Why You Should Read (and Want More) Evyione: Ocean Fantasy
Evyione: Ocean Fantasy, loosely based on “The Little Mermaid,” is a wonderful manhwa which is on indefinite hiatus in English. Here I present the case for continuing Evyione in English.
In Part I I described the merits of the artwork in Evyione: Ocean Fantasy. The artwork was the main draw for me – in the beginning. However, if I only cared about the art, I would advocate bypassing the Udon Entertainment edition and going straight for the original, Korean-language edition. It is because of the story’s impact on me that I am encouraging people to try the Udon Entertainment English-language edition.
What about the story engrosses me so much? The answer, while simple to name, is complex to describe: the connections between the characters.
The characters are like crystals. At first, the characters seem to be simple yet warmly rendered examples of standard archetypes, just like the characters in well-told fairy tales. Being a comic based on Hans Christian Andersen, this feels appropriate, and it feels even more appropriate because it fits the artistic aesthetic I described in part I. Crystals, too, can appear beautiful yet simple upon a glance. And like crystals, at first the characters seem like they will never change or show depth – just as fairy-tale characters generally do not change or show depth.
Of course, crystals do change and can have hidden complexity, and the same is true of the characters in Evyione: Ocean Fantasy. Kim Young-Hee reveals the humanity in the characters just as a jeweler might reveal the gem in a crystal – by rubbing the characters against each other to gradually uncover an underlying layer, or by striking them against each other to expose a new facet. Different characters pull out different qualities from each other. Watching the characters rub, strike, and connect with each other, slowly exposing themselves, is exactly why I love the story.
This dynamic is not apparent in the first volume. It takes time to reveal the characters and to weave the complex web of their relationships. In volume one, Yaxin pretty much only interacts with the sea witch, Evyione and Fidelis are mostly interacting with each other, and Owain only interacts with Evyione, and not for very long. Fidelis – the less I say about him, the better, because it is hard to talk about him without blowing a significant bombshell. Owain might be my favorite character (aside from my other favorite characters – it is tough to pick just one), and based on the artist commentary section, he seems to be the most popular character among Korean readers too. And of course, Yaxin and Evyione’s relationship is the beating heart of the story. The connections – and potential connections between the characters – drive much of the suspense, and as it takes a few volumes to build things up, it means that it is much harder to be left hanging at the end of volume 6 than at the end of volume 1.
To really show how engrossing the connections between the characters are requires an in-depth example.
I do not want to use Yaxin and Evyione’s relationship as that example; it is difficult to have a meaningful discussion of their relationship without spoilers. Though if you want a taste of that, the summary would be: the connections between Evyione and Owain, Yaxin and Owain, Evyione and Fidelis, and Evyione and the king’s brother are all worthy reading in their own right – and they all help Evyione and Yaxin’s relationship attain that special something which makes me tear through the volumes, difficult Chinese phrases be damned, to finally get to the scenes between the two.
Anyway instead, I will describe the relationships around the Queen, Evyione’s stepmother.
The queen is a very refreshing take on the fairy-tale stepmother. For starters, she is not evil. This grants the queen the freedom to act like a human being instead of a stock villain.
The problem stems from her marriage. The king and the queen do like each other, though ‘love’ is probably too strong a word. However, the queen thinks that when she is no longer young and beautiful, the king will discard her. She thinks that the only way to protect herself is to bear the king’s children … yet after three years of marriage, she still doesn’t have any children. And this kicks off a chain of events.
As a source of comfort and support – or, perhaps not – comes Marie-Anne, the queen’s old lover from France. While the queen is married to the king, Marie-Anne is clearly her real partner. The queen, insecure as she is about her marriage, avoids openly disagreeing with the king, and in the one scene where she does, in fact, say to the king that she disagrees with him, she immediately tries to diffuse the situation. However, when she disagrees with Marie-Anne, she never hesitates to call her out on it. In other words, unlike from her husband, the queen insists on respect from Marie-Anne. If they could have, the queen and Marie-Anne would have probably married each other long ago. Which makes me wonder – is the ultimate cause of the queen’s problems the fact that her society doesn’t accept queer relationships?
However, Marie-Anne’s presence is not exactly beneficial. Her attempts to intervene in the queen’s problems only make them worse. And Marie-Anne has ulterior motives for coming to Emvonia. The queen is partially aware of this. While the queen does not seem to like it, she is not trying to stop Marie-Anne – so far. But when the queen figures out the full extent of Marie-Anne’s activities … to be honest, I do not know what is going to happen, but it will not be good. And there is the question of how Marie-Anne will respond. Marie-Anne really does seem to love the queen. If she had to choose between the queen and her goals — and she probably will have to choose eventually — I am not sure which one she would pick.
While the queen’s sub-plot at first is confined to a few characters, one by one, others get dragged into the mess. Each new character adds to the fray of course adds a whole new set of complications. And each additional character draws out a different part of the queen, making her an ever richer character.
What really breaks my heart is the toll these events are having on the queen’s self-esteem. She really is a good person. However, desperation causes her to do some less than ethical things. That makes her think that she is a bad person. And she is blaming herself even for things which are not her fault. While this tragedy started because the she thinks that her husband does not see any worth in her beyond her beauty, it seems that she now thinks that her husband is right. And that is definitely not true.
When I think of Evyione: Ocean Fantasy, my mind often drifts to specific spectacular moments, the culmination of everything good in this comic. For all that I tried to break the discussion of the art and the story into different sections, the two cannot be completely separated. The artwork provides the potential to be striking; the plot provides the potential to be surprising; the character development provides the potential to be moving; when even two of these things come together, the result is spectacular.
An example I should have used in part 1 – but which also fits here, because it is important for both the artwork and the story – is a scene in which one character wakes up in chains, and then sees another character, wearing a mask, approaching. It is a bizarre scene. Both of the characters have ingested drugs, and it comes through in the drawings. This a wonderful example of how the story supplies a great subject for the artwork. Indeed, this scene is mostly told through what is seen, not what is said. This scene is unexpected, yet so visually imaginative, and yet has seriously scary implications for the characters involved. The first time I read this scene, I was so stunned that I temporarily stopped thinking. Heck, re-reading this scene for the purpose of writing this paragraph made my neck tense up. This particular moment marks the shift of the story into a much darker direction, and was one of the turning points which made me fall for Evyione: Ocean Fantasy that much harder.
Read Evyione: Ocean Fantasy! And Talk about It!
If you think you might like Evyione: Ocean Fantasy, please, please, PLEASE buy volume 1 of the Udon Entertainment edition. It is still available for sale. And if you do, in fact, like it, please tell people about it. Blog about it, if you have a blog. Volume 2 is never going to come out in English without sales and buzz. And volume 2 really should come out in English.
This review covers a lot. To wrap it all up, I wish to share one of my favorite moments. Enjoy.
Yaxin is bathing by the rocky sea shore. Hearing footsteps, he hides.
It is Evyione.
She is wearing a black robe à la polonaise. The area from the top of her stomacher to the bottom of her chin is completely covered in black lace. The engageants (sleeve extensions) are made from a matching set of black lace, yet her sleeves short enough to leave her fair skin exposed between the engageants and her black gloves. And her black hat comes with an elegant set of ribbons. While it is a very fine dress, it is actually plainer than most of the dresses she wears. It is a dress for mourning.
Evyione starts crying.
In many other comics aimed at a female audience, Evyione would have struck a dramatic pose as she cried, artistic flourishes would spill out onto the page, and/or the panels themselves would contort to share in Evyione’s grief. However the artwork of Evyione: Ocean Fantasy, simple and natural as ever, just lets Evyione stand and sob her heart out.
As Yaxin watches, he narrates [quote translated from Chinese] “I do not know why she came to these deserted rocks by the sea, but she looks like she is extremely sad … The sound of the never-ending waves crashing on the rocks seem to be trying to cover the sound of her weeping … The sound of her sobs is gradually ebbing … The sound of her breath is also gradually becoming slower … Now her footsteps sound like they belong to a completely different person … She has straight away turned her body, climbing the stairs, having completely recovered her normal calm self, seeming as if she had never wept.”
I love this moment because this is one of the very few times that Evyione freely expresses her feelings. And after her release, the reader watches her put back on the social mask that almost always wears to cover up her unhappiness.
Evyione is weeping because she believes that Yaxin is gone forever.
Sara K. has spent almost all of her life in San Francisco, California. She got tired of living in San Francisco, so one day she boarded a plane bound for Haneda Airport, and has never been back to San Francisco ever since. She currently lives in an Asian city you have never heard of.