Originally hosted at Manhwa Bookshelf.
Ill-Fated Relationship | By Hwang Joon-Ho | Published by iSeeToon | Platform: iOS (iPhone only) – A man and woman meet in the big city, brought together by chance and undefinable desire. While this is not an uncommon premise in any kind of fiction, what distinguishes their story from others is what the two have in common. They’re both serial killers.
There are so many ways in which a story like this could go wrong. It could try too hard to be funny or sympathetic, trivializing both the characters’ mental illness and the suffering of their victims, all in the name of entertainment. It could also lean to the other extreme, reveling in a level of “realism” that ultimately borders on sick voyeurism. Or, more unfortunately, it could simply be dull, wrapped up in clinical analysis that engages no one, save a few idle academics. Thankfully, Ill-Fated Relationship avoids all of these traps, studying its characters with interest that steers safely clear of both fetishization and cold objectivity.
Hwang introduces his characters simply, avoiding coy humor or cheap surprises. A serial killer boards a public bus, looking for his next victim. He observes his surroundings quietly, even dispassionately, a sense enhanced by the comic’s drab color palette of blues, blacks, and grays (with the occasional red for emphasis). After leaving the bus, he’s confronted by a lost boy looking for his mother. “Should I feel pity for this child?” the killer asks himself. “Maybe not,” he finally determines, walking away from the scene. The boy turns then to a woman in the crowd, who takes him home to kill him. This brief chain of events, beginning with the first killer’s decision not to help the boy, serves as the catalyst for bringing the two killers together, ultimately leading them to their fate as described in the story’s title.
Though the plot of the story revolves around the two “helping” each other in various ways, the real point of the series has little to do with plot at all. All in all, there’s nothing new here, and certainly nothing unexpected. After all, the title alone pretty much gives away the ending, if in somewhat vague terms. And likewise, though the story’s philosophical and psychological trajectory is well-trodden ground (How does childhood trauma contribute to antisocial behavior? Are people essentially cruel and amoral beings?), again that’s hardly the point. For, despite its starkly unsentimental tone and ambivalent POV, Ill-Fated Relationship is, at its core, an intensely personal story.
The real heart of this manhwa lies in the personal journeys of its characters, how they became what they are, and how their experience with each other influences the way they view themselves and what they do. And though it is their differences that, in many ways, cause them to seek each other out (he’s drawn to her care-free worldview, while she’s drawn to his emotional vulnerability), it is the way in which they most closely connect that ultimately seals their fate, and perhaps even gives them meaning, something that Hwang manages to explore with surprising subtlety.
Hwang’s style is sparse, both visually and narratively, creating an environment that feels both intimate and detached at the same time. While the limited use of color suggests a similarly subdued emotional palette, the lack of detail (both background and foreground) brings each emotional beat into sharp focus. With just the sparest detail gracing the page, every small shift becomes significant, both in movement and expression. And with narration and dialogue used even more sparingly, it is these carefully-executed visual cues that do most of the heavy lifting.
With its clear, simple art style and minimal dialogue, this series is unusually well-suited to the iPhone’s small screen, but to limit its reach that way really does seem a shame. I’d love to see this manhwa on the iPad as well, and even more so on the web, which would substantially increase its potential for an English-speaking audience. In the English-language manhwa market, currently dominated by conventional romance and action series, Ill-Fated Relationship provides a welcome alternative for fans of indie comics and manga who are interested in exploring the largely untapped wealth of Korean webcomics.
Complete in twenty chapters (with a short parody comic as an extra), Ill-Fated Relationship‘s compelling characters and well-crafted narrative provide an exceptionally satisfying, compact read. Recommended.
Advance copy provided by the publisher. Editing not yet final. Short previews from the publisher available here.