Captain Aron isn’t your typical pirate: he’s too good-looking and not scruffy enough, he doesn’t appear to have any awesome swashbuckling skills, he seems rather dimwitted at times, and he is more interested in exploring than acquiring pirate treasure. All this could be explained by the fact that he is really Lord Aron Cornwall, nephew of the King. No wonder his pirate resume is lacking!
Accompanying Aron on his ship are his manservant Robin, acting as reluctant bodyguard in hopes that they will find treasure and he can make his riches; Aron’s general servants, Anton and Gilbert, who are totally bro BFFs; and early on in the story, a poor soul whom they have rescued from drowning. When the crew brings Ronnie aboard, there is a jellyfish stuck to her head, so Anton and Gilbert chop off her hair while she’s unconscious. When she wakes up, everyone assumes she’s a boy, even though she tries to convince them otherwise. Ronnie instantly falls in love with Robin, confirming that she must be gay to the rest of the crew—who have no problem with it since everyone loves Robin! Halfway through their adventures they take on two more crewmates: Mercedes, a male transvestite hairdresser who is actually much more deadly than he appears, and Vincent, a burly man who loves to cook but is not very good at it—so much so the crew uses his recipes as weapons. The first volume follows Aron’s armada as they search for the elusive Crown of the Queen of Ants, which is exactly as it sounds: a microscopic crown for an ant. Along the way, their plans are constantly thwarted by the marines led by Lieutenant Luther Nelson, a childhood friend of Aron’s, and Ensign Dorothy Nelson, Luther’s kick-butt cousin with whom he is madly in love.
MiSun Kim’s series is a Korean manhwa done in the yonkoma style, originally published as a webcomic. Yonkoma is the equivalent of America’s newspaper comic strip, but instead of reading left to right, it is read up and down, starting on the right side of the page and going to the left. While some yonkomas rely on strip-by-strip gags, there is a linear plot to this series as the crew searches for the crown while encountering other hilarious situations. There are also a number of stylistic choices that make this manhwa different from other series. First, it is costly; though it is the same size as a book that would usually retail for $9.99, this one is priced at $18.99. However, there is a reason for this: the webcomic was full color and Yen Press opted to print the 250-page series in full color as well. This was a smart choice, as the color adds to the cartoony absurdity of the story. Its glossy pages also make the book a bit heftier in weight, which might bother some readers, as it becomes a chore to hold after some time. Second, unlike other yonkoma series, which are published right to left, this series is published American-style. For this reason, I would recommend the series as a launching point for teens who are reluctant to try manga because of its confusing format.
The series definitely lives up to the “Absurd” in its title, and totally hapless Aron will eventually become endearing to readers. Any fans of boys’ love stories will fall for hunky Robin and laugh as everyone misunderstands Ronnie’s crush on him (since she can’t convince anyone that she is a girl). However, there are some moments in the book that might be controversial for some readers. Jokes that center on Ronnie as a boy, Ronnie’s forbidden crush on Robin, Mercedes’s transvestite lifestyle, and homoerotic tension between Anton and Gilbert sometimes crosses the border from playful jests between friends to homophobic comments. While they do not crop up too often, some were cruel enough to interrupt my reading. This could be the result of poor translation, as the series does seem to have some boys’ love overtones. Despite this glaring negative, the series overall is colorful, with lively, engaging characters and high-sea hi-jinks.
One final note: I was initially confused because the series is listed as an omnibus on many book vendor sites. The first and second volumes are only around 250 pages each, which seemed unusually short for an omnibus format. According to Yen Press’s website, three volumes—the third of which will be released in September 2014—comprise the entire five-volume series, which makes them small omnibuses.
Aron’s Absurd Armada, vol. 1
by MiSun Kim
Yen Press, 2012
Publisher Age Rating: 13+