Time and Again, Volume 1 | By JiUn Yun | Published by Yen Press – Baek-On Ju is lazy, selfish, frequently drunk, and generally rude. He’s also a gifted exorcist, who makes a living hiring out both his talents and those of his companion, Ho-Yeon, a martial artist who acts as his bodyguard. Though this episodic volume hints at tragic histories for both characters, it is mainly concerned with their involvement in the tragedies of others. Some of their clients (such as a mother and son plagued by by the ghost of the son’s wronged wife) are suffering tragedy caused by themselves, while others (such as a couple horrified to hear that their newborn son is destined to die in his teens) face tragedy that has been dealt to them by fate. Included, too, are a couple of seemingly unrelated stories (one gruesome, one sad) which match the others in tone, if not in particulars.
Though this volume’s storytelling is somewhat uneven, especially in terms of character development, there is more than enough to chew on for readers interested in ghost stories, or even eighth-century Chinese culture. The author includes a little bit of Tang Dynasty history in the volume’s end notes, and though she deliberately states that this comic is a fantasy and not meant to be faithful to history, her interest in the period is evident throughout. The stories are steeped in a solemn stew of religion and folklore, finding their inspiration in Chinese poems (like Li Bai’s “Writing in a Strange Place”), Japanese fables (“The Tongue-Cut Sparrow”), and other sources of varying East Asian origin. Even its original title is borrowed from a Goryeo Dynasty-era Korean poet. Though the result of all this inspiration is not nearly as profound or thoughtful as one might expect, the book is intriguing and emotionally affecting all the same.
Though Baek-On is sought out mainly to rid people of their woes, quite frequently there is actually very little he can do for them, as most have created (or had created for them) circumstances from which there is no easy escape, a truth that few of them are able to receive gracefully. The parents of the infant fated to die young, for instance, are unable to accept the fact that there is nothing that can be done to change their child’s future, and even go so far as to camp outside Baek-On’s home until he will give them some kind of hope. That the “hope” he is able to offer them will cause future misery for their son is obvious, though the parents’ insistence on pursuing it anyway is both painfully understandable and inexpressibly sad. The laws of fate and karma held as truth in the story’s universe are unyielding and indifferent to pain or compassion, just its people are stubborn and undeniably human, unable to compromise present happiness to avoid long-term tragedy. What makes this manhwa work best, however, is Baek-On’s bad humor and irreverence juxtaposed over so much grave suffering, providing a wry perspective on the failures of humanity (including his own).
The characters of Baek-On and Ho-Yeon are yet undeveloped, though there is a lot of potential in these early stories. The characterization is very much like the story’s art at this point–surprisingly sparse in places and occasionally difficult to follow–like a work not quite finished, yet still well-formed enough to have a recognizable shape. The story’s paneling in particular is confusing at times, without a clear path for the eye to follow, yet just as with its characters, the story is intriguing enough to inspire some extra effort.
Though Time and Again gets off to a somewhat rocky start, its ominous tone, historical setting, and idiosyncratic characters are certainly encouraging, and suggest strong potential for its future as a supernatural series–a refreshing addition to Yen Press’ manhwa catalogue. I definitely look forward to future volumes.
Review copy provided by the publisher.
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