Soul to Seoul Vol. #01 (Mania.com)
Review Date: Saturday, January 29, 2005
Release Date: Saturday, January 01, 2005
Writer/Artist:Kim Jea Eun
Translated by:Ellen Choi
What They Say
Kai and Spike are best friends who share a common background: they are both half-Korean. Searching for identity in a world filled with intolerance, they feel uncomfortable even in their own homes because of their mixed heritage. Then they meet Sunil, a Korean foreign-exchange student, who leads them on a journey that is part self-discovery and all heart and soul... From the Far East to the New York City streets, award-winning manga-ka Kim Jea Eun has created a hot-blooded story filled with hip-hop flair, urban blight, and the power and passion of friendship.
The Review: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Sunil is a Korean going to school in New York. She has the distinction of being the only girl in her class who hasn't dated Kai, a handsome player. In an attempt to figure out why he hasn't shown any interest in her, she follows him into a bad part of town. And altercation has her hot-footing it out of there, but not before Kai notices her. Later, he engineers a setup to bring her home and introduce her to his family as his new girlfriend, which shocks everyone, including Sunil. But he's sincere. He's quitting the playing around and settling down with her. His 14-year-old sister is both relieved and angry. She's got a serious crush on her brother, so she hated seeing him dating everything that moved, but she didn't want him to settle on anyone either. Kai's younger brother JJ is a quiet but friendly young man, and he gets along with Sunil Just fine. At school, Sunil's having a hard time. Before she was something of an outcast because she was the only girl who hadn't dated Kai. Now she's on the outs because she's the only girl Kai's dating.
Kai's best friend is Spike. He recently dropped out of school to go to work supporting his alcoholic father. Spike is a rapper and is trying to make it big. But an incident at a club lands him in jail. Kai posts the bail, but they're not getting along too well. Spike was very interested in Sunil, since she reminded him of his mother who is gone. But Kai took her for himself, and Spike is angry about it.
Kai is very unhappy at home. He's always felt a bit out of place with his mixed-heritage, but now he's got a cousin from Korea living with him. Sangyul is an arrogant little bastard who is very polite and well-liked by the adults of the family, but a mean little kid to Kai. The family situation is too much for Kai, and it only hastens his decision to join a gang and get the hell out.
Kim Jae Eun's art is good, though the faces can look oddly proportioned at times. While the tone of the story is mostly serious, I did notice a brief cameo by Spike Spiegel and Faye Valentine from Cowboy Bebop in a crowd scene. She only uses backgrounds when it's necessary to set the scene, otherwise they're non-existent. Her writing style seems oddly disjointed as well. It starts out with a high-school romance, but then Sunil is forgotten and it becomes a gritty story about gangster wanna-bes. Sunil feels less like a character than a plot device to drive a wedge between Kai and Spike.
Tokyopop's art reproduction can be hit or miss, but they're mostly on with this. I only noticed some minor moiring of screentones, and the linework looks good. The English adaptation is rather frank but appropriate to the mood of the story. The cover is an image of Kai sitting on a sidewalk with Sunil standing behind him. A few of the other characters are visible behind them as the street and buildings stretch into the distance. The logo is written in block letters across the top of the page against a white strip. The back cover uses an image from the story of Kai and Sunil walking down a city street together holding hands, all done in a monochromatic brown. The overall design is quite good, with just a bit of a '70s feel to it. A page of character introductions is included at the back of the book.
It's a little hard to like Soul to Seoul. Kai's only goal is to become a gangster, which doesn't endear him to me. What's more, he's presented as a very intelligent, intuitive young man, so such an amazingly stupid goal simply isn't believable. The way the story begins with Sunil but then completely ignores her in the second half has me scratching my head as well. If you want gritty shojo, stick with Banana Fish. I'd pass on this one.
Mania Grade: C-
Art Rating: B-
Packaging Rating: B+
Text/Translatin Rating: B
Age Rating: 13 & Up
Released By: TOKYOPOP
Orientation: Left to Right