MICHELLE: Hey, Melinda! What’s the best way to carve wood?
MELINDA: I don’t know, MIchelle. What is the best way to carve wood?
MICHELLE: Whittle by whittle!
MELINDA: Oooooo that one was a little painful.
MICHELLE: Sorry! I can’t help it; I love dumb jokes.
Okay, so. We should probably explain how this column is going to be a little different than most.
MELINDA: Yes, I suppose we should. Was it your idea? I think it might have been your idea.
MICHELLE: I can’t remember. Anyway… Before there were VIZManga.com, eManga, or JManga, there was NETCOMICS. Back when Melinda and I both wrote for Manga Recon, we got introduced to their site—where chapters of various series (mostly manhwa and BL) are available online for 25 cents each—and found some truly great titles just waiting to be discovered. The site remained a regular destination of mine, and I was concerned when no new releases were posted for about six months earlier this year.
Happily, NETCOMICS is now back with a vengeance and is currently actively releasing chapters from four series: Full House, Small-Minded Schoolgirls, So I Married an Anti-Fan, and Core Scramble. And it just so happened that three of those achieved a full volume’s worth of material within the past week or so, making them candidates for consideration in this week’s Off the Shelf!
MELINDA: Since Michelle and I are both such big fans of NETCOMICS manhwa, we decided to do mutual reads of all three of these new volumes, so while we usually each bring our own books to the table, this week, we’ve both read all of them!
MICHELLE: Indeed! So, where should we start? Perhaps with So I Married an Anti-Fan?
MELINDA: Excellent choice!
So I Married an Anti-Fan comes to us from the manhwa-ga Wann, author of 100% Perfect Girl, a series I liked…. really not at all. While trashy romance is certainly fine in my book, controlling love interests are not, and 100% Perfect Girl‘s Jarte was too awful for me to find romantic in the slightest. Fortunately, though I Married an Anti-Fan offers up a typically cold, arrogant male lead, our heroine is more than a match for him.
There’s a lot of plot in this first volume, but here’s the basic premise: Reporter Geunyoung Lee is drinking at a club, where she witnesses a popular male idol brutally rejecting a girl. In her stupor, she snaps a photo with her camera, but the idol, Joon Hoo, catches up to her as she flees the scene, and deletes the photo from her phone himself, at which point Geunyoung vomits on his shoes.
Thanks to the power of Joon’s agency, the incident costs Geunyoung her job and, ultimately, her apartment, which she can’t afford to keep. Enraged, she embarks on a fierce anti-fan campaign in an attempt to discredit Joon, which, through a series of wacky circumstances (in true K-drama form), results in her being chosen to basically live and work with Joon on a “reality” show called, “So I Married an Anti-Fan.”
MICHELLE: Though I never read 100% Perfect Girl myself, I definitely remembered your aversion to it, so was quite pleasantly surprised to find myself kind of loving this first volume. Part of what sold me were the modern touches—I loved seeing Geunyoung’s brawl with some Joon fangirls on YouTube, loved the sequence where she starts a blog and is immediately inundated with negative comments, and loved the whole reality series idea. How can it be that this hasn’t been the plot of a manhwa or manga before?! It’s so rife for cracktastic goodness!
I also liked that while Geunyoung is definitely fierce and a match for Joon, neither of them is exactly the archetype they may seem to be. Geunyoung, for example, is not always shrill and abrasive, but is honestly searching for what she wants to do with her life and mostly upset by the fact that she lost her job. Even though she didn’t love being a reporter, the writing was important to her. And Joon is not the arrogant celebrity, but honestly regrets what he did to Geunyoung—he had no idea she wasn’t really some ruthless paparazzi out for scandal—and finds peace in her presence because, since her opinion of him is already as low as it could get, he doesn’t have to worry about maintaining an idealistic image.
The reality show itself hasn’t started as of the first volume, but I find I am really looking forward to it! In fact, I’m tempted to read the two chapters of volume two that are now available, but figure the story will be best enjoyed in full-volume chunks.
MELINDA: I mentioned earlier that the plot here is in true K-drama form, and really, it reads just like a TV drama to me, which isn’t an insult in the slightest. This volume is well-paced and compelling, with a strong dose of my favorite flavor of grown-up girls’ manhwa humor. The romance is predictable, of course, but the upside of this is that I know I’m going to enjoy watching it play out. It’s a great fit for fans of something like You’re Beautiful, and actually less far-fetched. Definitely a check in the “win” column for NETCOMICS.
MICHELLE: I have yet to actually make it past the first episode of any K-drama, but if they’re like this perhaps I will have to make more of an effort. It also makes me think I should give another Wann series a chance. Perhaps not 100% Perfect Girl, but maybe Can’t Lose You, which is also available on the NETCOMICS site.
MELINDA: So, what’s next? Core Scramble?
MICHELLE: Sure! So, this is a boys’ love story that is actually pretty light on the romance so far. Our protagonist, Chaeun Shin, wields his magical powers in service of an organization called Clarus Orbis, which is tasked with doing away with “halls” (essentially interdimensional portals) and the “bugs” that come through them. Chaeun is devoted to his commander, Gayoon, even though Gayoon is a cold-hearted jerk who casually abandons his team mid-battle to go hang out with his girlfriend. And Chaeun’s never really tempted to leave Gayoon’s team, either, even though he’s presented with a perfectly viable alternative. Meanwhile, another group of magic users is interfering with the C.O. guys, but I never really understood what it is they’re after. In any case, their leader, Moonhoo, likes to feel Chaeun up whenever he’s presented with the opportunity.
MELINDA: That is a more coherent summary than I could possibly have mustered. I salute you, Michelle! That’s pretty much the story, or at least as much as we understand at this point.
Let’s face it: Core Scramble is a mess. It’s an attractive mess that has definitely caught my attention, but really, it’s a complete and utter mess. To be fair, I’m not sure this is all the author’s fault. The adaptation is sloppily executed, with some text clearly ending up in the wrong places here and there, making the story’s heavy exposition even more confusing than it has to be. Also, some of the BL elements feel a bit tacked on, as though the author was feeling pressure to get them in earlier than was natural, so that fans of the genre wouldn’t wander away before the story really got going.
There’s a lot I really want to love here. The BL market, at least here in the US, offers very little outside the standard romance genre, so I was pretty thrilled to see that Core Scramble is an all-out sci-fi/fantasy, with more plot packed into one volume than most BL series manage in their entire run. The protagonist, Chaeun, is very relatable, even when he’s inexplicably sticking by his complete ass of a boss. There’s too much going on for the volume to really gel, though, and it’s hard to say whether this will improve going forward.
What was your impression, Michelle?
MICHELLE: Much the same, I’m afraid. It seems to me that in trying to be both sci-fi and BL right out of the gate, it succeeds at neither. I really hate the “Hello, I’m Moonhoo and I’ll be your gropy seme for this book” introduction of that character, and when he randomly kisses Chaeun on their first meeting (under the guise of administering a drink or water or something) I was about ready to quit reading. And though I find Chaeun’s inexplicable loyalty to Gayoon kind of interesting, and think the C.O. organization has some potential, it’s just not defined well enough yet.
I will say, though, that I really enjoyed the kickass female soldier, Chief Song. Here’s a screenshot of her in action:
After recent internet talk this week about the so-called “sexually liberated” women of DC Comics, I thought, “Well, here’s a lady who looks simultaneously sexy and powerful. And though her clothes may be a bit skimpy, they’re really not that revealing. Her body is proportionate, and she looks absolutely confident and fearless. If you want to draw a scantily clad woman in your comic without offending female readers, this is the way to do it.
MELINDA: That’s a great point, Michelle! I’m completely with you on Chief Song.
And maybe this comic will recover from its early chaos, I don’t know. The introduction of Moonhoo you mention is exactly what I was thinking of when I said some of the BL felt tacked on. It’s obnoxious and doesn’t fit in with the story otherwise. On the other hand, their encounter in the last chapter of this volume was honestly intriguing and pretty sexy. If only that’s where the overt BL had started, I think it could have really worked. All the stuff earlier in the book just felt really off.
MICHELLE: I didn’t find the kiss itself at the end at all intriguing, but I like that Moonhoo is kind of amused by Chaeun’s attempts to protect him from harm (since Chaeun doesn’t know Moonhoo is affiliated with the other magic users) and I like that Chaeun interpreted the sudden smooch as a means to shock him out of his freakout mode over yet another desertion by Gayoon. It’s extra, surprising layers like that that will bring me back for volume two.
MELINDA: I think what I liked about it, is that in that moment, they both really just seemed like real people, enjoying a real attraction (even if their understanding of the moment doesn’t necessarily match), which is so much the opposite of the earlier groping scenes, which felt completely contrived. And yeah, despite my complaints, I’ll be back for volume two as well.
So… Full House… *happy sigh*.
MICHELLE: I have to admit I was finally and fully won over by volume five. I enjoyed it very much. It’s also worthy of note that, although Full House was previously published in English by CPM, they only got as far as volume four, so this is all-new material for us!
MELINDA: I am so pleased to hear that you’ve been won over! Now, I’ve discussed Full House at length before, but only the first two volumes. I hadn’t ever made it into volume three, so this was a big catch-up for me. And now having read the third and fourth volumes, I can understand better some of your complaints, as the screwball comedy bickering started to become a bit too much.
That said, volume five offers some pretty serious payoff, as Ryder’s (mistaken) anticipation of his own doom leads him to become in real life the sort of romantic hero he usually plays in films. He gives the house back to Ellie, and then when she is kidnapped, rushes in like a madman to save her. This could have been disastrous, but Sooyeon Won pulls it off so well, it really just swept me away. Ryder’s character shift feels completely real, and more importantly, Won is careful not to strip Ellie of her agency just to give Ryder his moment. Watching the two of them escape on the power of pure nerve was one of the most satisfying things I’ve seen in a while.
MICHELLE: Ryder’s shift does feel real, but I think Ellie’s does, too, since when he gives the house back to her with a minimum of fuss, she suddenly regrets having made his life so miserable up until that point. She starts to realize that, even though she’ll have the house, she may actually be losing something important. And, of course, I love that in the moment she most needs him, he is suddenly there, and reliable, and just thinking about that whole escape sequence is giving me a mild case of geekbumps because damn, they make a good team. I am really curious to see where Sooyeon Won will take the story from here.
MELINDA: I think I’ve always given Ellie the benefit of the doubt, mainly because I just like her, but yes, I agree that she does experience a shift here, too. And oh that moment, Michelle… I have never been a big fan of a man swooping in to save the woman, but when Ellie’s stuck, desperate and terrified, having exhausted all the options she can think of to escape her captors, and he’s just there… I admit I may have swooned.
MICHELLE: Oh, and then there’s this exchange:
Bad Guy: This rude, brash, crazy woman who doesn’t know what’s good for her. Not to mention she’s a plain-looking Asian who doesn’t stand out at all!
Ryder: You’re right!
Bad Guy: You don’t mean to say you love this girl, huh?
Ellie: What are you asking that for?
Ryder: … Probably.
I might’ve squeed (though, of course, Ryder’s comment is downplayed later). This reminds me, too, that the kidnapper’s identity completely surprised me and yet totally made sense in the context of the story. So, that made me enjoy it more than if it had just been some completely random kidnapping thrown in to manufacture some drama.
MELINDA: I most certainly squeed at that point. And, yes! The kidnapping made so much sense, it’s almost as if the author planned it from the beginning. If only more romantic comics really felt that way!
MICHELLE: And I don’t really want to spoil why Ryder is mistakenly anticipating his doom, but all of that makes a certain kind of sense, too. I’ve gone from being unable to comprehend there being sixteen volumes of this series (plus a sequel) to wanting all of that story to materialize right now. Happily, NETCOMICS already has the first chapter of volume six on their schedule for… today, actually, though it’s not up yet.
MELINDA: I expect I’ll be digging into that next chapter as soon as it’s available.
Thank you, NETCOMICS, for coming back to life. We missed you. Truly.
MICHELLE: Indeed. In just a few days, their update schedule for October will be revealed, and I hope it will be as packed as September. Of course, I’d also like to see some other series get updates (especially The Adventures of Young Det) but I am happy with the current lot, as well. And when the third volume of Small-Minded Schoolgirls is completed in a few weeks, I plan to talk about it in this space as well.
MELINDA: When I first realized that NETCOMICS had re-emerged, I felt some regret over having re-assimilated Manhwa Bookshelf. I hope they continue to make me regret that for a long time to come.