinwon Agency Co. and © 2006 PT Elex Media Komputindo.