From an ancient Korean landscape of strife and magic to a World War II prisoner of war camp; from a hip-hop immigrant kid in San Francisco to a man created in a lab to repopulate a decimated world—the characters in In-wan’s angsty romance anthology follow a cycle of meeting, falling in love, dying, meeting again in the next life. Readers looking for love stories that tug at the heartstrings will be captured by this collection, as will readers looking to learn more about the work of Korean comic artists.
Each story in this anthology is drawn by a different illustrator. Yang Kyung-il’s beautiful fantasy-style illustrations start things off as he illustrates the story of Spring. Set in 673 AD, it is the story of a young hunter who saves the life of a fox. That act sets in motion a love story that is continued in the next chapter, Summer, set in 1945. Yoon Seung-ki’s style is more softly rounded and modern, with clean lines that fit the story of a Japanese doctor who falls for a Korean poet who is a prisoner at the camp where she works. In-wan adds a touch of historical reality by making the prisoner a real person, the poet Yun Tong-Ju, and including an excerpt of a poem he wrote while in a Japanese prison.
Next we head into Fall 1995 with artist Kim Tae-Hyung, known in the US for his work on the manhwa Planet Blood. He uses a very realistic style, full of detail and background elements, for the story of a wanna-be rap star and the blind girl he falls for. This is one of the weaker of In-wan’s stories; it feels less developed than the others and ends more abruptly, but the characters are engaging and likable, so they carry the story on to Winter.
“A few thousand years later…” humanity has vanished from the earth. Aliens have taken DNA samples and used them to begin repopulating the earth, but trouble arises when the first man must decide which of two sisters fate really intends him for. Park Sung-woo’s art is a nice mix of fantasy and action-hero and blends well with the story, though his sisters are close enough in appearance to be confusing at times. In-wan ends his series by tying together the loose threads and bringing things full circle in a folkloric style, but doesn’t ignore the tragedy inherent in his final tale.
As a bonus, two more In-wan stories are included: “Utility,” illustrated by Byun Byung-jin, and “Ocean,” illustrated by Lee Vin. “Ocean” fits in with the romance theme of the main story. It is about a young man with a terrible sense of direction who finds himself on a quest to take a pop-star to the ocean so she can see it one last time. It is a fluffy tale, but not so fluffy as to stand out drastically from the rest of the book. Vin’s art is girly cute, but that works for this tale. “Utility,” on the other hand, isn’t romantic at all. It is a social commentary story about the calculating and harsh nature of children. Byung-jin’s rough, scratchy lines and high use of screentones is perfect for this story, which is powerfully well-written. It is a bit of a jarring read when compared with the other stories in the anthology, but I’m willing to let that go, simply because the elements of destiny and fate seem to tie in and make up for the lack of romance.
Whether you’re looking for an angsty, thoughtful read or wanting to see a selection of Korean authors, this is a good anthology to pick up. It’s not the usual fare and that’s a very good thing.
Youn In-wan’s Deja-Vu: Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter—a love story
Story: Youn In-wan; Art: Yang Kyung-il, Yoon Seung-ki, Kim Tae-hyung, Park Sung-woo, Byun Byung-jun, and Lee Vin